When building or modifying a car for higher levels of performance and control, there are so many important systems that all work together in concert. Suspension, steering, driveline, every one is part of a package to deliver an enjoyable drive and low lap times. If we had to point to one single part that makes the most difference across the board, it's the tires.
We've been asked many times what the best first modification for a car would be. Barring any mechanical or safety issues that must first be addressed, our answer is always to get a good set of performance tires. That may require a wheel swap at the same time to get the size or type of tire desired, but other than style, that's a wheel's whole purpose: provide the framework to make tires function.
The reason tires sit at the top of our list is that they are your car's interface with the road. All those systems that we spend so much time and money upgrading to increase the car's capability depend solely upon the quality of the tires and how they react to the pavement when under stress. Simply stated, a good set of tires will increase a car's potential across all parameters of performance. Want to accelerate quickly? A high horsepower engine will make the numbers, but good tires are needed to get the power to the road. Want to carve corners? Dial in the upgraded suspension all you like, but it's a sticky tire that will provide the lateral grip needed to carry speed through a curve. You can never have too much braking capability, but massive rotors and calipers need high levels of grip from the tires to haul the car down from speed without skidding.
Good tires, especially in larger sizes (we're listing just 17-inch rims and larger), are no small investment, so longevity sometimes has to be balanced with performance to fit within real-world budgets. Unfortunately grip and treadwear are always at odds, but the good news is that ever-evolving tire technology continually brings higher levels of performance to tires that will do daily driver or road trip duty without burning up in a few thousand miles. Keeping that in mind, we kept the treadwear in the 200s since we really need at least that level of grip to fully actualize suspension and brake upgrades. And really, why would you do all these upgrades if you didn't want to extract the most out of them?
We set our minimum treadwear cutoff at 200 (except for our sidebar on R-compound tires) for a few reasons. Most notably, that's the minimum for most street-oriented autocross events. From a real-world standpoint, 200 treadwear should last through a few year's worth of weekend driving plus three to four events without issue. That keeps the tire budget pretty reasonable for the average enthusiast. We topped out at 240 because there's a clean break at that point in the offerings, and we have limited space here only for the stickiest tires. These are our go-to choices when we need a tire in the 200 range that we can still trust to deliver performance!
So what exactly does a treadwear number mean? The treadwear number refers to a portion of the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) system that was established by the government to create a relative tire comparison system so that consumers could judge across tire brands how long their tires would last. Under the UTQG system, treadwear is a comparative rating based on the wear life of a tire when tested under laboratory test conditions. Under this scheme, a tire graded “400” should last twice as long as a tire graded “200.” Since all vehicles, driving styles, and roads are different, the treadwear rating allows tire life to be accurately compared without stating the actual tire life in miles. Nevertheless, the treadwear rating can be a bit confusing as some manufacturers are more conservative with their rating than others (they can legally claim less tread life, but not more). Generally, however, a modern tire with a lower treadwear rating signifies a grippier, stickier tire with better performance, and that's why sanctioning organizations and event promoters like to restrict treadwear to tires 200 or higher—they represent an unfair advantage!
Bridgestone Potenza RE-11
Temperature: A 205/45R17
|225/45R18 ||235/40R18 ||245/40R18|
Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar
Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1
|235/40ZR17 ||235/45ZR17||245/40ZR17 |
Continental ContiSportContact 5P
|255/35ZR19||255/35ZR19 ||255/40ZR19 |
|285/35ZR20 ||295/30ZR20||295/35ZR20 |
|245/35ZR21 ||265/35R21||275/30R21 |
Hankook Ventus RS-3
Falken Azenis RT-615K
|205/40R17 ||215/40R17 ||215/45R17 |
|245/40ZR17 ||255/40ZR17 ||215/45ZR17/XL|
Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
|235/40ZR17 ||245/40ZR18 ||235/35ZR19 ||255/45ZR20 |
|255/40ZR17 ||265/35ZR18 ||245/35ZR19 ||255/45ZR20 |
|275/40ZR17 ||275/35ZR18 ||245/40ZR19 ||275/35ZR20 |
|315/35ZR17 ||285/35ZR18 ||275/30ZR19 ||245/40ZR20 |
|225/40ZR18 ||295/45ZR18 ||275/35ZR19 ||315/35ZR20|
Yokohama ADVAN Sport V105
|225/45R17||245/40ZR18 ||235/35ZR19 ||275/40ZR19 |
|245/40R17||255/40R18 ||245/45ZR19 ||285/30ZR19 |
|225/40R18 ||285/35R18 ||255/30ZR19 ||225/35ZR20 |
|225/45ZR18 ||285/35R18 ||255/35ZR19 ||255/30ZR20|
Toyo Proxies 1
|235/40ZR18||235/35ZR19 ||285/35ZR19 |
|245/40ZR18||255/35ZR19 ||295/30ZR19 |
Maximum Grip DOT-Legal Tires
If you're like us, you want the absolute stickiest tire allowed by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Over the years, most of our project vehicles have been shod with drag radials and R-compound tires—and back in the day, so-called “cheater slicks.” Why? Because if you want to get the most out of your car, you need the most grip available. It's why we gravitate toward tires like the Nitto NT01 in our own personal cars. These DOT-approved tires represent the pinnacle of grip that can still legally be used on the street, though some are aggressive enough that manufacturers advise against street use. That disclaimer out of the way, if you're ready to put your big boy pants on, you might be ready for a set of DOT-legal R-compound tires. Typically, we replace the R-compound Nittos on our project cars every two to three years and get between 7,000 and 10,000 miles (and three to five events) out of them. Here's what's out there!
BF Goodrich g-Force R1S
Coker Tire M&H Camber Sport Radial
Hankook Ventus Z214
Kumho Ecsta V710
Pirelli P Zero Corsa
Michelin Pilot Sport Cup
Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial II
Toyo Proxes RR