Can just changing a tyre make you faster than a three time British Touring Car Champion, at his home circuit, in his own car? A tall order, especially considering this isn't a budget vs premium test in the wet, but using one of the best ultra high performance road tyres on the market, against its ever-so-slightly more track focused brother.
When it comes to using ultra high performance road tyre on track, the Dunlop SportMaxx RT2 is an excellent choice. Developed to be one of the more sporty handling performance tyres, and with the Dunlop racing DNA designed into the tyre, in isolation the SportMaxx RT2 is a brilliantly dynamic tyre. It blends a nice steering speed and feel, with excellent dry and wet grip, and good comfort and noise levels. Four years after its release, the RT2 is still getting excellent test results in tests such as this year's Auto Bild Summer Tyre Test.
In comparison, the track focused Dunlop SportMaxx Race needs to make less compromises in order to reach its ultimate goal, dry handling lap time. Like the RT2 it has been on the market a number of years, but is still testing extremely well, taking second overall in this years Track Day Tyre Test due to excellent steering feel and feedback, combined with impressive aquaplaning results.
Testing the two tyres back to back at Knockhill race circuit using a 2016 Civic Type R, the differences between the two tyres were clear.
Initial running on the Dunlop SportMaxx RT2 felt excellent. The car turned quickly, there was very little delay in steering as the tyre built up slip angle. While the steering was light, it offered a good level of feedback as to where the limit of grip was, and gave you a good idea of when you were passing it.
Switching to the Dunlop SportMaxx Race immediately highlighted the differing design goals of the trackday tyre. Everything you asked of the car was more immediate. Steering torque and speed built up more quickly, the nose went where you asked without hesitation, and the car's braking was sharper. The connectivity you felt with the car was more encompassing, which gave you far more confidence to lean on the front of the car hard, knowing the extra grip would keep you where you wanted to be on track, or if you did make a mistake, the car would recover more quickly.
Other than the extra feel and grip, there was one other huge advantage of the Race on track - consistency. Where the RT2 overheated the left front after a couple of hot laps, the Race allowed you to continue to push on and work on your driving, rather than worrying about having to cool the tyres. While this doesn't apply during normal road driving, it's a huge bonus on track.
A man as talented as Gordon Shedden was always going to be difficult to beat at his home circuit. Setting just one flying lap, Gordon lapped the track in 01.00:820 seconds on the road bias Dunlop SportMaxx RT2, compared to my best time of 01.01:980 on the same tyre. This meant I would need to improve by over a second to get on terms with his time, on a difficult circuit I barely knew, in a car I'd barely driven.
Luckily the extra confidence of the Race enabled just that, and after a couple of attempts, I posted a 01.00:603.
My own improvement between the RT2 and Race was 1.4 seconds, and with Gordon posting a 00.59:000 time on the Race, or a 1.6 second improvement, it highlights the extra grip and confidence you get on the track focused tyre.
Could you run the Dunlop SportMaxx Race year round? Probably not. The sacrifice you make in wet grip and comfort is too much to be happy running such a focused tyre in the middle of a cold, wet UK winter, but for a car that spends most of its time on track, or being enjoyed on a warm summer's day, the extra connection you get with the car and the drive is well worth the upgrade.