Racing the G-MAX
Sonoma, CA – Of the thousands of parts that go into a car, the tire is the only one that touches the road. Not only that but depending on which ones you choose, they can significantly affect your drive.
I learned this after General Tire recently invited me to test their new G-MAX AS-03 ultra-high performance all-season tire for sport performance vehicles, which involved a full day of driving in all sorts of conditions” wet, dry, slow and fast” at the famous Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Considering that I’ve never even been to a racetrack before” much less driving on one, this experience was an interesting challenge for me.
I eagerly climbed into a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with my partner for the day, David, a driving instructor and racer from Colorado. We were challenged to stay only a car length and a half behind the professional racecar driver who was leading us through the twisting and elevated track. We had to follow very close so as to shoot for apexes, brake and accelerate exactly where the pro did. He had a two-way radio to communicate with the three cars of press drivers behind him. After David’s laps around the track, it was my turn.
The pro, a guy with a French accent, was somehow able to drive extremely fast with only one hand on the wheel while watching us in the rear-view mirror. “Car number one, remember to keep your hands in the 9-3 position,” he said to me as we started out.
“Oh, I don’t like this!” I exclaimed to David as we flew around the first corner. “It doesn’t feel safe!”
“It is, don’t worry,” he tried to reassure me. “They just want to demonstrate how the tire handles.”
“Car number one, stop rolling around in the seat like that,” said the pro. “And smile.”
And so it went. The French guy was pushing me hard and the G-MAX was holding up.
The Chevrolet Camaro on the track
After climbing into the next car, a Camaro, I became more insecure. First, David was in his own car so I was alone. Second, I’m a smaller person and the well-muscled Camaro is a heavy rear-wheel drive with less window than the Lancer.
“Car number two, go faster,” said the next professional driver.
Although I feared I would, I didn’t lose control. The G-MAX grabbed the surface of the racetrack even when cornering at high speeds. One of the racers told me later that the average turn speed that day was about 50 mph, with turn 10 being the fastest at 80 mph. We drove the straight-aways about 105 mph.
I learned later that there’s a reason the G-MAX is able to perform so nimbly at these speeds.
Most of the other press drivers were men with plenty of testosterone so as the day wore on and they became accustomed to the track we were going progressively faster with each lap. Becoming noticeably unnerved, I jumped into the passenger seat with Ken Dobson, the expert leading a pack of Audi TTS sporting the G-MAX.
“Going this fast just doesn’t feel safe,” I quietly explained to Dobson. I suspected he was losing patience with my fear.
“Were only driving these cars about 70 to 80 percent of what they’re capable of,” he tried to assure me. “You can trust me.”
“I just don’t think I can do it,” I said. “Do you think because I’m a mother I have some kind of self-preservation instinct?”
“I’m a father.”
“Maybe mothers and fathers are different,” I returned.
He looked over at me, with a serious expression on his face. Apparently, my first time on a racetrack was going to be a character-building experience.
“Apparently there’s a line you see ahead that you don’t think you can get past,” he cajoled. “Now imagine yourself standing safely on the other side of it. You can do this.”
Four minutes and two laps later, he was right. I threw caution to the wind and stayed on his tail, marveling at the pace and the tires agility.
How did the G-MAX keep me on track?
In dry conditions, a firm but the pliable pattern on a tire enhances precise handling and steering response. The G-MAX uses patented 3D sipes, or special thin slit’s, to accomplish this. One side of the sipe has raised elements that interlock with the recessed element of the other side. The G-MAX 3D sipes lock together for rigidity, which gave me precise steering response and outstanding grip.
The Wet Track
We headed next to the wet track, which was a small course set up with cones and a water truck at the ready, where we were told to compare the handling of several cars outfitted with different tires. I drove these cars with the noted tires:
- Audi S4 with Hankook Ventus ES (245/40 ZR18)
- Audi S4 with Uniroyal GTZ AS (245/40 ZR18)
- Ford Mustang with Goodyear Eagle GT (235/50 ZR 18)
- Audi S4 with G-MAX AS-03 (245/40 ZR18).
Sequentially driving on the different tires was a great way to appreciate how they varied. Whipping around the turns the G-MAX AS-03 clearly grabbed the road much better than the other tires, although the Goodyear also handled well.
Again, there’s a reason behind the G-MAXs performance.
Hydroplaning is when water builds up under the tires, reducing traction. The G-MAX AS-03 has “aqua cleave” to smoothly direct high volumes of water from underneath the tire through large channels, resulting in a better-wet grip. Many standard patterns on other tires create disturbance in the water flow due to intersecting channels that do not set a clear direction for water flow.
While I didn’t drive in snow with the G-MAX AS-03, the tire is capable of doing so.
General Tire says in light snow conditions the G-MAX uses lateral edges, 3D sipes, and straked grooves to create grip. Like packing a tight snowball, the long grooves and strakes with blocking elements lock the snow, making the most of snow-on-snow adhesion. A standard tire allows snow to move through the pattern which reduces grip.
Impressing an expert and a novice
As the day wound down, I grabbed Dobson, the expert driver who talked me into giving the G-MAX my all on the racetrack, to ask him what he thought of General Tires’ new product.
“Were doing competition-style driving on an all-season tire,” he said. “All the little design features, like the 3D sipes show you how well the car will turn into the corner. Also, the fact that even at 100 miles per hour you can’t really hear the tire. That’s what the noise cancellation does. The fact is that the G-Max performs on par with summer performance tires, which is a huge milestone for a tire.”
After an entire day driving on the G-MAX AS-03, I too was impressed.