Brothers Édouard and André founded Michelin well over a century ago in Clermont-Ferrand, France where the company's headquarters are still located. The company mascot, Bibendum, a.k.a. the Michelin Man, is approaching his 120th birthday and remains one of the oldest trademarks in the world.
Michelin has come a long way from repairing and making bicycle tires. Today, Michelin is among the largest tire manufacturers in the world with several brands under its umbrella. It is also involved in all kinds of motorsports throughout the world.
Michelin tires have been used on everything from NASA's space shuttle to the Nissan Deltawing prototype and everything in between. It is the official tire supplier to the Porsche GT3 Supercup, Carrera Cup and GT3 Cup Challenge series worldwide.
And if they're good enough for Porsche, they're good enough for the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship, right? Exactly! Citroën's Sebastien Loeb won the slippery Rallye Monte-Carlo in January driving on a set of Michelin tires. His former teammate Sébastien Ogier took second place in his debut in the all-new VW Polo R WRC car on Michelins.
Besides being one of the WRC's two official “tyre” suppliers in 2013, you'll find Michelin engineers in many American Le Mans Series team pits before, during and long after the race, analyzing telemetry data, crunching numbers and listening to feedback from drivers and crewmen.
It's the same story in Europe where Michelin is heavily involved in the World Endurance Championship, Blancpain Endurance Series as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Nürburgring 24.
Of course, Michelin is also a mainstay of moto, from trials and motocross all the way up to Enduro and rally raid. In fact, it was an all-KTM/Michelin top five at this year's Dakar Rally with Frenchman Cyril Despres leading the way and claiming his fifth Dakar victory.
All of this is undertaken so that Michelin can make better tires for you and I, for the road and the race track, on road or off. The company is crazy about cars and motorsports; if there ever was a tire company with obsessive compulsive disorder, Michelin is it.
“Racing plays a vital role when it comes to developing our road tires,” says Pascal Couasnon, Director, Michelin Motorsport. “The products we test, and which prove satisfactory on the track, go on to become available to the motoring public.”
The ultra high-performance (UHP) tire segment is growing significantly and, by Michelin’s math, it will grow 30% by the time 2021 rolls around. The largest, most premium and fastest-growing sub-segment in UHP is the all-season tire.
People that drive performance vehicles are looking for maximum safety with improved tread life and wet traction all year round. Michelin calls this total performance, which feeds our need for driving enjoyment. And while it's true the all-season market is somewhat of a North American phenomenon, the love of the drive and that need for exhilaration behind the wheel is universal.
“That's why we created the Pilot Sport All-Season 3,” says Steve Calder, UHP Technical Marketing Manager, Michelin North America, at the A/S3 launch event at Louisiana's NOLA Motorsports Park. “It's really for the driver that longs for that spirited drive and literally doesn't want to put the car away in inclement weather or when the seasons change.”
Tire life, safety, energy efficiency and the notion of driving pleasure have all been taken into account on the all-new Michelin Pilot Sport A/S3. And its Variable Contact Patch 2.0 is one of several key technologies that have come directly from Michelin's heavy involvement in motorsports, endurance racing in particular.
“The variable contact patch is a fairly technical element,” says Doug Brown, Performance Marketing Manager, Michelin North America. VCP 2.0 focuses on evenly spreading contact patch pressure and temperatures regardless of the driving situation. “It's actually how we manage the stresses within the contact patch to make it a long-wearing tire as well a good-handling tire,” Brown adds.
The extreme amounts of silica Michelin puts into the tread compound comes directly from endurance racing. “Silica is well-known with tire manufacturing to give good wet weather capabilities and, when combined with 3-D Variable Thickness Sipes (VTS) and large circumferential grooves, resists hydroplaning regardless of the road surface.”
The Pilot Sport A/S3 also boasts Michelin’s Helio Compound, a natural, biodegradable material derived from sunflower oil, and biting edges in the tread grooves that allow it to withstand colder temperatures. The exceptional void ratio also allows a lot of water to be channeled away from the centre and back of this tire, giving it exceptional grip in wet conditions.
And speaking of the tread, it has a very different look then most all-season tires. This has an asymmetric tread design, where the outboard shoulder and inboard shoulder are dramatically different. “This allows consumers to be able to rotate the tires easily from side-to-side without affecting the vehicle,” explains Brown. “Typically, all-season tires are directional, which cannot be rotated from side-to-side and makes it more difficult to achieve long, even tire wear.”
Michelin's VCP 2.0 design philosophy is a byproduct of the company's involvement in endurance racing, specifically Formula One, that has been continually refined over the years. This is the first application of it in an UHP all-season tire. Combined with the extreme amount of silica in the compound, it yields a tire with performance rivaling that of a summer tire without sacrificing its cold weather and wet performance capabilities necessary in an A/S product.
Further minimizing any performance trade-offs, the Helios compound and VTS technologies are also being used in the all-season category for the first time. They also come directly from road racing and endurance racing where it’s always a trade off between wear and grip levels. “The key is in pushing the boundary and increasing the grip and wear,” says Calder. “That kind of technology is directly transferable into tires for the street, and that’s where we were able to push the boundary of the Pilot Sport A/S 3.”
Throughout the launch at NOLA Motorsports Park, Michelin let hundreds of automotive journalists and bloggers loose with the new A/S 3 and several competing tires on various closed courses, including a wet handling course (Audi A4), road course (Cadillac CTS), dry/wet braking course (Infiniti G37) as well as a dry autocross course (Subaru STI). The tire performed as good or better in all cases, but the most telling of the exercises has to be the dry autocross where the Pilot Sport A/S 3 245/45 R17 95Y surprised many people. Up against an assortment of Z-rated UHP summer tires – the Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position 99Y, Continental ExtremeContact DW 95Y and the Pirelli P Zero 99Y – the Michelin tire holds its own in terms of overall grip, initial turn-in and quietness.
“We have taken knowledge from our racing experience and development work on the previous generation to deliver a unique ultra-high performance tire for the all-season market,” says Brown.
Available this summer with a 70,000 kilometre warranty in Canada, the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 will come in 65 sizes ranging from 175/65 R15 to 285/35 ZR20.
Visit the PRN Ignition website for James Davidson's video review of the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 and an exclusive video with Robert Haggart, Motorsports Marketing Manager for Michelin Canada, at the 2012 Grand Prix of Mosport presented by Mobil 1.