After spending five exciting months on well-worn track tires, I finally felt comfortable in my 1999 Mazda Miata. Three of those months were spent tracking regularly throughout the Pacific Northwest, so I felt fairly confident in assessing their circuit performance. I could adjust to my Maxxis Victra VR-1 when they got hot, the fuel load dropped, and the tail started sliding over crests and after trailbraking.
Then came a set of Bridgestone RE11s, which were fun and stable but not the stickiest of tires. Granted, they were pretty old, so I can’t be too hard on them. What really appealed to me was their ability to handle water. With a lot more versatility than the VR-1s I’d run before, I wondered how these RE11s would perform on a longer trip—and what differences a newer, fresher set of comparably sticky tires would make.
It’s funny how after getting acquainted with my Miata on other people’s used rubber had me thinking it was always going to be harsh and compromised thing. Well, what better way to reinforce this idea with a 1,000-mile road trip to San Francisco? The promise of an affordable simulator lured me down there, and to make things more interesting, I’d swap my tires with something newer and grippier before turning back home.
Prior to leaving, I spoke with Toyo Tires’ John Pangilinan and discussed what of theirs could replace the current rubber for the return trip. Oregon weather ruled out the cut slicks, which don’t do much in standing water. The tires needed to ride over rougher roads and provide some semblance of comfort, but I also needed reassurance when leaden skies were leaking and I felt like having a little fun.
It took only a few minutes before we settled on the Proxes R1R. The R1R has proven extremely popular with the Street Touring classes of SCCA, both in the Solo® National Championships and SCCA Pro Solo®. It is designed with a high-grip compound and an autocross-inspired casing design, which makes it pretty versatile and easy to adjust to.
A Momentary Drop in Spirits
By the time I’d crossed over into California, the bashing I’d received on lousy highways had me yearning for that tire change. Hopping and skipping over bumps, I’d started wincing before hitting even the smallest pothole or crack in the road. I guess the journey in a fixed-back seat with a five-point harness had taken its toll.
The several days in California ended in mixed feelings. Though the simulator’s seller flaked out, I succeeded in burying my fury by picking up my R1Rs. AVN Motorsports in Alameda, California, mounted the tires and very kindly fitted a set of concentric spacers for a little more comfort. They also turned it around in no time. I just walked down the street for some coffee, and by the time I returned with a half-full Americano, they were installed. That rapid turnaround is soothing when trying to ignore the looming Bay Area gridlock.
Of course, it was still a Miata with stiff suspension, but now, the car was more than tolerable. I knew I was still in a track car, but I no longer felt like I had to anxiously scan the surface of the road for craggy surfaces or the occasional pothole. For the first time ever, I could run above eighty miles per hour without having to crank the stereo to drown out the din.
Taking the Scenic Route
Better yet, the added cushioning hadn’t removed me too much from the driving experience. Taking the curvier coastal highway on the way back proved a great plan since I could enjoy the car through the long, flowing sweepers and switchbacks along the southern coast of Oregon.
Once the slightly softer turn-in was adjusted to, I found far more confidence in the tire. Especially in damp conditions, the R1R was sublime. Its water clearing ability is strong, and with a bit of flex and generous traction, it’s an incredibly friendly tire when pushing along gingerly in the rain and provides plenty of confidence. When a tire doesn’t surprise you, it’s always a little easier to get accustomed to it.
When I felt like a quick spurt along a sinuous section of road, the tires just worked. Braking performance was stellar—on par with the Maxxis. Better than the Maxxis, however, was the way the R1R provided the cushioning that one needs when the road straightens and you’re suddenly uninterested in speed and want to savor the sights. With the windows rolled down and the heater battling the crisp, salty coastal air flowing in, the Miata became a soothing place to enjoy in the scenery. That was a pleasant shock.
There’s something special about treading carefully in a car and then, with a few quick adjustments, finding it comfortable enough to lean on. The R1R taught me that my little Miata was far more versatile than I’d imagined it could be. Most would have difficulty seeing a car with a rollbar and a harness as long-haul material, but you’d be surprised what the right rubber, a major reduction in cabin noise, and a Tempur-Pedic pillow wedged firmly in the back of the seat can do.