This is the story of an experience that took me to the ocean, filled my stomach with food from a culinary genius and let me exploit the raw power of supercars on jaw dropping roads free of the law courtesy of a sheriffs escort. I am sure you can understand why the jet lag I faced travelling from London to Los Angeles to the Michelin Pilot Experience was worth the eye bags as I embarked on a pilgrimage of a lifetime designed to showcase circles of rubber in a way that has never been done before.
After two days of rest and relaxation it was time to learn about the tyres I had flown half way across the planet to put to the test – the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S which is the replacement for the Michelin Pilot Supersport, a tyre that has been known to be the best in the industry. I am a huge fan of the Supersports as they are fitted to my torquey rear-wheel-drive BMW M135i.
To get me acquainted with the PS4S I was given the chance to do something that i’m sure many of you reading this would happily sell organs for – a drive through a stunning national park that looked to have been dug out of the surface of the moon and dropped onto planet earth. If that was not good enough, the cars were just as awe-inspiring – a Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Coupe, Ferrari California T and Audi R8 V10 Plus. Still not impressed? Stick a County Sheriff with some flashing lights at the front of the convoy to clear traffic and let you hit illegal speeds as you pleased. No, I couldn’t quite believe it either.
To kick off proceedings I jumped into the Cali T, arguably the softest of the three, and mashed the loud pedal. As the multimillion dollar convoy snaked through the highway between towering mountains the speeds regularly delved deep into triple figures and I was constantly having to remind myself that the Crown Vic police car behind me did not want me to pull over, but move quicker.
Surreal is an understatement. The dusty baron surroundings led to a guard house, the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. I waved to the ranger and noted that the roads ahead were increasingly knotted and ebbed and flowed around gigantic boulders and felt a swap of vehicle was in order.
From the Ferrari California T and into the Audi R8 V10 Plus, the first real opportunity to put the rubber through its paces. January is Los Angeles is a by no means all sunshine and 30 degree heat you envisage, it was brisk and the winds had transferred almost the entire desert onto the tarmac making for interesting traction variations. Second gear and I planted my right foot as I came out of a tight bend, there was not a hint of understeer as I leaned on the power pushing the limits of grip and my own whits. As I unwound steering lock the pedal was to the metal and the R8 howled and shrieked. The V10 is a thing of joy, a symphony that we should never lose, the tyre not once throwing up unwanted surprises for the raging 610 horsepower.
Next on the list was the C 63 S Coupe, a car I had driven at great length before. This would be the first time I had driven a car I had previously toyed with before fitted with Pilot Super Sport tyres now on the new Pilot Sport 4 S. I would be lying if I said the AMG brute did not make me a little scared. In race mode the car I had driven would happily wag its tail and convert tyres into smoke whilst forcing me to break a sweat – intimidating. The conditions were similar to those of the Spanish hills so I did the same and engaged Race Mode. Perhaps it was my spectacular racing driver levels of car control (I think not), but the car was much more tame, even trying to upset the car with brutish application of the throttle proved futile as the rear end gripped and gripped and gripped. The confidence the traction gave me was remarkable, the difference in comparison to the MPSS was astonishing.
Every journey is a means to an end, the destination rarely as exhilarating as the drive. This was one of those rare cases as the convoy rolled up to the gates of the Thermal Club, one of the most exclusive and incredible facilities for the well heeled and famous that dabble with the passion of supercars. Much like Ascari in Spain, Thermal is a club that invites members to join and use the brilliant track as they please. Michelin had taken over the facility and circuit for the event to allow those in attendance to push the tyre to a level that a police escort could not even match.
Pulling into the club was exciting, the sight that I was met with only added to the insanity. The line up of cars was almost unreal. There were two Porsche 918s, a Carrera GT, McLaren P1 and many more of the most sought after hypercars in the world casually soaking up the sun. I was pulled away from the multi-million dollar sight as it was time to get back to the tyres and I caught a glimpse of an Aston Martin One-77.
A fleet of BMW 340is sat waiting. It was explained that each car was fitted with a different brand of tyre, all competing with the PS4S. A handling circuit complete with wet section and braking zone would be the comparison and benchmarking element. I opted to pit the Pirelli and Goodyear offerings against the Michelin. The results in both feel and statistics were clear to see, the PS4S was superior in every test.
Having established the new Michelin tyre had taken road focused tyres to new levels it was time to see how they would fair on track. Although track work is not the primary focus of the tyre, that’s left for the Cup 2s, Michelin claim the PS4S is still very capable of taking a pounding on track.
I jumped into a BMW M3 to see if their claims were true. Thermal is a very technical track and is very hard of tyres with a couple of very long high speed corners where the tyres are put under immense loads and stress. Given the torque of the M3, the rear tyres were not overwhelmed.
It was startling that on a long seemingly endless left-hander that car was gripping so well it was a case of adding more and more throttle to the extent that the sports car began to lean considerably, the tyre unrelenting to the punishment and lateral stress.
Having tried my best to unstick the new rubber is was time for a briefing about what makes this tyre so supreme. It was explained that each parameter, from dry breaking distance to wet and cold handling had been bettered in every respect. The engineering behind such strong results is a science that goes far beyond my shallow levels of comprehension, but it was fascinating to learn just how much goes into a tyre, from compounds to threads and even the moulding processes.
There was one more surprise in store. Hot laps with some more exhilarating speed machines…including an Aston Martin Vulcan being piloted by the original Stig himself, Ben Collins. I lined up next to Matrix legend Keanu Reeves and eyed up the Acura/Honda NSX. The ride was nauseating, the racing driver at the wheel making my lines in the M3 look foolish and entirely wrong as he four-wheel drifted the Japanese hybrid monster out of hairpins with savage aggression. What a way to end the greatest of days.
Everything from the lawn launch party scattered with Singers and Koenigseggs to taring around Thermal and every meal in between was second to none. Never have I left an event with such fond memories. The Michelin Pilot Experience was a unique and fabulous way to showcase the Pilot Sport 4 S. A huge thanks to Dave and the Michelin team for their kind hospitality! We look forward to seeing you again soon!