Get a grip: what latest tyre technology can do for you

There's more to tyres than just rings of rubber. As James Ruppert discovers, some smart options can really pump up your drive
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Indy Lifestyle Online

As we pointed out in these pages a few weeks ago, you can't take those four little rings of rubber at each corner of your car for granted. They can also be a lot cleverer than you think and one of the most important things that they can do is save your life. Dealing with adverse weather conditions and situations has become their speciality, thanks to advanced technology.

As we pointed out in these pages a few weeks ago, you can't take those four little rings of rubber at each corner of your car for granted. They can also be a lot cleverer than you think and one of the most important things that they can do is save your life. Dealing with adverse weather conditions and situations has become their speciality, thanks to advanced technology.

According to the Highway Code: "In wet weather, stopping distances will be at least double those required for stopping on dry roads." Every driver knows this is true, but apart from keeping their distance in such conditions what else can they realistically do? Well, they could fit Goodyear Hydragrip tyres.

At 40mph, a speed at which if hit nearly all pedestrians would suffer fatal injuries, the tyre can reduce stopping distance in the wet by over 10 per cent compared to other brands.

The Hydragrip's performance advantage in wet conditions is a result of its unique DynamicDrain-TRED technology. A unique tread design at the shoulder of the tyre improves road contact under braking, while the tyre's V-TRED design and new generation of wet-tread silica compound results in optimum aquaplaning resistance on even the wettest of roads.

That doesn't mean that it is rubbish in the dry, though, because interlocking tread blocks ensure the tyre remains rigid enough to provide a precise steering response.

James Bailey, Goodyear UK's corporate communications manager, said: "Our annual survey of over 20,000 consumers found that performance in the wet, and in particular braking, are the top concerns people have for their tyres. After millions of test miles and over three years of development, the Hydragrip has demonstrated it could make the difference between stopping in time or causing an accident."

Goodyear aren't the only company with a wet-weather tyre. Uniroyal's Rallye 550 features a hydrodynamic tread pattern in a V-shaped arrangement, a tyre contour providing an enlarged contact patch and an advanced tread compound designed to ensure exceptional wet-weather braking.

Buying tyres for a specific season or purpose has been something of a Scandinavian speciality and explains why Vredestein has such a reputation for supplying some of the best winter and competition tyres on the market.

These days it is keen to stress that there is more to their product range than simply supplying the right tyre for the job. Never mind their latest Hi-Trac tyre with its unique tread construction that contains two sturdy circumferential grooves, ensuring efficient water dispersal. Or the Comtrac Winter for delivery vans with its large number of zigzag sipes in the tread blocks which shake off mud and snow.

No, Vredestein have launched the designer tyre. Ultrac is the second tyre to be created in partnership with Giugiaro Design who have been responsible for some of the best cars of the last few decades, including the original Golf. Not surprisingly, the leaf design on the tread looks very good. Also the news that a special chemical, Exxpro, has been added to the sidewall compound, ensuring that the sidewalls retain their deep black colour permanently, justifies its place as a premium-priced designer tyre, but it also has to work properly. In the centre of the tyre is what Vredestein calls a Centre Shift System. By slightly shifting the right and left tread parts in relation to the centre section of the tyre, noise production is mini- mised without any intrusion on the design.

Ultrac's directional tread serves as the basis for a range of other distinctive characteristics. Many people believe that wide tyres perform less well on wet road surfaces. With the Ultrac, however, the dynamically designed circumferential grooves ensure fast water dispersion. A Full-Silica Silan-Solution in the tread compound provides both grip and an ultra-low rolling resistance, which is, apparently, a very good thing in the wet. Not to be outdone, Toyo has also launched some new specialised rubber, the Proxes T1-R. It boasts a special compound which, it is claimed, offers especially good road holding in the wet, with a V-shaped groove in the tread which pumps water away, allowing better grip. It could be the ideal choice for high performance modifiers.

The thought of a puncture in the outside lane of a motorway is enough to suddenly make you very interested in the concept of run-flat technology (RFT). The need for special wheels has always proved to be the stumbling block that prevented manufacturers from adopting run-flat tyres. Even the Michelin PAX system, fitted to the exotic 1,000bhp Bugatti Veyron relies on a supporting inner wheel within the tyre, necessitating a bespoke wheel design.

Goodyear and Dunlop began to work together in developing a solution. The Goodyear EMT (Extended Mobility Tyre) and Dunlop DSST (Dunlop Self-Supporting tyre) were the result.

The EMT and DSST can be driven with a total loss of pressure. "The sidewalls consist of a rubber that bears the weight in the event of a flat and keeps the tyre on the rim, thereby preventing generation of the destructive heat which will chew up a flat conventional tyre," says James Bailey, manager of corporate communications at Goodyear Dunlop.

The rest of the industry agrees. "Safety is paramount in all aspects of motoring," said Andy Lane, consumer marketing manager at Bridgestone UK. "Although vitally important, tyre maintenance and safety is often over-looked by drivers."

There are critics, though, who feel that run-flat tyres upset the handling on some models. Also, they may create their own risks because they have such high levels of safety that if sudden pressure loss does occur it could go unnoticed. Some cars, such as the Renault Laguna, already have on-board tyre-pressure monitoring systems even when fitted with standard tyres. These involve a pressure sensor inside the wheel that sends a signal to illuminate a light on the dashboard.

There is also the patented Dunlop WARNAIR system. This works through ABS systems to highlight any change in wheel revolutions (a sign of pressure loss). This needs no batteries or sensors that could be damaged when fitting.

However, the main benefit of RFT is that it makes the need to carry a spare unnecessary No wonder sales of cars with run-flat tyres have risen ten-fold in the last three years. They also fit standard wheel rims without the need for special fitting tools. BMW is committed to the concept, and has decided that, from now on, it will not bother pressing a recess in the floor pan for a spare.

From BMW's point of view, tyre technology has come on in such leaps and bounds that the spare wheel is now dead -- and they are probably right.

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