If you want to improve your car's cornering ability, a set of sticky performance tires should be at the top of your list. No matter how much money and effort you put into your car's suspension system, the amount of grip that your tires offer is what ultimately determines your maximum cornering speed. Therefore, performance tires are the most effective and cost-efficient handling modification you can perform when it comes to improving your autocross times.
All-Season Tires 101
With the exception of high-end sports cars, most vehicles come with versatile all-season tires from the factory. All-season tires are great for everyday driving — they offer adequate performance in all weather conditions. They have deep treads for dispersing large amounts of rain and snow, and they utilize rubber compounds that work well at virtually any temperature.
Performance Tires Offer Maximum Grip on Autocross Courses
In contrast, performance tires have less space in between the treads. That means they're not as efficient when it comes to dispersing rain and snow, which increases the chance that your car will slide in inclement weather conditions. They also utilize a special soft rubber compound that is tuned to offer maximum performance when the tires are warm, meaning they won't perform as well as all-season tires in the winter.
However, having less tread means performance tires give you a larger contact patch on the pavement. More rubber on the road means more grip in dry conditions so they'll drastically increase the amount of grip you have on dry autocross courses. Furthermore, since autocross events are generally only held during the warm seasons, the fact that performance tires don't grip as well in the cold won't affect your lap times.
Purchase a Set of Performance Wheels for the Best of Both Worlds
If you use your car for daily driving as well as autocross racing, running a set of performance tires year-round may not be the best decision. For one, you'll have to be much more careful when driving in inclement weather conditions. Additionally, the soft rubber compound of performance tires tends to wear out quicker than harder all-season tires, meaning you'll have to replace your tires more often. That can add up to a lot of money over the life of your car.
To get the best of both worlds, purchase an extra set of performance wheels to go along with your performance tires. That way, you can install your stock wheels and tires to get you through the cold and rainy seasons. Then, when the weather warms up and autocross season returns, you can quickly bolt on your set of performance wheels and tires before you go tear up the track.
Additional Benefits of Performance Wheels
Of course, you could simply install performance tires on your stock wheels and swap them out for performance tires when the seasons change. The problem is that installing and uninstalling a set of tires multiple times tends to weaken the sidewalls. After several installations, the wire frame in the sidewalls will be compromised, and the tires will need to be replaced. That's why it's much better to have your performance tires installed on a spare set of wheels that you can simply bolt onto your car whenever it comes time for spirited driving.
Performance wheels also offer some additional benefits. You can purchase wheels with a larger diameter than your stock set, meaning the size of your tires' sidewalls will be reduced. Tires with smaller sidewalls tend to flex less when cornering at high speeds, which will further improve your car's handling ability.
Additionally, performance wheels are tuned to be as lightweight as possible. Lightweight wheels make your car's steering and throttle more responsive, both of which are extremely useful on the autocross track. Lightweight wheels also free up a bit of your engine's horsepower that is otherwise sapped by drivetrain loss — essentially, your engine doesn't have to work as hard to spin the lighter wheels, giving it more horsepower to be used for accelerating.
Check out tires offered by companies like Extreme Wheels to learn more about your performance options.