“So, how much faster are track tires than performance street tires?”
It’s a question that echoes through paddocks everywhere as the less experienced query HPDE veterans vis-à-vis the all-important question of tires.
The answer is not necessarily straightforward given the wide range of variables that influence lap times – track length & characteristics, driver skill, vehicle type, etc. But generally speaking, our experience is that a good set of track tires will net about 2-3 seconds per lap over a performance street tire around a ~2 mile road course. In other words, track tires are the simplest, and probably the single most influential upgrade/modification available to track day enthusiasts.
And depending upon the tires being compared, the lap time gain can be even more drastic. As Randy Pobst of Motor Trend demonstrates in the video below, in the hands of a professional driver a full-fledged BF Goodrich g-Force R1 S track tire is 5 seconds faster than a quality performance summer tire like the BF Goodrich g-Force Sport COMP-2.
Whereas performance street tires will fall off and become “greasy” after a few hard laps, track tires like the Nitto NT01 really come alive (only) once they’re at a high operating temperature. An experienced track enthusiast can expire a set of performance street tires inside of one track day. And that’s not because of rank hooliganism, but rather just due to the fact that performance street tires are not engineered to withstand the repeat forces and stresses that occur on track.
Along the same lines, track tires are generally more responsive to driver inputs. They possess the consistent grip characteristics (once warmed up) that permit direct and full control of the vehicle during an HPDE session.
Not necessarily. There are some unavoidable and potential track tire disadvantages that should be considered.
Firstly, dual purpose track tires suitable for regular road use are few and far between. If your commute to and from the track is any notable distance, and you don’t have the ability to mount a set of track wheels/tires once there, then the decision to purchase track tires isn’t a no-brainer. Not to mention, regular road use will kill a set of track tires faster than you can say “where’s my tread?”
Track tire road noise can be immense, and more than a mere annoyance. Showing up to the track at the crack of dawn after a 3 hour commute with a splitting headache isn’t ideal.
Wet road performance and grip ranges from adequate at reduced speeds to pretty darn perilous. The Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R track tire, for example, is not recommended for use in "very wet" track conditions, and even with regard to wet conditions on public roads, Pirelli suggests "prudent driving at reduced speed is recommended." (For additional thoughts, analysis, and data on track tires in wet road conditions, see Semi-slick track tires prove questionable for wet road use.)
And then the breakaway characteristics of track tires are generally less progressive than performance street tires. More than a few track tire converts have been caught out by a snap oversteer moment. Track tires are far more “on/off” in terms of grip than performance street tires, which typically communicate their loss of grip progressively (both tangibly and audibly).
Track tires require patience and accurate driver perception because it takes some time/laps for them to reach operating temperature. Pushing them before that optimal operating temperature is established can be… interesting.
Track tire economics won’t be attractive to many. While our tire deals will help you save a handful, spending up to and in excess of four figures (depending upon tire size) on a set of specialized tires isn’t in accordance with everyone’s budget (or spouse, if applicable).
Lastly, we’d note that some maximum performance summer tires are blurring the line between street and track. The Michelin Pilot Super Sport, for example, is more than up to the task of an occasional track day and possesses none of the indicated downsides during road use. If you’re an occasional HPDE participant and need one set of tires for both street and track, the appeal of a tire like the Pilot Super Sport is obvious.
Don’t get the wrong impression – we’re big proponents of track tires, and would never go back to any form of street tire for HPDE duties. However, our position isn’t that they aren't absolutely necessary or a right fit for every track day participant.