It's not every day, even for a motoring journalist, that 'work' involves jumping in a Porsche with a racing driver and following instructions on how to go faster, but that's exactly how Michelin's new product launch started earlier this month.
Before the fun started though, participants (in this case a mix of media and Michelin employees) were given a rundown of the new products, and a safety briefing by staff from the venue. Under the spotlight was the new Pilot Sport high-performance hoop specifically designed for SUVs and a more efficiency focused XM2+.
Michelin partners with Porsche’s Driving Experience program to provide the basis for the testing (as other tyre brands do with different manufacturers), which means there is a fleet of vehicles on offer as well as a place to use them. This also means the staff are usually racing drivers.
A Porsche Cayman GTS, Boxster GTS, and a Macan S were the victims for media attendees to sample, all shod with the tyres of our host brand.
In this case, our playground was the Mt Cotton Driver Training Centre near Brisbane, and it features a simulated public road loop which is perfect for trying out tyres – this time the new rubber was the set of Pilot Sport 4 SUV tyres on the Macan S.
After cycling through each of the three cars on offer and scribbling a few notes it’s time to head off for the next exercise - the skidpan.
Each exercise is designed to highlight the tyre's strengths and Michelin is so confident in the new Pilot Sport's ability that it had laid on a comparison test. The very low-friction course was tackled first with an Audi Q5 wearing Michelin Pilot Sport 4 SUV rubber and then again with another well-known maker's equivalent.
As you might expect, the Michelin shone, but the real highlight was sliding an Audi SUV around on a low-grip surface in a low-risk environment.
After making more notes, the final comparative test rolls around. Post-lunch, we’re shown to a different skidpan, though this one is set up with cones for a wet braking exercise in which one car has another new Michelin product, the Energy XM2+, and two other cars wear rival tyres. The key difference however, is that the Michelins are worn, while the competitor brand is new.
The intention was to demonstrate that the economy oriented XM2+ is just as good as a new tyre even when it’s nearing the end of its life. Again, the test showed that to be true.
Review: Audi Sport Driving Experience
So with the testing out of the way, a different kind of product demonstration was next… hot laps of the road circuit in a highly specialised Porsche 911 GT3 RS complete with a racing driver at the wheel.
Suddenly, the Cayman GTS, driven by yours truly didn’t feel quite so fast, but with a professional race at the helm, testing the very fringes of adhesion, the full potential of the Michelins was clear.
The final stage of the day became a little competitive, as Michelin employees and media attendees took to a wet motorkhana to see who could lay down the fastest course time. Using economy hatchbacks and the Macan S, the Michelin-shod cars became tools to see who had the best car control and throttle discipline.
Michelin’s showcase day followed the general agenda of many tyre launches, though each brand and tyre has different needs and will therefore, have differences in the itinerary. For example, it might be more appropriate to launch the most performance-focused tyres at a full racing circuit, while a tyre built for off-road use would require… off-roading.
Either way, Michelin succeded in not just highlighting the virtues of its top-quality tyres, but also proving that a product many see as somewhat uninspiring can be incredibly good fun.