Track Day Tire Test: Nankang, Goodyear and Pirelli

Photography Credit: Perry Bennett

Let’s say you’re a track day enthusiast who just wants to go fast—and also drive the car to and from the track. What tires do you fit? 

Online forums and social media outlets are full of advice, but rarely do they involve back-to-back testing showing how the options compare. Sure, lap times are important, but what about the actual driving experience? 

Time to look at a few contenders. Tire Rack calls them “Streetable Track & Competition” tires. 

Generally, these tires have treadwear ratings between 60 and 180 as well as significant void area to channel water. They fit between the traditional R-compound race tires and ever-popular 200-treadwear, extreme-performance street models. 

Some of these tires come as OE fitments on the world’s fastest production cars. Others are simply built as consumables for circuit use.

However, any time you optimize a tire for one purpose, you compromise its abilities in other areas. As with the racing slicks that they’re derived from, the rubber compounds found in these track tires are typically designed to maximize grip when warm but can be challenging when cold. 

That sticky rubber also necessitates a much more aggressive tread pattern so that the soft blocks don’t come apart under track loading. Unfortunately, that shallow, chunky design won’t resist hydroplaning at very high speeds. Still, these tires will get you home should a sudden rainstorm pop up on the transit—again, they’re tweeners. 

While not as clearly defined as the 200-treadwear segment, this group is now getting attention from certain motorsports sanctioning bodies. In particular, #Gridlife’s TrackBattle series specifies 60 treadwear as the minimum for its Track Modified class. SCCA Time Trials has also proposed allowing any OE tires, regardless of treadwear, in its Max category for cars that are mostly stock.

The Tires

From left to right: Nankang AR-1, Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R and Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R. Photograhy Credit: Andy Hollis

The Test

Since these tires tend toward bigger sizes, we again fueled up the One Lap McLaren 720S time trial machine and headed to the fresh pavement at Harris Hill Raceway. 

Tire sizes were 265/35R19 up front and 305/30R20 in the rear, mounted on 19x10- and 20x12-inch Finspeed wheels. Based on past experience, pressures were set at 26psi cold and warmed up to the low 30s after lapping. 

We ran each tire for full sessions to both record lap times and note subjective characteristics. We also evaluated warmup needs and consistency thereafter. Since these tires don’t usually compete for trophies, call this test more of a look at the market rather than a winner-takes-all comparison. 

Test 1: Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R

  • category: Streetable Track & Competition
  • specs: 100tw, 205/50R15 plus 17-20-in. diameters
  • 205/50R15 retail price: $160

Goodyear has a strong motorsports heritage that includes 14 Le Mans wins, a record 368 victories in Formula 1, three decades at the front in IndyCar, and the honor of providing the spec tire for NASCAR. The company has also found off-and-on success at the club level in SCCA road racing and autocross while producing one of the first DOT-legal R-comp tires, the Eagle VR50S. Available in multiple compounds, it provided near-slick levels of performance for both cone-dodging and circuit use.

While racing is useful for both marketing and technology improvement, Goodyear’s primary business is OE fitments for a wide range of street vehicles. Occasionally, however, those two categories overlap when a carmaker looks to shoe a track-oriented production car like the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. 

After Chevy successfully partnered with Goodyear to develop the 220-treadwear Supercar 3 for the ZL1, the carmaker went back to the same well for the more potent Camaro 1LE. Once the tire proved itself on that car, sizing was expanded to meet other applications in the replacement tire market.

On track, the Supercar 3R was a joy to drive, offering mega-grip, super-responsive handling and consistent performance for multiple laps. After a warmup circuit, we probed the limits with a 1:19.5 lap—and then confidently cracked off three 1:18.2s in a row. The data showed very similar traces across all three of those laps. Braking was superb, turn-in crisp, and longitudinal grip outstanding. 

Compared to the 220-treadwear Supercar 3 that we tested last time, the Supercar 3R allowed for much earlier power application at corner exit and was more composed during trail-braking at corner entry. This was especially important in the McLaren, which has excess power and very little downforce. In short, this tire was simply magic.

Test 2: Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R

  • category: Streetable Track & Competition
  • specs: 60tw, 15-20-in. diameters
  • 205/50R15 retail price: $188

Pirelli has a tremendous history of successful racing involvement that continues to this day. Countless wins in Formula 1 combine with endurance victories at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring. Of late, the company is a major global force in GT racing, especially the SRO Blancpain series, Ferrari Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo, where it continues to push the envelope on performance and longevity. 

This racing slick expertise bleeds over into the production tire segment, especially when it comes to compounding. Pirelli first merged this knowledge with the Corsa line of tires, combining track-oriented rubber with the P Zero street tire tread design and carcass. Super quickly, these tires found their way onto a number of production cars from the factory.

In 2013, Pirelli took it one step further with the Trofeo R, developing all aspects of the tire around circuit performance yet retaining streetable characteristics. Built initially for the 2014 Camaro Z/28, the line was expanded for replacement use in 2016. McLaren offers this tire as an option on the McLaren 720S as part of the Track Package, though we chose to run the generic version to better represent the full line.

Compared to the Goodyear, the Pirelli’s steering response didn’t feel quite as crisp, but grip was abundant. As before, a warmup lap was needed before pushing, with a 1:19.5 lap delivered shortly thereafter. The next lap matched the Supercar 3R’s best at 1:18.2, but subsequent laps could not maintain that pace, falling back another half second.

As we saw via the data traces, the Trofeo R picked up time in the entry phase of high-speed corners, while the Supercar 3R fought back with better braking into the tighter turns. That entry phase advantage is also what went away after that first flyer, as the grip of the rear tires fell off a bit and stability suffered.

Test 3: Nankang AR-1

  • category: Track
  • specs: 100tw, 13-21-in. diameters
  • 205/50R15 retail price: $121

Mention the Nankang brand in the U.S., and some will assume it’s another inexpensive offshore lookalike. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nankang enjoys a rich heritage of providing motorsports tires to overseas markets and only recently decided to expand its product line to North America.

Unlike the two high-tech OE fitments, the Nankang AR-1 is strictly a replacement market tire meant solely for dry track day and competition use. As such, the tread design is much more aggressive, eschewing any wet-weather needs and producing quite a bit of road noise. 

The compound started off very soft, so no warmup was required. In fact, we saw immediate fall-off in performance the more we pushed. The tire got greasy, reducing both grip and response. The rears came off the track hot enough to burn our hand when touched.

We ran the AR-1 as our bracket tire on test day, heading out on it first thing and then again at the end. Feeling our way around, the initial session only produced a bevy of 1:22 laps, far off the later pace of the others. With the end-of-day session having the benefit of hindsight on grip, we were able to get to 1:21.5 on the first lap, with subsequent circuits falling off due to heat buildup. While balance was good, steering response was somewhat vague. Just beyond the grip limit, the tire skittered across the surface.

Puzzled by this lack of pace, we checked in with others who have used the tire and found that, like the Bridgestone RE-71R, the Nankang needs a good heat cycle before delivering optimal performance. We also suspected that its overheating tendency would be mitigated by cooler ambient temps. So we let our tires rest and went back out several days later on a cooler morning. 

Sure enough, we found our missing speed. Running short three-lap sessions, we dropped immediately into the high-1:20s on the first time out. Most of the improvement came under braking, but the tire also displayed a crisper response until it became heat-soaked. After cooling off for 30 minutes, a second session found another half-second, and by the third, we clicked off a pair of 1:20.0s. These later clockings came via improved corner exit throttle-up and high-speed corner entry grip in the kink. 

A small footnote to the AR-1: Nankang recently announced a 200-treadwear offering called the CR-1, and it’s rumored to borrow heavily from the AR-1. This track-bred street tire could be a contender in the 200-treadwear field.

Dedicated Track Tires: If You Have the Means…

These three track tires fit a slightly undefined niche that involves delivering high speeds, benign track manners and plenty of laps. They’re not necessarily full-on competition tires, yet they’re more suited for track use than the popular 200-treadwear models. 

The tires we sampled took different routes to the showroom, however, and that helped define their characteristics. Development budgets for an OE fitment are typically much larger than those of a niche-market replacement tire. Further, more expensive materials can be used to deliver the type of performance specified by a carmaker for a top-of-the-line vehicle. Every aspect of the tire’s personality can be perfected, so it’s no wonder that both of our OE-derived contenders delivered class-leading results. 

But you do pay a bit more for that performance. In our 265/35R19 test size, the Goodyears and Pirellis retail for about $320 and $400 each, respectively, while the Nankang can be found for about $300 each. While the Nankang’s pace—and pricing—might be on par with the 200-treadwear field, our testing shows that for some drivers it might offer the right balance between speed, cost and longevity. And for those who wish to add speed—and don’t mind paying for it—the Goodyear and Pirelli come into play.

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Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/14/21 9:31 a.m.

Strong praise for the Goodyear! 

Cool tire test article, as they always are!

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/14/21 9:50 a.m.

I was actually considering some Nankangs for the Datsun as the price is hard to ignore when compared to my usual Hoosiers but the article is making me rethink that. Not so much the slower lap times but the characteristics. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/15/21 1:41 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

The Nankangs intrigue me--intrigue me a lot--as a track day tire that can handle a lot of laps. That is my reality. Give me a track tire for lots of track day laps. I believe it comes in some wide 15, too, which also works for me. 

(Also, that F40 on their site might be the coolest thing ever.)

adam525i (Forum Supporter)
adam525i (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
1/15/21 3:00 p.m.

These guys seem to like them for their 'ring rental fleet - https://www.apex-nuerburg.com/track-car-rentals/ They talk about them favorably on their Youtube channels Misha  Robert

They make a few sizes of the AR-1 for 16" wheels (what I run on the E28) and they're cheaper than most of the 200 tw options at that size, it's just not clear if they'll come back in stock in Canada (but I'll keep checking through the spring).

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/15/21 4:07 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

Wide 15s????? none of that for me.............it'll be 175/60-13s for the Datsun (same tread width as the Hoosiers I run now).

It would be a mostly track day tire for me as my 87 Novakar F500 appears to be the car I will be vintage racing for the next few seasons. In the event the Novakar has an issue then the little Datsun will be my back up.

So yes they intrigued me as well.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/18/21 5:50 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

Well, wide 15s for me. But very cool to see that they offer down to a 13. 

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