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The new Bridgestone Potenza RE-11A touches tarmac in North America for the first time EVER …on the TunerPlayground & Prima Racing time attack S2000 “Irene”

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The other night we had teased everyone by posing the question of what would happen when one of the world’s leading tire manufacturers brought a street-going, ultra high performance tire to North America for the first time. Well now it’s time for us to share.

Wednesday September 19, 2012 – After months of careful quiet planning, the day finally arrived. We were told to meet the Bridgestone team at the site of the US Naval Air Station in Alameda. We knew that we’d be testing their existing RE-11 tires against the all-new RE-11A and that the track would be awaiting us at the airbase. Accompanying us on our duties was none other than our trusty Honda S2000 aka “Irene” and a borrowed Mitsubishi Evolution 9. Also in attendance was our tow vehicle, loaded to the gills with wheels for each of the cars.

When we crossed through the security gate onto the old air base, we were simply awestruck by the sight; over to our right the view was framed by towering cargo ships docked alongside the Port of Oakland, while to our left was a row of old hangars, converted for business use and further behind the hangars was a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay and Peninsula. Dead-ahead was an outstretched strip of aging runway, a fleet of Bridgestone trucks and a sea of cones set against the backdrop of the downtown San Francisco skyline.

We joined up with the Bridgestone team who was busy setting up for the day. Realtime Logistics provided just about everything else imaginable; most critically, lightning-quick tire mounting and dismounting. The morning would commence with drivers Andrie Hartanto, Tom Tang and Michael Ostby putting Irene and the Evo through its paces around the constructed course on the runway. The Bridgestone engineers handed us some evaluation forms for us to review prior to our cone-dodging in order to properly immerse ourselves in the mindset necessary to evaluate the tires.

Now, when it comes to cone dodging, only Andrie Hartanto could boast any autocross experience. To make matters even more interesting, the track layout, while somewhat technical in nature, was also incredibly fast for that of an autocross layout. This provided a broad spectrum of loading situations for the tires including heavy acceleration, cornering, fast transitions, a high-speed heaving braking section and even a slalom section. Each portion of the track added its own unique element and truly provided a dynamic environment to punish the tires. Andrie commented about these aspects after taking a brisk jog around the course to get a better feel for the layout. If you’re wondering, his jogging time around the course was 240.5 seconds. Quite respectable!

Andrie Hartanto took Irene out on the current Potenza RE-11 tires wasting no time whatsoever in getting up to speed, displaying the tenacity and focus of a true professional. Tom spent some time coming to grips with the new track in the S2000 as well and Michael did his best to collect as many cones while going sideways and backwards in both cars. After a few more attempts everyone seemed to settle in and times appeared to drop to a consistent level after a few more attempts. Andrie had the S2000 down to a 42.2-second run, Tom managed a 48.1 and in the Evo, Michael finally managed find a clean run at a time of 45.8.

Following the testing of the Bridgestone Potenza RE-11, we took a break to head towards the trucks for lunch. An amazing lunch was served as we set up station under the impressive double canopy setup. The pasta was obscenely tasty and of course, the cookies didn’t fail to disappoint, either, but before we knew it, it was time to get back at it and switch to the highly anticipated RE-11A tires. Once we had swapped wheels and tires, it was back to business.

Andrie had the honors of setting the Potenza RE-11A tires off on their maiden test run on the North American continent, launching the S2000 without hesitation and instantly turning in his fastest time of the day. Subsequent sessions saw the times fall even further until Andrie had successfully knocked a full second off of his time in Irene. In the Evo, Andrie was able to improve his fastest time with the RE-11A by nearly a full second again. Tom took the honors of shaving off the most time with the RE-11A by dropping a full two seconds, thus highlighting the confidence factor provided by Bridgestone’s next generation tire. Michael, in a rare feat of consistency, was able to string together four consecutive runs (out of 5) on the RE-11A tires, improving to a 44.1 time.

Following each driver’s set of runs and completion of the evaluation, the drivers de-briefed individually with Bridgestone’s think-tank to discuss how the new RE-11A stacked up to current RE-11 model. Drivers were somewhat sequestered so as not to be influenced by each other’s opinions or feedback. While the timing stand certainly didn’t lie, the actual feedback was clearly of major significance to Bridgestone and we were happy to oblige in providing direct, unfiltered commentary.

“If I’m being honest, I was pretty reserved in my feedback at first because I was taken aback by the difference in the RE-11A tires. It took me awhile to register what had just happened. I mean, after all, the times on the RE-11 had plateaued near the end of my runs, but once I had switched to the RE-11A, I found that the track continued to open up for me. The amount of cones I managed to accumulate on the RE-11 was a pretty good indicator that I wasn’t managing the threshold of the tires very well. This is particularly embarrassing since I’ve been driving on the RE-11 tires since 2009, but they’ve always rewarded smooth and linear inputs. At times, I’d even say that the RE-11 have done so to a fault,” driver Michael Ostby explained.

Ostby continued, “Now you compare that to the RE-11A, where I was able to easily extract a number of clean runs and that’s one thing, but on top of that, I didn’t want to stop. Not just because I was having fun doing my first autocross type of event, but because I don’t really think I was completely pushing the limits of these tires, yet. Whatever Bridgestone has done for their new compound with the RE-11A, it’s definitely noticeable. If I could use three words to describe the new RE-11A tires, it would be predictable, soft and fast.” Ostby then went on to elaborate, “Tire slip is linear and progressive. In that, I mean that when the slip angle of the tires got to be a little more fun, you still knew where the car was headed at all times. At no point did I feel the car’s handling or tire travel was peaky or overly twitchy. Even better, the tires offered substantial feedback to the point of where it was easy to dial in the necessary inputs to keep the car running near the edge, although I don’t think I was completely getting the most out of the tires. The level of feedback was somewhat confusing considering that the tires were soft and grippy. I didn’t expect it at all once I started driving, but Bridgestone made it happen. I’d be very interested to try driving on these again.”

Andrie Hartanto added, “When comparing to the RE-11, the RE-11A’s overall grip is much better. The turn-in has improved and there are marginal improvements in braking as well. True, I did mention to the guys that I felt the car suffered from more understeer with the RE-11A, but that’s a result of a tire that is easier to control on oversteer. I’m very impressed with this tire, especially after having the opportunity to test them back to back. Both tires’ characteristics really were exposed during this test and I think enthusiasts will be pretty happy with this tire.”

With the testing completed, it was clear that Bridgestone had truly brought their “A” game (pun only marginally intentional) with the Potenza RE-11A. The team was certainly impressed with the steps Bridgestone had made from the RE-11 to the RE-11A. Moreover, it was clearly evidenced by the ear-to-ear grins that each of the TunerPlayground/Prima-Racing drivers got to experience a bit of childhood fantasy in getting to be a part of the test. “Who hasn’t wanted to take their car and tear it up on a runway?” Tom Tang quipped. “We’ve had perfect weather, a great group of people, an amazing setting for testing and some pretty impressive tires that Bridgestone brought over from Japan. I’m sure we’d all be hard-pressed to come up with a better way to spend a day outside of the office.”

TunerPlayground and Prima Racing would like to express its deepest gratitude to Bridgestone, especially Rod Stotsenburg, Robert Saul and Timothy Netzel of Bridgestone; to Jesus Villareal of American Auto-X for running timing and for constructing a course that not only pushed the drivers and the tires, but had a high speed element for us road course guys, too, and to Realtime Logistics for all the support and coordination and ensuring that things went smoothly. Lastly, a big thanks to Teena Wu for taking things in stride as Michael Ostby subjected your Evo to a relentless barrage of cones. TunerPlayground and Prima-Racing would also like to thank its partners, supporters and fans.

Lastly, we’re excited to announce the official release date for the Potenza RE-11A is TBD. But we’d have to say, they’re well worth the wait!