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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.