All-Season Versus Winter Tires: A Racecar Driver's Consensus
Presented by Tire Rack and Michelin
I think I can comfortably say that I’ve used all-season tires in almost any creative scenario that I can think of. I’ve used them on a racetrack countless times in several different cars, trying to drive as cleanly as possible with minimal grip in search of the best possible lap time for each given platform. I’ve used them as “rain tires” because that is what was available at the time and had better water dispersion than race slicks in a sprint race with down pouring rain. I’ve done some off-roading with them on trucks, SUVs and even vans, and had my fair share of times getting stuck in sand and/or mud with them (a few occasions with a trailer connected even). I have even used them for what they are generally intended for- you know, normal driving in a regular passenger car on public roads and highways. However, after attending the Winter Driving Event that Tire Rack and Michelin hosted, I can now say that I have used all-season tires in ice drag racing!
As exciting as the ice drag racing is, I’ll explain more of it in the subsequent pages to come. Let’s address a few background items first. Tire Rack and Michelin were generous to invite MotoIQ to this very fun and quite luxurious event held at the Norte Dame campus in West Bend, Indiana, to give some opinions on a commonly debated decision of whether or not to buy winter tires for winter season. As MotoIQ’s test driver, I was sent out for the opportunity. However, many MotoIQ readers realize that our headquarters are in Los Angeles, California (it's currently in the low 80s as I am writing this). Although I am originally from western Nebraska where the winter season is pretty severe, I honestly have zero driving experience in snow conditions and most of my ice driving experience has been accidental with “black ice” conditions on the racetracks during winter. However, what my inexperience can provide is an unbiased opinion on the difference between two types of tires given the test parameters we were provided at the event. So, let's jump right into it now that racing season is over and it's winter season!
At this event, we did comparison testing at Norte Dame's ice rink stadiums. Yes, you read that correct- we drove actual cars on their very nice ice rink surfaces. I'm not sure how they swung being able to drive cars in there!
The point of the testing was to drive identical cars to narrow down the differences between the OEM tires per vehicle and Michelin's winter tires: X-Ice Xi3 (for passenger cars) and X-Ice Xi2 (for SUVs and light duty trucks). The provided vehicles were Kia Cadenzas and Kia Sportages. The Cadenzas provided a typical scenario of an average, front-wheel-drive passenger car, and the Sportages provided an example of a slightly more “prepared” winter driver, each being an AWD SUV.
We split into teams, with three drivers and one instructor per car. One car was on the OEM all-seasons and the second car was on Michelin X-Ice Xi3 winter tires. This was loads of fun for me, as it was a new challenge that I have never done anything like before and had a very small amount of time to master- despite it being by far the slowest race I've ever been involved in. We each were allowed two consecutive passes in each car. That made it much like doing a Time Attack in a car I've never driven before: one pass to learn the dynamics of the car, tires, and surface, and one pass to hammer down. As I mentioned before, I have very limited ice driving experience, and I've never tried to launch a car on the ice before. Well, “launching” a car on ice ended up being an overstatement, and I found that a very precisely slow and smooth roll to nearly half throttle, followed by a little more throttle input to increase momentum with minimal wheel spin was the golden ticket.
I tried to strategize getting into the all-season tire equipped Cadenza first so that my team and I could learn on the tires with less grip and then apply what we learned to the winter tire equipped one. Unfortunately, my sneaky plan of casually gathering near the all-season equipped car didn't work, and we were summoned to the winter tire Cadenza first. My teammates volunteered me to go first, so I basically just had to “wing it”.