Talk to any racer, any REAL racer (shameless F&F quote) and they will tell you if you want to get faster on the track, you start with tires. You can have all the performance in the world, but without good rubber, it will all go up in smoke. This was the situation I found myself in last winter when I was looking to upgrade my wheel and tire set up on my 2011 Mazdaspeed 3. I knew I wanted to hit the track in the coming months, but little did I know that the GE3KSPD himself would turn me into an obsessive tire-slayer, care of autocross. My tire choice now became much more critical than it had been in the past. Knowing that my Speed3 would be combining duty as a weekend warrior and at the track, I ruled out any <200 tread wear Extreme Summer rubber and instead looked to the Max Summer performance category.
Reading many reviews, I wanted the cream of the crop: Michelin Pilot Super Sports. Who doesn’t? But budget and further reading landed me on the Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Positions, what I found to be a fitting choice. Most reviews I read placed these just behind the Super Sports, but at a better price point. So a single day after ordering (thanks Tire Rack), I had a glorious stack of aluminum and rubber waiting in my garage hibernating until the weather warmed up. Because my new wheel set up was a 17x9, my Potenzas were ordered in 245/40/17.
Coming from the stock 18x7.5 Mazdaspeed wheels and Dunlop SP Sport 2050s (Ultra High Performance summers), the ride was transformed into something quite awesome. The Potenzas increased ride quality significantly. No longer was the ride nearly as harsh as the rubber-bandy 225/40/18 Dunlops. I now had some meat. That meat sacrificed some steering response over the stock rubber, but made the car more predictable and comfortable for long hauls. Road noise never made an impression on me, so I consider that a win for a tire in this category. Straight-line grip is something people look for in a good street tire, as launching from a dig and rolling pulls are some of the easiest methods for creating smiles on the street. Being a FWD torque-monster, the Speed3 always makes these situations a demonstration of your kung-fu grip on the wheel as your tires struggle for any semblance of traction. The Potenzas do not disappoint. Gone are the days of wheel spin in first, second, and part of third. I was now hooking in second-gear like a boss.
Being a member of the South Jersey Region SCCA, autocross events take place at a former
airstrip outside of Atlantic City, NJ. If you know anything about flying, you may know some runways are grooved for more landing grip, and Bader Field is no different. Needless to say the Potenzas were beaten with in an inch of their life every month on some pretty brutal surfaces, a scenario that could show me what a tire was really made of.
Lateral grip proved to be a huge plus for these tires. I was able to push the car hard through the courses and change direction well, even with the Speed3 being a bit of a pig. The tires communicated fairly well through the wheel, so I always had a pretty good idea what was going on between the tire and the tarmac. Understeer, being the bane of most high-performance FWD cars, seemed progressive and predictable. Powering out of low speed sections left me looking for grip at times, but this could be attributed to too much steering angle on exit or over heating the tires slightly in tight, demanding sections. Sidewall strength was acceptable for being a street tire, although I did experience some “folding” in certain situations on the strip. After about 4,000 miles and four autocross events on a rough airstrip, the tire degradation is low, which is surprising. With plenty of tread depth left, I can foresee these tires likely lasting a full season of weekend street driving and track abuse.
I believe the short-comings the Potenzas exhibited at the track, are exactly how you would expect a street-biased summer tire to perform when being pushed to their limits. The Potenzas check all the boxes for grip and feel at the track, while making life on the street very livable for daily-driving duty. Stepping up to the Potenza RE-11s or comparable Extreme Performance summer tire, would likely add the better response and feel the Potenza S-04 Pole Positions sacrifice for street duty. I suspect with the use and current mileage I put on my Speed3, I will likely step up my tire game next time around. Any enthusiast cannot lose with these tires on the street and if you hit the track here and there, they will keep you competitive and grinning all the way to the podium.