After 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.
With 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.
The 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.
The 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.
While 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.
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.
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.
The 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
At 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.
After 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.