Pirelli Rosso Corsa vs Michelin Power Pilot 3

RossoCorsaFrontAfter 14 track days over the past year running the same (!) set of Michelin Pilot Power 3’s, I wanted to try a new track tyre. While the Michelin’s have been a brilliant track tyre for my level of riding, I wanted to try something new that would help improve my confidence in faster corners, as this is where I’m losing quite a lot of time each lap.

Originally I had intended to try a set of Pirelli Supercorsas but being a little worried that they wouldn’t give me more than a few track days before they needed replacing, I didn’t want to get hooked on a tyre habit that was going to bleed me dry financially. The other problem with the Supercorsas is that while they are brilliant in the dry, they can be scary in the wet. Most riders running them either fit wets or sit sessions out when the rain is falling. I need a track tyre that is great in the dry, at least OK in the wet and which would last more than a few track days. I also don’t want to have to purchase a set of wets and spare wheels just yet. I know this is a big ask and I’m not expecting that any other track (oriented) tyre is going to last as well as my Michelin Power Pilot 3s have.

RossoCorsaRearBWWith that in mind, I decided to try Pirelli’s Rosso Corsa tyres (rear shown to the right). This is a hypersport tyre like the Michelin Pilot Power 3 but with a few differences. The tyre had just won UK Performance Bike’s hypersport tyre test for the third year running and it stood out head and shoulders above the equivalent Metzler, Dunlop, Bridgestone and Michelin hypersport competitors. Actually the Michelin Pure that it was tested against rated as the worst rear tyre of the test with a “vague” feel in corners.

RossoCorsa-pairThe first difference between this tyre and the Michelin PP3 is the tread pattern. The Rosso Corsa (shown on the left here) has deep wide grooves cut into the tyre but there are fewer of them. In theory this means that there should be less squirm on corner exits as the larger blocks on rubber between the treads will resist movement more than those of the PP3.

CorsaCharacteristicsThe downside of course is that the Pirellis are possibly less efficient as clearing water – this might explain why they are are reputed to be less than confidence inspiring in the wet. Another factor that comes into play is heat. I’ve read that the Pirelli’s take time to heat up and some care needs to be taken until they are up to temperature. Once they are warmed up, though, they have a reputation for being very sticky and amazing on track.

Day3-PP3-Rear-AllWhile the Michelin Power Pilot 3’s (rear shown to the right) feature a dual compound with a hard center and softer edge, the Rosso Corsa rear actually features three compounds. Like the Michelin PP3, the Rosso Corsa features a slick shoulder with a soft compound which is designed primarily for high lean angles and maximum grip. Pirelli claim that the profile of the Rosso Corsa is optimised to offer the greatest contact patch at all lean angles but especially at the edges where compound used is identical to that found in the Supercorsa SC2.

CorsaPowerGraph

In addition to increasing grip levels and confidence, this is supposed to allow the rider to put more power down coming out on corners. Pirelli’s own tests against the Dunlop Qualifier RR, Michelin Power Pure, Bridgestone BT 016 and Metzeler Sportec M5 on a Honda Firebade at its Siracusa track showed that a test rider was able to use an additional 35HP at 40 degress of lean and nearly an additional 20HP at 30 degrees of lean. Those are phenomenal differences and ought to mean a much higher corner exit speed compared to other tyres… in the dry at least.

Having read quite a few reviews on the Rosso Corsa all the way back from 2010 when it was introduced, I had high expectations for these tyres. My first test was to take place at Silverstone GP – a track I’ve ridden quite a few times this year (2014). With a dry day forecast, I was hoping to be able to make a fair comparison under near identical track conditions to my last time at the track and my own impressions of the Rosso Corsa’s would be backed up by some hard numbers obtained from my RaceChrono data logger.

The first session of the day composed of three sighting laps – these were pretty slow paced and didn’t really allow me to get a sense of what the tyres were capable of. Although I was using tyre warmers, the slow speed meant that I was losing heat from the tyres as the first session progressed.

In the next session, I was able to ride to the limits of my ability. As I was also riding with Matt, a friend and ex-racer, I felt under some pressure to ride as quickly as I could so that he didn’t get bored following me. My last time out at Silverstone a few weeks ago, my fastest lap was 2:57. This session I managed to shave 5 seconds off that time posting a lap time of 2:52 which is pretty impressive considering that this was pretty much the first time back on this track in nearly four weeks.

During the rest of the day, I never managed to better the 2:52 that I achieved that earlier session. It wasn’t the tyres or a lack of confidence in them that was holding me back because I had been working on braking later into turns, and this was upsetting my rythym through the corner resulting in a slower overall lap time. Later in the day, I eased up on trying to brake late and was able to reduce my lap times again from 3:00 back down to 2:57. In the final session of the day, I managed to maintain very consistent lap times as seen below.

Lap Lap Time
1 2:57.07
2 2:59.38
3 2:57.78
4 2:57.80
5 2:57.61
6 2:59.88

This was a dry track day with an ambient temperature between 18-20C during the day. The tyre warmers probably helped in allowing the tyres to be used hard from the off although they did cool a bit in the delay between lining up in the pits and getting out on track. As a result, I took it easy for the first lap as a precaution. I started the day running 32 psi on the front and 30 psi on the rear, but dropped those pressures by another psi or so as the track heated up during the day. The recommended cold tyre track pressures for the Rosso Corsa are 31 psi front and 29 psi rear.

RossoCorsaRearThe profile of the Pirelli Rosso Corsa is different to the Michelin Power Pilot 3 because the PP3 has a flatter profile which makes it harder to run to the edge of the tyre. I had no such problem with the Rosso Corsas as you can see from the photo to the right.

Quite frankly, compared to the Michelin PP3 that I had been using, the Rosso Corsa tyres were astounding. The edge grip was fantastic allowing me to use more lean on faster corners, and more power earlier coming out of the corners. Braking into the corners was good too; there wasn’t too much “squirm” from the front and the bike always felt planted and secure. I was getting my knee down on more corners and never felt anything other than comfortable when cornering.

If you asked me which tyre I would prefer to use in the dry, the Pirelli Rosse Corsa would be my first choice now compared to the Michelin Power Pilot 3. Whether the Rosso Corsa is as good as the Power Pilot 3 in the wet is not something that I can verify yet.

Update: November 2014

MonteRossoRearAt the end of October, I travelled to Seville in Spain and enjoyed four days riding at the Montblanco Circuit. Over the four days we had air temperatures around 28C (82F) and a track that would heat up pretty quickly by mid morning. With the exception of the first colder morning session, the tyres were operating under pretty similar conditions throughout the day because it was still around 27C at 6pm.

Due to the warm conditions I was advised to run cold tyre pressures of 30psi front and 26psi rear. These equated to around 34psi front and 30psi rear once the tyres were up to temperature. As I was using tyre warmers, and there were few delays between taking them off and getting onto the circuit, I also didn’t need to warm the tyres up on track. The grip levels were great from the first corner onwards.

MonteRossoFrontAfter four days, I can say that I am still really impressed by these tyres. They really grip well, and are fantastically stable under braking (although I don’t brake as hard as I should!). They have also lasted really well on a super abrasive circuit and I expect that they have lots more track days left in them.

They have now done five track days; racking up some 500 miles (800km) and they still look relatively unscathed. They don’t appear to be affected by heat cycles either but that could be due to the fact that I am using tyre warmers so they’ve only really been through one heat cycle on each of the five track days.

For warm and dry circuit conditions, I can’t recommend these tyres enough.

You can also read my comparison review of the Michelin Power Pilot 3 vs the Michelin 2CT if you want to know more about these Michelin tyres.

Update: April 2015

I’ve just completed a track day in the rain using these tyres and I was less than impressed. Basically, these Pirelli tyres work best with some heat in them. If the track is cold or wet and you cannot get them to generate or retain heat then you’ll probably find that they don’t give much confidence in corners. They are fine under moderate acceleration and on the brakes when the bike is upright.

If you need a tyre that offers better wet weather performance then I would try an alternate tyre like the Michelin 2CT or Pilot Power 3.

Update: April 2016

You can also read my review of the Pirelli Rosso Corsa vs Pirelli Supercorsa.

Silverstone GP 29 September 2014

warmtyresThis three group track day costing £159 (US$ 255) and organised by Focus Events on Silverstone’s GP circuit was to be the last bike track day here in 2014. I was joined by Matt, the master mechanic from Oval Motorcycle Centre and an ex-racer on his Honda VFR400. The plan was that he would try to help me by following me for a few sessions and giving me feedback which I could hopefully put into practice.

Although the forecast in the preceeding days had threatened some rain showers, we arrived at the circuit to find it completely dry. After unpacking the van, setting up the bikes, signing on and collecting a race transponder we headed over to the briefing. This consisted of the usual spiel about flags, overtaking and an explanation of how this “Chrono” day would run. Basically the first session would comprise three sighting laps for each of the three groups, followed by two normal (and timed) sessions before lunch. At lunch time, the lap times from the transponders would be used to re-group the riders in order to reduce the speed differential within the groups.

Unusually for Silverstone, a great deal of emphasis was made of noise levels at the end of the briefing. There is no mandatory noise testing but Silverstone operates a “one strike and you’re out” policy if you are caught by the mobile noise detectors. Matt was worried about his exhaust, although I thought it sounded no louder than many of the Ducati’s you hear thundering around the track. So to avoid being kicked off the circuit, he decided to go for a voluntary noise test… which he promptly failed… with a reading of 109dB! Luckily someone was able to supply generic baffles for £40 a pair which Matt then fitted. On re-test, he just passed with a reading close to 105dB; the static test limit for the circuit. However, in all the to-ing and fro-ing Matt had managed to miss the sighting laps.

pairbikesIn my previous Chrono day on the same circuit, I got bumped down from the Inters to the Novice group. The prospect of that happening again and the fact that I was going to be followed by Matt meant that I was determined to give a good account of myself in the first timed session. I knew my Daytona 675 was going to be a lot faster down the straights than Matt’s VFR400, but that he would also catch up with me again in the corners because of his skill and race experience. With that thought in mind, I determined to go for it from the start.

RossoCorsaRearThe week before I had just switched from a set of Michelin Power Pilot 3s to a set of Pirelli Rosso Corsa tyres. As we were both using tyre warmers my tyres felt really sticky as we headed out onto the track. My progess that session was a revelation. The new Pirelli tyres felt amazing, giving so much more confidence in corners than my Michelin Power Pilot 3 which I had been running all year.

By the second half of the session, I felt as though I was beginng to carve my way through the field, which is not something that I normally do in the Inters group! As the session came to an end on the in lap, I looked behind me expecting to see Matt on my tail, but he wasn’t there. I immediately thought that he must have either broken down or crashed. Thankfully he was parked up safely in the garage when I got back although didn’t look too happy. I asked him how long he was with me for, and he said something about how he’d try to keep up but that I’d “disappered off into the distance” leaving him for dust. I actually posted my fastest time ever on the circuit with a 2:52 – a full 5 seconds faster than my quickest time here a month earlier!

I think we both suddenly realised that there was a chance that Matt might get bumped down a group while I remained in the Inters group. Oh, the irony! Anyway, it turns out that Matt had inadvertantly overgeared his bike with the result that it wouldn’t pull in top gear down the straights. This massively limited his top speed so that he was never in a position to catch me during the lap. Changing his rear sprocket for one with three more teeth would fix the problem he reckoned. That and the fact that this was pretty much the first time Matt had been on track for nearly 6 years combined with no experience on Silverstone’s GP circuit meant that he had been at a significant disadvantage that first session.

For the next session, we agreed that I would go as fast as I could everywhere except on the three long straights (Wellington, Hanger and the old National) for the first couple of laps in order to give him a chance to learn the circuit. The lap times for that session varied between 2:57 and 3:00 (excluding the out and in laps). This time he had no trouble staying with me although I would pull away down the long straights with my higher top speed of 134mph compared to his 120mph but that didn’t matter too much as he would quickly catch me though the next corner anyway.

After those two timed sessions, we stopped for lunch and waited for the new group lists… slightly anxiously. We both breathed a sigh of relief when we saw that we had both managed to remain in the Inters group. Actually if I’m being honest, I think Matt was more relieved than I was as his friends would never let him live down being bumped into the Novice group! Luckily that didn’t happen and we had four afternoon sessions of riding to look forward to under almost perfect weather conditions.

As my fastest time the previous session had been 5 seconds slower than the first timed session of the day, Matt suggested that I try braking later at the end of the longer straights to carry more corner speed through the corner in the first session after lunch. I tried this but really didn’t enjoy that session at all because my riding felt ragged and I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t always in total control of the bike. In trying to brake later and enter the corner at a higher speed, I suspect that I was actually going around the corners more slowly than before as a result of some last minute panic braking with the corner looming. In fact this suspicion was backed up by the fact that my average lap time for those 5 laps was 3:05 which was a lot slower than the previous two sessions.

For the next (and fifth) session, I decided to ride on my own and slow things down again to try and find my own rhythm. Although my lap times weren’t really any faster than before, I felt much more relaxed on the bike and more in control. I was getting my knee down in more of the corners and thoroughly enjoying myself.

In the sixth session, I continued to enjoy myself and although I couldn’t see my lap times during the session, I knew that I had ridden both consistently and reasonably well. A fact that was confirmed when I pulled into the garage to review my times because I’d managed to post four 2:57 laps out of the six laps that session.

One thing that did puzzle me slightly was why the garage was starting to look so empty with apparantly one session still to go. It turns out that delays due to two red flag incidents earlier in the day meant that we’d just had our last session. We did feel slightly cheated! Although we were later consoled by that fact that we did manage to get 25 complete laps during the day in addition to the first three sighting laps, which was significantly more track time than I received on the last Focused Events track day at Silverstone!

These are my lap times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 3 - 3 sighting laps
2 5 2:52.49 Under pressure! youtube
3 5 2:57.92 youtube
4 5 3:00.61
5 4 3:00.24
6 6 2:57.07 Consistent youtube

Matt did his own thing in the afternoon and was really pleased to have posted a 2:46 lap time by the end of the day. He was getting thrashed down the straights by bigger bikes which he’d then overtake again in the corners. I think he enjoyed the day almost as much as I did, although I can’t help thinking he wished he’d been able to bring his race spec Kawasaki ZX-7R instead of the VFR400. You can see some of his final session below.

One thing that I couldn’t figure out was how I’d managed to post two quicker laps of 2:52 – 2:53 but never managed to get anywhere near those times again for the rest of the day. I suspect that this was entirely down to my riding rather than any external factors like the track or my tyres but I’m still at a loss to explain the massive discrepancy in my lap times for the day.

As track days go, this was one of my favourite of the year and was a perfect end to a summer of track riding in the UK. I really feel that I’m beginning to sort my body position out more and am started to feel more relaxed on the bike. I still have plenty of work to do on my braking into corners and getting back on the gas on corner exits. Hopefully that’s something I’ll be able to work on over four days in Spain at the Monteblanco circuit in a month’s time.

Update: As promised, I’ve posted a comparison review of the Michelin Power Pilot 3 vs the Pirelli Rosso Corsa.