Rally Rubber

Story by Paul Eklund
Photos by Chris Miller

The only form of motorsport that’s tougher on tires than drifting is rally racing. Competitors need tires that can survive some of the harshest conditions in the world while still delivering tremendous bite. Oh, and they have to last long enough that a shoestring team can make their budget for the competition year.

Maxxis has entered the rally market with the new Victra R19, although these competition tires have already been available in other markets, such as South America. This chunk of rubber and steel could possibly become the savior of amateur rallying in North America just by being available and fairly affordable.

You see, the American rally tire market isn’t exactly awash with options. The current standard is the venerable BFGoodrich g-Force Rally Tire–yes, that’s its official name–a progeny of the Michelin/ Uniroyal-Goodrich merger of 1988. Once shipping is factored in, figure about $280 per corner for a 15-inch size.

The new Maxxis? You’re looking at $220 to $240 per tire depending on size, and if you place the order directly through Maxxis, they’ll pay the shipping.

The Maxxis Victra R19 comes in both hard and soft compounds as well as several popular sizes: 205/65R15, 195/65R15 and a really narrow 185/65R15. Based on experience, we’d recommend the soft compound for wet, muddy, cold or loamy-earth situations. They can overheat and wear quickly in warm or hot conditions, especially on gravel or hardpack.

The Gravel Laboratory

Is the Victra really a game changer? Time to put it to the test.

But first, we needed a benchmark–the reigning BFGoodrich g-Force Rally Tire. Our set, like so many out there in the field, had a few stage miles on it, too. All of the tires tested were hard-compound models–typical for a weekend warrior–in the ever-popular 205/65R15 size.

The test car was a currently competitive 2008 Subaru STI Super Productionclass monster with full Cusco differentials. All the tires rode on Team Dynamic Pro Rally 15-inch, gravel-spec wheels.

The driver was former national rally champion Paul Eklund, and sitting in the silly seat was current Super Production champion co-driver Karen Jankowski, who has navigated for many top drivers and has also run events like the Targa Newfoundland and La Carrera Classic. The test site was a well-known location near the home of the Oregon Trail Rally.

We were driving on thick alluvial gravel, rounded rock polished smooth from millennia of rolling around the bottom of a mighty river. The gravel littered the ground as far as the eye could see. Although the day was dry, the ground was saturated and water gathered in every rut. Skirting muck and puddle, our short course featured a medium straight, a major sweeper, a couple of chicanes, and a serpentine route back to the start/finish at the sweeping corner.

Tire temperatures began low on this brisk winter’s day, and the numerous puddles and water splashes kept any heat from really building in the tread. We were comparing hard-compound rally tires, but it was clear that it was a day best suited to soft tires for optimal results. The max tire temps we saw were a mere 70 degrees measured with an infrared pyrometer.

Traction vs. Transition

Both tire models feature similar tread designs, matching rectangular tread blocks with a hollow center slit. However, it was apparent from the start that the tire engineers at Maxxis thought of traction and bite first and nuance and transition second. The two rows of traction blocks are linear and not staggered, giving the Victra virtual paddles for gripping and tearing at the road when moving forward. The Victra is a directional tire, so the angled blocks bite hard and bring the car quickly out of a slide.

At speed, we were immediately impressed with the huge amount of sideways grip the Victra offered. The marketing literature says the manufacturer beefed up the outer edge for puncture resistance and long wear characteristics, but we would add “tremendous side grip” to that list of benefits.

We couldn’t see our giant rooster tails when we launched–the timekeepers and photographers reported them to us–but we could feel the tires bite down and hold. It was obvious that these are the real deal.

The one drawback we did note–and it was reflected in the split times–was that the Maxxis was a bit less predictable than the BFGoodrich. The slides were not as consistent, so transitions from sliding in one direction to another were sometimes abrupt or interrupted. We think with more seat time on the Victra, we could overcome that tendency and turn it into more of an advantage.

When it came time to change tires and run on the BFGoodrich, we truly expected the trusty old shoe to be the better tire. Although the tire transitioned beautifully into and out of the corners, the BFG simply lacked the grip of the Victra. We typically found the car a full foot wider off the apex in each corner. Again, a quick switch in driving technique and turn-in timing “fixed” the positioning, but the extra tire spin and slip raised our run times.

The top lap times were nearly identical between the two tires–which is a bit odd since they felt so different. The best run on the Victra was 36.3 seconds. The best on the BFGoodrich was 36.4. The Victra times did vary a bit more from run to run, and the split times favored the end of the sweeper onto the straight. In other words, the Victra seemed to give up a bit on the tighter turn and chicanes. Still, they were just as fast as the BFGs overall.

Reading the Results

We saw two primary reasons for the results. The Victra tread design contains two rows of purely lateral tread blocks, which can really help traction in a straight line. The difference was evident in our rooster tails on launch.

That hinted at the second and probably biggest reason why the Victra nudged the BFGoodrich in our test: The gaps in the Victra R19 tread around the blocks are wider–about 1.2mm–and they self-clean the mud and dirt from the tread much better than the BFG. By not loading up with mud, the tire is better able to grab and bite the ground and gravel.

So, which tire is for you? If you run a high-powered car, we think the Victra may give you the edge. However, a lower-powered car may benefit from the BFGoodrich’s consistent handling.

Either way, the American rally competitor has the benefit of another readily available tire option.


BFGoodrich Tires Racing

Maxxis USA
(800) 4-MAXXIS

Primitive Racing
(503) 624-2139

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