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Cooper Tire RS3-G1 Update in California’s Monsoon Winter

So as some of you might have heard, California is getting a lot of rain this winter. I thought it was supposed to have been last year, with all the El Nino talk, but El Nino has got nothing on what we’ve had this year. Quite simply, in the last two months, Sacramento has just about accumulated the amount of rain it gets in an entire year. In TWO MONTHS. There was five inches of rain in a four-day span just the other week…

Anyways, enough about the weather. What this meant though was it presented the perfect testing ground for these new Cooper Tire RS3-G1‘s  wrapped around the wheels of my 330i ZHP. These are touted as an ultra high-performance all-season tire, designed to work and excel in the rain. So how are they doing? Quite well. MUCH better than those Sumitomo summer tires I had prior in the wet. In short, when the road is soaked, I don’t find myself tiptoeing around corners. Approaching a right turn merge lane at a signal, I don’t drive any slower than if it were dry, such is the confidence the Coopers give in less than ideal conditions.

My favorite bit is switching off the traction control and adding gratuitous power through a good corner (when the coast is clear of course) to gleefully play with the balance of the E46 chassis. It’s quite addictive, this. Nothing like hanging out the ‘arse of a rear-wheel drive car. And it’s easy too! I can thank the tires for that, as the front does not wash out at all either. So yes, they have good grip in the wet and can be playful upon desire.

Through standing water, a few inches deep, they do aquaplane ever so slightly. Going straight through an asphalt river I do lose the ability to provide steering input momentarily. It doesn’t throw you around however, nor jerk the wheel around. They track straight through it, which is good and causes no alarm. This does only occur when the water is at least a couple inches deep.

Overall so far, I am very satisfied with the new rubber. The dry grip remains outstanding with severely good wet weather performance. Unfortunately, no real snow driving yet, and I don’t really want to. As Jeremy Clarkson once said, “In the snow, as any BMW driver will tell you, front-wheel drive is a lot better.”

Cooper Tire RS3-G1 installed on an E46 ZHP

As you might recall, after spending a couple days in Florida trying out Cooper’s new tire, the Cooper Tire RS3-G1 (Doesn’t roll off the tongue the best still, I would’ve preferred it being called the G-nado), I was quite impressed. So when my E46 ZHP, manual of course, wore down its old shoes to the wear bars, I was in need of some new stick. Lo and behold, my ZHP, aptly named Nigel, is now wearing Cooper Tire’s latest around its curb rashed 18″ alloys.

The Performance Package code names ZHP in the US was available for sedans from model years 2003 to 2005, and available for coupes and convertibles from 2004 to 2006. It included various aesthetic changes over the regular 3 series, as well as functional and mechanical enhancements. The ZHP was equipped with sportier cam shafts and more aggressive engine tuning to increase power from 225 hp to 235 hp. Suspension was modified over the standard suspension with firmer springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, stronger front control arm ball joints, a lower ride height, and slightly more negative camber.

What are they like day to day now after a few weeks? Terrific! The first drive home with them fitted I was in complete shock. For months now I have been thinking either an alignment or a suspension overhaul was needed to cure Nigel’s wayward tendencies over road imperfections. I never quite understood tramlining until I bought Nigel the ZHP. I feel a first-time driver would have crashed poor Nigel within the first week. Me though, I always thought it made the car more, er, entertaining and involving. It is widely understood that the basic ZHP suspension geometry and wheel sizes do tramline more than other models, but it seemed a little excessive.

However, first drive home with the new RS3-G1s and…it’s a revelation. Sure, it still does follow the asphalt more than a new 3 does by a fair bit, but it’s such an improvement. The end result being increased driver comfort since I no longer have to work the wheel as much. Ride quality seems slightly less harsh on impacts, though it is still ZHP firm. I have not had time for a real spirited drive yet, but so far grip seems impressive. This being evidenced by screaming through an intersection on a left turn arrow that had  just turned yellow on approach. Being in a BMW, of course I’m not stopping for it.

So, so far so good. As the miles roll along, updates will as well. Stay tuned for more.

Cooper Tire RS3-G1 Test Part 2: Lucas Oil School of Racing

“We’re confident we can put our street tire on an open-wheel race car,” said Scott Jamieson, director of product management

So, I got to drive the new Cooper Tire RS3-G1 on the street (See Cooper Tire RS3-G1 Part 1: BMW 528i in Florida). It was pretty good. The next test for the new rubber was to show what it does on the track. Luckily for us, Palm Beach International Raceway is only a short distance inland. PBIR also features the Lucas Oil School of Racing, headed by chief instructor Randy Buck, who would be giving us instruction today along with his team of instructors and racers, Gerardo Bonilla, Jonatan Jorge, and upcoming IndyCar star RC Enerson. Cooper also brought in Indy Lights race winner and test driver Ryan Hampton, well as Johnny Unser (yes, one of those Unser’s) of IndyCar and CART fame.

The cars being used were GR11’s, built by Ray Formula Cars. The design is very akin to a classic Formula Ford racer, which gives off an immediate retro cool. Right behind the driver is a 2.0 liter four-cylinder from Elite Engines making around 140 BHP, but in a package weighing just a hair over 1,000 pounds. That makes for a better power-to-weight ratio than an M4…

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And of course, the tires. They would be wearing the same Cooper G1’s we had driven yesterday on the street. Yes, that’s right, we are using all-season street tires on a racing car, as a testament to the performance credentials of this new shoe. “We’re confident we can put our street tire on an open-wheel race car,” said Scott Jamieson, director of product management. And they’re only dinky 205/55 16 incher’s too! This should be interesting. Cooper does have real racing pedigree as well, supplying tires for and sponsoring the Mazda Road to Indy, three series of open-wheel racing that lead up to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

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Now to the track…

We first started with some basic instruction and early, slow lapping sessions to get accustomed to the cars. For example, I found out I wasn’t using even half of the braking potential and was too busy with the wheel on corner entry. Eventually we were given more freedom and let loose for some open lapping in the afternoon. And the first impressions? Lots of initial grip with a responsive turn in. But once speed (confidence and courage) is built up in the corners, you can feel them start slipping, but in a most progressive manner. The GR11’s natural balance is overt oversteer, requiring lots of quick steering inputs (a dab of ‘oppo) to keep going in the right direction. Never once though did I feel like I was about to lose the car.

Trail braking is a must  to help settle the machine, whilst also prompting the rear to rotate to the apex. Gradually apply the throttle on the way out and rear steps out ever so slightly in a few corners. Acceleration was brisk with quick, somewhat jolting gear changes from the sequential box, but that only added to the drama in a good way. There is a clutch pedal for getting underway, but after that it’s not needed. A slight lift on upshifts is necessary to help smooth them out and prolong the life of the internals. Software is present as well for blipping on downshifts, also sounding very nice to the ears. The four cylinder made all the right noises too, being a loud, brash mechanical wail, nothing like the cheap aftermarket muffler on your neighborhood lowered Civic.

Curious though was the lack of tire squeal even when sliding around, but the feedback through both the wheel and through the seat was good enough to let me know what exuberances the car was up to. Braking performance was superb too, suffering only one quick lockup. But the best aspect was the consistent performance throughout the day, as the tires did not suffer any degradation of any kind. Inspecting the rubber after lapping, they looked as good as new. Cooper also is boastful about the amount of rubber packed into the shoulder of the tire. This benefit becomes clear as the tire deforms less under hard lateral load, becoming more forgiving and predictable. When it does, there’s still a large viable, square contact patch.

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Overall, just what a terrific day. And boy are these cars a workout to drive. All the controls are heavy without any power assistance and the lateral forces do beat you up. I’ve never had such respect for a racing driver’s fitness before. I can’t imagine the physical stress one’s body goes through when driving an LMP1 car at 3G’s in a corner… I was walking a bit like Richard III the next day.

Now, the Cooper Tire RS3-G1 then. I can safely say they performed better than my old set of Kuhmo UHP all-seasons would have on the track. Yes, there was a lot of movement through the chassis, but I think that was more down to the balance and inherent characteristics of the car itself rather than the tires. A testament to the tires though for how easy and fun it was controlling  and wrangling it around corners. I always had a fear that a car like this would be dead; you simply steer and pin the throttle and let the car do everything. It was so much more than that. Grippier tires would have surely dulled the experience. The Cooper’s were lively, to describe it simply. What about that 1G of grip? Onboard footage and telemetry shows that was easily achieved and surpassed in corners.

If you have a daily you occasionally track or autocross, these tires could be the do-it-all solution. And especially with Miata guys, who race and track frequently, not only would these perform reasonably well, but last a long time as well, especially given a Miata’s similar light weight. If equipped on my E46, I wouldn’t once doubt them before heading to a canyon or track. And I must highlight again the responsiveness, grip, and forgiving nature of the rubber.

Wrapping up, from a day of street and track driving, if you’re looking for an UHP all-season tire, put the Cooper Tire RS3-G1 up on your list. I don’t think you’ll regret it and besides the warranty, Cooper Tire gives a free 45-day road test. Are there better tires? Yes, but they’ll be more expensive. Also, a huge shout out to Randy and his team at the Lucas Oil School of Racing. The track, cars, and people were fantastic. The school also plans to continue using the same RS3-G1s for all future racing school events. But for now, after a day of track driving in the hot liquid-soup air, the only thing I wanted next was to enjoy a cold Heineken and some beach therapy to recover.