All-Season Versus Winter Tires: A Racecar Driver’s Consensus


So, with all of the testing and demonstrations, the winter tires proved to have a significant performance benefit over the all-season tires on ice, but what's in the mix for the better performance?


The Michelin X-Ice Xi3. As someone who normally tests race tires and high performance street tires, the tread design is very intriguing, and there is definitely a lot more going on for tread design than I'm used to. 

Per usual, each “dimple” and “squiggle” contribute to certain key aspects of traction performance. The small pits, or “dimples” if you will, act as micro pumps to help pump away any water. The varied angle, lightning-shaped thin lines aid in lateral traction, and the thicker, more horizontal grooves aid in directional stability. Given that our test course was very small and confined within an ice rink, we were not really testing lateral traction by exceeding the limit of the tires in an oversteer situation and more so focusing on acceleration and braking traction when behind the wheel. However, I unintentionally found a (relatively) minor oversteer situation during one of the acceleration modules on the ice, and I must say that the tires are very confidence inspiring. The feel indicates that they definitely don't want to be sideways and do a lot to prevent further slip angle, however the transition is so smooth and slow that it has very clear communication to the driver to correct before traction control kicks in. 

So to apply my take on the feel of the tires to a realistic scenario on public roads during harsh winter conditions, imagine driving carefully on an icy road until you find yourself losing the back end randomly. This is the moment where you're either grateful of your car control skills, or you're happy that you invested in a set of tires that are designed to minimize slip angle in this exact situation- or both, especially when you have your two young kids in car seats in the back seat. 


Another cool aspect to the tread design is mimicked in the sample here. Although pretty firm, the tire compound is really flexible, and this “zig-zag” type design allows slush and snow to move through, providing grip where it would be hard to find with a lesser tire. 


Woody Rogers of Tire Rack better explains this visually, showing the flex of the tire compound through foam samples.

Michelin is known for their superb tire technology, but they definitely come with a price tag- just like pretty much any other exceptionally good tire. For those that live in areas that actually have four seasons (unlike Los Angeles), I really can't imagine not having a set of good winter tires, especially with subzero, ice and snow conditions. 


Tire Rack recommends that the purple and blue regions on the above map use winter tires, but I really can't imagine getting through snow season without them.

Not all of us at MotoIQ are certified mechanics, but we all pretty much work on and build our own project cars. I personally view having winter tires in these areas as having the right tool for the job. Sure, you can get the job done by MacGyvering your way through it with random tools, but how much easier was it and less effort did you spend when you had the right tool for the job? How many mistakes have you had working on things when you didn't have the right tool for the job? I know I've had my fair share of times, and I've even missed races from fixing my mistakes that I made because I didn't have the right tool for the job. 

As a racecar driver, it's all about having the best set of tires for each scenario that you can. When the competition is tight, you're not going to win any races if you don't have a fresh set of whatever the hottest tire for the class is. It's also about having the right tire for the weather conditions as well. Anyone that watches racing knows that some races are won and lost just by the team's choice of tire for that given moment, whether they are soft compound, mediums, or rain tires. So, I'm a true believer in having the right set of tires for whatever you are doing. 

I understand that buying and storing an extra set of tires can definitely be a burden, whether it is financially, physically storing them, or both. Plenty of buyers that should buy them get turned off when the numbers get broken down. However, when it comes to my personal safety and the safety of my loved ones, that is something that I would not overlook and do everything I can to make sure I am eventually able to provide that for myself, my family, and everyone else one the road. Racecar drivers value tires and safety, and since I am one, I say do whatever it takes to make it happen if you live in a severe winter climate!



Tire Rack


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *