Best Autocross Tires: Bring on the Cones!

Get a grip on the competition.

byMark Webb|
Potenza RE-71RS
Bridgestone
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I learned about autocross tires the hard way. Halfway into my third ever autocross run, my all-seasons and I plowed straight through a tight left corner. Fortunately, I didn’t damage my VW Golf, but those little orange cones never had a chance.  

A great set of tires makes one of the biggest differences in how your car performs at an autocross event. The most popular category of tires is the Super 200s which are track-focused yet can still be driven on the street. These tires are competitive for club-sponsored events like autocross, time trials, and even some endurance events. They also won’t drain your bank account.

Best of all, they are well-matched for street cars, which means they are well-matched for the skills of the average amateur racer. That’s not to say these tires won’t keep you from mowing down orange cones, but for a weekend warrior using their weekday car, they are the best autocross tires.

Best Overall

Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2

Summary
Standard equipment on many high-performance sports cars, these tires are the gold standard for amateur events.
Pros
  • Bi-compound maximizes contact patch
  • Excellent grip with precise handling
  • Can be used as a daily dry weather summer tire
Cons
  • Pricey 
  • Prone to oversteer in the wet
Best Value

Falken AZENIS RT615K+

Summary
An inexpensive tire that offers good performance. Ideal for someone who wants to get started in amateur events.
Pros
  • Low cost 
  • Excellent lateral grip
  • Forgiving contact patch allows for mid-corner corrections
Cons
  • Needs warm up time
  • More street than race tire for good and bad
Honorable Mention

Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS

Summary
Great choice for a dedicated racing tire with minimal road use. Extremely stiff construction makes for a precise tire which utilizes its full width in cornering.
Pros
  • Delivers the fastest dry lap times
  • Wears evenly across tread
  • Instant and repeatable response
Cons
  • Harsh ride and feedback on rough tracks
  • Not the best for multi-use cases

Summary List 

Our Methodology

Most experienced racers already have a tire preference. With that in mind, I approached this article from the standpoint of someone relatively new to the world of autocross. My knowledge about tires comes from a combination of experience and research. When in doubt, I tread lightly and seek out expert advice. My go-to resources are TireRack.com, which has a great mix of test data and individual reviews, and Grassroots Motorsports, which has a wealth of information for amateur racing. I leveraged all of these resources to compile this list of the best autocross tires.       

Best Autocross Tires: Reviews & Recommendations

The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires may be the obvious pick, but there’s a reason why so many people use them in autocross events. Simply put, these tires offer the best grip and precise handling of anything road legal. That’s why cars like the Ferrari 458 Speciale, Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe Black Series, and Porsche 918 Spyder use them as standard equipment. Michelin's bi-compound technology makes these tires stand out because it uses two different rubber compounds for the inboard and outboard tread. The bi-compound technology combines with Michelin’s Variable Contact Patch technology to optimize the tire’s contact patch. The result is better grip everywhere, including tight and transitioning corners on an autocross course. The only real downside to these tires is the price. You’ll pay $100 to $150 more per tire than other tires on this list. But you are getting a noticeable improvement in performance. Grassroots Motorsports compared the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 with the Bridgestone RE-71R using a McLaren 720S on a club-style track. They found that the Pilot Sport Cup 2s were two seconds faster than the Bridgestones.

Pros

enormous amounts of grip

one of the longer wearing track tires

usable as a real summer tire if budget allows

Cons

break away isn't forgiving

at its best when designed for a specific car

affordability was never a priority

Falken’s AZENIS RT615K+ is the latest installment of a tire which offers the best performance among lower-priced tires. That may sound like I’m damning them with faint praise, but that’s not the case. The response is excellent, but not quite as razor-sharp as the Michelin Pilots. However, it’s a very forgiving tire, allowing you to make mid-corner corrections, making it ideal for novice drivers. The compound needs to warm up before getting the best results, but once there can handle repeated lapping without fading from heat soak. The RT615K+ is unusual in the fact that it offers good wet weather performance and near full tread depth in a tire which works well on track. If you are a first-timer to racing, the Falken RT615K+ is a no-brainer. Not only are they easier to drive than many competitors, they make a great summer tire if your racing plans don't pan out.

Pros

Good selection of sizes

Deep tread and durable compound means long life

A real value proposition for beginner racers

Cons

Not the fastest tire out there

Not the most precise

Gives up some dry performance for wet

The RE-71RS is an update of the original RE-71R with improved lateral grip and wet track performance. It retains the directional tread design that made the previous version so communicative and accurate but now has improved treadwear. Where the new RE-71RS takes a small step back is in more technical autocross performance. The old tire excelled at providing excellent control on small, tight courses, while the new tire seems better suited for fast autocrosses and track days. The new tire also feels a bit numb on-center but the feel improves nicely when cornering. The Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS is a contender on a road course and this update might be as good as the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2. It’s also a capable tire for autocross but not the best choice.

Pros

Exceptionally stiff construction for instant response

Maximizes tread width utilization under hard cornering

Compound designed for dry grip

Cons

Punishing ride quality even for a race tire

Literally unusable in cold weather

Not as forgiving at the limit as competitors

Best Track Only

Hoosier R7

See It
This is a race only tire, built for very specific use-cases. The R7, while carrying a DOT rating, is not intended for on-highway use. The R7 is designed for heavier vehicles or longer courses in hot weather, while the A7 is for lighter cars in cooler weather. If the R7 has any weaknesses, it’s the price and the fact drivers have to pay attention to heat management. This is not a tire for new racers and will add another thing to worry about besides driving. As a beginner or intermediate driver, you won’t benefit from not enjoy the Hoosier R7. This is a tire you graduate up to. Once you’re a skilled driver with consistently fast times, the Hoosiers will take you to the next level.

Pros

Levels of grip you just won't get from a full tread tire

Takes skilled drivers with well tuned cars to another level

Cons

Requires trailering car or changing tires at the event

Hard sell as a value proposition

Our Verdict on the Best Autocross Tires

The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 barely nudges out the Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS for the top pick. You can’t go wrong with either tire, so it comes down to the number of laps and layout of the autocross course. For the best value, get the Falken AZENIS RT660. The Falkens offer great feel and excellent performance for a fraction of the price.   

Features to Consider Before Buying Autocross Tires

There is a lot of info on tires — more than enough to cover several articles. To simplify things, there are three items to consider. 

Tire Type

The type of tire is the first thing to consider. While some people run all-season tires in autocross events, most opt for high-performance summer or ultra-high performance summer tires because they are softer and provide more traction. The tradeoff is they don’t perform as well in wet or cold conditions.  

Tire Size

When evaluating tire sizes, you need to look at the tire's width and the sidewall's height. The wider the tire, the larger the contact patch and the better the grip, which leads to faster lap times. Sidewall height comes into play for responsiveness. A shorter sidewall means less sidewall flex leading to faster transitions in corners.   

Treadwear

Treadwear is based on actual tire testing compared to a baseline. Tires that are expected to last as long as the baseline reference receive a treadwear rating of 100. If they are expected to last twice as long, they get a 200 treadwear rating and so on. The lower the treadwear rating, the softer the tire and the more grip it provides. But a softer tire wears out faster, so you’ll buy tires more often.  

Autocross Tire Pricing 

Autocross tires start at around $150 for a tire like the Falken AZENIS RT660 in a 15-inch size and go to over $630 for a 19-inch Hoosier R7. The midpoint seems to be $250 to $300, where you’ll see tires like the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 and Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS in a 17 to 18-inch size. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Are wider tires better for autocross?

A: A wider tire is almost always better if it fits. Even if it means going to a larger tire diameter.

Q: Does autocross hurt your car?

A: Autocrossing can shorten the life of standard consumable items such as tires and brake pads, but it is extremely unlikely that it will damage your car.

Q: Do you need a helmet for autocross?

A: Helmets must be worn for all track and autocross events. Helmets certified as meeting the most current or the two most recent applicable Snell, FIA, or SFI standards are acceptable.

Q: What is the most popular car to race?

A: Once again, the answer is the Miata…

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