Michelin North America’s BFGoodrich brand just recently unveiled the all new BFG g-Force Rival, an ultra high performance tire designed for drivers that want versatile tires for their high performance street cars; tires sticky enough to be used in autocross and track-day events, then driven home.
Last week, I was given the opportunity to test the new BFG Rival at NOLA Motorsports Park, and it delivered on every single one of its claims. The BFG Rival might even be the best new tire in the Tire Rack lineup for weekend autocrossers, road racers, and midnight canyon runners. However, before we jump to any conclusions, let’s take a closer look at our experiences on the racetrack.
Our experience at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana (just about 35 minutes outside of New Orleans) started off with an amazing Southern breakfast of shrimp & grits, followed by a presentation by BFG representatives, led by brand manager, Andrew Koury.
According to my notes, the mission of the BFG Rival’s engineering team was to develop a street tire optimized for dry handling and traction. The focus was to deliver consistent lap times and extremely predictable handling, because improved grip doesn’t mean much if it goes away lap after lap!
The new BF Goodrich g-Force Rival has a 200 Uniform Tire Quality Grade (UTQG) Rating, which allows it to be used in racing where drivers need to compete on 140+ UTQG tires. The Rival will launch initially with 15 sizes in rim diameters from 15 to 20 inches and section widths of 205-335mm, and it will be available first through Tire Rack.
It’s no secret that the BFG Rival is optimized for dry weather handling rather than the wet, but that’s ok with me. It’s easy to swap wheels and tires during dry and wet months, even if you only own one car. The BFG Rival excels in handling due to performance technology that can be summed up in these bullet points:
After learning a little bit about the BFG Rival’s design elements in the presentation, we were able to test the tire out on a number of different courses, with a number of different cars. This was the fun part of the experience that everyone was looking forward to!
Our very first exercise was a longer, higher speed autocross course, putting the Hankook Ventus RS3 versus the new BFG Rival. We drove several E46 BMW M3s that were pretty much stock, aside from the aftermarket wheels and 245/40ZR18 tires.
I was honestly kind of surprised that the BFG team let us drive the Rival-equipped E46 M3s on the autocross course first, before trying out the competitor tire (Hankook RS3).
According to Skip Barber Driving School instructor Terry Earwood, BFG suggested that we drive our first laps on the Rivals, because they were so confident in the Rival’s capabilities that they didn’t want to give it (the Rival) an unfair advantage during the test. Most drivers will typically improve their lap times and driving performance the more times they drive a course.
This being said, all the drivers in our group drove the Rival-equipped M3s first. The M3 is a fun car to drive, especially with grippy tires mounted. My second run on the Rival-equipped M3 naturally felt faster than my first run in the same car, because I was more familiar with the course.
However, I experienced something really surprising when I hopped in an M3 with the Hankook Ventus RS3 mounted. The Hankook RS3 is well respected as a good tire. Hell, it’s a great tire. It’s sticky and tons of driving enthusiasts swear by it.
Imagine my surprise when I jumped in an RS3 equipped M3 and started out on the course! The RS3 felt a bit squirmy during the autocross. It had much less lateral grip and less steering response than the Rival did on the same course. That’s crazy. I didn’t expect the feeling to be so noticeably different! However, the Rival just felt a lot more responsive on the course. I had a lot more confidence driving with the Rival than I did with the RS3. This came as a surprise because initially I really did NOT expect to feel that much of a difference. Boy, was I wrong about that.
After the long autocross session, we were given the opportunity to drive Ford Racing FR500s Mustangs on Nola Motorsport Park’s awesome road course. I loved the track layout! It had a mixture of higher speed sweeping curves and technical turns; it also had plenty of sections where powerful cars like the FR500S could really get up to speed!
Since Nola Motorsports Park was just opened in the past year, most of us were unfamiliar with the track layout or the best line to take through the course. The FR500S Mustangs that we were driving are pretty powerful (and potentially dangerous), so BFG assigned driving instructors to help everyone drive to the limits of tire adhesion while keeping the body panels of the car away from things like concrete walls, flagging stations, and course workers.
After putting our Nola Fleur de lis imprinted balaclavas on, they gave us radios to slip into our helmets. Much to my disappointment, these radios weren’t for listening to the French Quarter’s best brass bands inside the car. The FR500S is so damn loud that all the drivers and instructors needed to use these microphones and earpieces just to communicate to one another! Oh well. So much for streaming Pandora or Spotify.
Each driver got to squeeze through the rollcages of two different FR500S Mustangs during our road course testing exercises. Again, we drove the 245/40ZR18 BFG Rival first.
Even on our discovery laps when we were still learning the course, the Rival felt very stable under hard braking and hard cornering. As I was learning the course at speed, I turned in a bit too early on one of the corners, and had to correct my line, but the Rival was actually pretty forgiving of my noob mistakes.
After I was able to give the Rival-equipped Mustang a go, I jumped into another FR500S that had the Falken RT615K mounted to its wheels. To be honest, it would be more accurate if I used the words delicately shoehorned myself into the car, because the side impact door bars of the roll cage were super high and aggressive, and the racing bucket seats had super high side bolsters and head restraints! I have no idea how Bo and Luke Duke made jumping into the windows of cars look so effortless. Maybe if I sprayed gear oil or margarine or something onto the racing bucket seats, I’d have a better chance of fitting in there comfortably. I know that Recaro makes a Profi XL seat, and Sparco makes an Evo XL. I think that next time I go racing, I need to find a car with one of these “big boy seats” so I can get in there more smoothly! The bucket seat they had in the FR500S must have been for one of those waiflike models like Kate Moss, because I felt like it had my ass in vice grips! Haha!
Back to the driving experience, I was really surprised at how the Falken RT615K felt in comparison to the BFG Rival. I say this because I know that Falken Tires are commonly used on Ford Mustangs, especially in the Formula Drift series. I drove the FR500S with RT615K tires immediately after the Rival-equipped car. The track layout was fresh in my mind, so I knew exactly where I wanted to place the car as I navigated the road course.
I’ll be very honest here. I do feel that the RT615K is a great tire, but on some turns, it felt noticeably slippery as compared to the Rival in the same situations. The RT615K just didn’t feel as stable under hard braking and cornering. The steering with the RT615K just felt less precise for some reason.
We also got to test the Rival on the skidpad, from the cockpits of Skip Barber Driving School-prepared Mazdaspeed MX5s. For this test, we simply had to steer the car on the inside line of the circle without changing the angle of the wheels/steering wheel. Instead, we had to keep the steering angle steady, while gradually increasing throttle until we reached maximum levels of lateral G forces – or got dizzy and puked.
The tire competitors for this test were all within the BFGoodrich brand, sized at 225/45ZR17. We began with the very successful BFG Comp2 that we tested when it debuted last year, then the new BFG Rival… then we finished off with the very sticky BFG R1S race tire. The Comp2 felt great on the skidpad – it was very grippy, but if you accidentally went off your line by accelerating too much (or too little, like I did), it became pretty snappy at the limit.
The BFG Rival was a lot more forgiving in this category. Even though the driving instructor purposely encouraged me to put the pedal down, driving faster towards the outer edges of the circle at higher speed, the car felt firmly planted. However, when the instructor told me to decrease my pedal pressure to return close to the center of the circle, the car was still very controllable and required very little correction in steering or pedal pressure.
The last tire we tested was the BFG R1S. This tire was super grippy and hardcore – just what one might expect from a race tire. The only thing was, the R1S felt a bit less predictable at the limit. All three of these tires were great, but the Rival was the most grippy, yet comfortable to drive, and allowed the driver more margin for error. Just what I need when I’m driving!
From the looks of his steady circles on the skidpad, it was obvious that my longtime friend David S Wallens, Chief Editor of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine, was pretty experienced on the skidpad, and in a Mazda MX5.
We also got a taste of All Wheel Drive action in Subaru Impreza WRX STis on a short autocross course. This course was lower speed and more technical than the first autocross course we drove. In this exercise, we tested the Rival against competitors like Hankook RS3 and Toyo R1R in 245/40/R18 size.
Just like in the other tests, the Rival exhibited great cornering grip and responsive steering when braking and diving hard into a corner.
As one might expect by now, the Rival felt more precise on this course than the Hankook RS3, and a LOT more grippy and responsive than the Toyo Proxes R1R… neither of which are poor performing tires. Both the R1R and the RS3 are incredible tires, and as a result, have great reviews. It was just that the BFG Rival performed better at this specific task. Amazing.
After trying out the other two competitor tires, each of us jumped back in the BFG Rival-equipped STi for a couple more laps at the end of our session, just to make sure we could really feel the difference. Going back to the Rival after experiencing the other two tires was truly refreshing. Man, what a difference! The whole vehicle responded to steering input with more precision. The difference felt very, very obvious.
At the end of the day, we gathered back in the conference room, and examined the tread on all the tires we used on the short autocross course. This is the Hankook RS3 tire tread. They honestly looked pretty decent, but a close look will reveal a little bit of deformation on the edges of the tread blocks.
Check out the tread on the Toyo R1R! This tire really stood out! Look how worn and stressed out the tire looks, on the edges AND on the tread blocks themselves. I’ve always thought the R1R was a pretty good tire overall. However, I was shocked to see how worn out the tire looked after subjecting it to heavy lateral loads on the autocross course.
We’ll conclude this story with an image of the BFG Rival tire. This particular tire saw twice the amount of track time as the Toyo R1R and Hankook RS3 – remember, we drove the Rival first AND last in the Impreza WRX STi short course autocross session! Even though it had twice the amount of usage as the other tires in our test, it seemed to be holding up a bit better than the Hankook RS3, and a LOT better than the R1R. According to the tire experts at BFG like Dirk McDonald, this has something to do with the Rival’s Lateral Draft Angles, which optimize the rib and tread block’s rigidity under lateral loads, and the chamfers on the edges of the tread blocks, which distribute contact pressure across the blocks under extreme braking and cornering.
Overall, I was very impressed with the performance of the Rival. It would have been great if we had a chance to test them out against some other tires like the Continental DWS and the Dunlop Direzza Z2, but none were available for this test. I’d love to eventually try out a set of Rivals on my own street car, and see how well they fare on the canyon roads that run close to where I live! I was very impressed with the BFG Comp2 that I test drove last year, and it was just recently named Tirerack’s #1 UHP Summer tire. My guess is that the new Rival will be the new street tire to beat in the canyons and grassroots racing events!
:: Antonio Alvendia