Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dunlop Star Spec Direzza ZII: A Tire as Exciting as a Date with Scarlet Johansson! (UPDATED)

Getting a flat is a legitimate reason to celebrate: you get to upgrade all your tires even if they have another couple of thousand miles left on them.

I've used a few sets of Dunlop Direzza Star Specs since they first came out and I absolutely love this tire! So when I recently got a flat, I automatically thought I'd buy Star Specs again until a friend told me "You should probably wait a few months, the next-gen Star Specs are coming out."

Now that got me excited! The next-gen Star Spec will be like the Scarlett Johansson of tires! See, I was running second and third in my autocross class back in '08 when I first switched from Michelin Pilot Sport II and the Star Specs improved my times by two seconds relative to other drivers in class. I won my class that year, as well as 3 of the 4 years after that. The change initially was so dramatic, at one point my competitors started asking each other if they should challenge my car to see what else I'd put in it! The Star Spec does not need a lot of heat to perform well, it provides great feedback, and it's very good in the wet. It's a fantastic autocross AND track tire with good life to boot. It's no surprise it was voted the best street tire by a landslide in OneHotLap's poll!

Dunlop Japan already sells the new Star Spec ZII and it claims the tire is even better than the outgoing Z1.

  • In testing over 5 laps, the ZII's fastest lap was 1.3% faster than the Z1's fastest lap.
  • The single lap improvement (starting from cold tires) was 1.7%, which would be huge for autocrossing!
  • The 10-lap average time improvement was .9% (that average excludes the best and worst laps of the 10 recorded for more representative results). That's the improvement you'd expect in a typical track session.
Source: Dunlop Japan

To put this in perspective, the ZII should be good for at least a second per run at a typical autocross and over a second at a longer track like Watkins Glen.

So how do they do it? Dunlop claims the ZII has a longer contact patch, as indicated on the picture to the right. Take this Dunlop propaganda with a grain of salt, though -- you can tell on the picture how much more contrast they've dialed into the ZII's contact patch to make it stand out.

Dunlop also claims that new tire has much improved wear characteristics. I have seen very light graining on the Z1s and more significant graining on heavy cars. The ZII's wear looks dramatically better on the picture to the right. Again, part of the reason is because the ZII's picture is noticeably fuzzier and has less contrast, thus making the wear look more even across the tire. Still, there is a good reason to expect that the wear characteristics, which were already good on the Z1, will be even better in the next generation Star Specs.

I promptly called the Tirerack to get all the scoop and according to the rep I spoke with, the ZII will be available in mid-February '13 and the prices will be very similar to the outgoing Z1 prices. He also said that a national level autocross driver (c'mon, I know you're reading this, so fess up and spill the beans) has evaluated the ZIIs at their facility in South Bend and thought they felt better than the old generation Star Specs. They won't publish any test results until they've compared the tires back to back, though.

In the meantime, here are the ZII sizes already sold in Japan and what the Tirerack expects to be selling in mid-February:

It's interesting that most sizes run 2 to 7 mm wider than indicated. 
For example, 265/35/18 is 272 mm wide, which makes it a "legitimate" cheater tire!

The Tirerack rep was confident in the tire size offering enough to take my order on the Star Spec ZII now. I might have been the first one Stateside to pre-order them. I doubt there are too many other tire geeks pre-ordering tires for delivery in 3 months, which would still be at least 2 months before the start of the driving season in many parts of the country.

My only gripe is with the name. Really, Dunlop -- Direzza Sport ZII Star Spec is the best name you could come up with? How about SUPER STREET FIGHTER ALPHA TURBO X 3 SPECIAL EDITION (good one, Henry)!! And why the ZII switch to Roman numerals - are they going to the Superbowl or something?

At any rate, regardless of the name, you bet OneHotLap will be the first to report on how the tires feel as soon as we have them on the car in mid-February 2013! Hold on real tight in those curves, Scarlett!

11/15/2012 UPDATE
According to Rudy at tirerack dot com, "Tread wear rating remains 200."

12/26/2012 UPDATE

According to Larry from the Tirerack, some ZII sizes will be delayed by 3 weeks and they now expect to receive them the first week of March. Earliest they will be delivered to customers Stateside is the second week of March.

1/10/2013 UPDATE
The Direzza ZII tires are available to pre-order on the Tirerack starting this morning. No official treadwear rating yet, though. Oddly, various Direzza ZII sizes on the pre-order link have different Estimated Arrival dates ranging from as early as 1/20 to as late as 3/20.

1/11/2013 UPDATE
Dunlop Direzza ZII: The Lap Time Comparison We've All Been Waiting for!
First dry and wet lap times posted!

1/20/2013 UPDATE:
These 255/40/17s are one of the First Dunlop Direzza ZIIs Shipped to Customers! This set was received by a customer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on 1/19! The very sight of these tires makes my pulse quicken. These long, big blocks will go to really good use very soon. We will have first track reports on the Dunlop ZIIs in early March.

Treadwear is listed as 200!

1/22/2013 UPDATE
The BFG g-Force Rival tested out 1 second quicker than the Direzza II at NOLA. Coming from SCCA and Pro Solo Champ Andy Hollis, who did the back-to-back test, makes this g-Force Rival review a must-read for anyone in the market for the most competitive street tire in 2013.

1/28/2013 UPDATE
Mark Schnoerr, one of the best known HPDE instructors and multiple Solo 2 winner, shared how he feels about the Dunlop Direzza brand with OneHotLap:

The Dunlop ZI displayed positively amazing durability, and although not testing as number one, dominated the STU class in the SCCA National AX in 2012. Those cars are set up a lot like most of the fast BMWs on street class tires. We have been running 2 drivers, 8 to 10 runs each, back to back, at 15 long AX events, street driven them, used them as rain and intermediate tires at about 1/3 of the 25 DE events we run per year and found them almost as fast as our slicks on the M3. They have been lasting over a year and wearing very predictably. They also seem to stick better and better all the way to cords We don't want to take them off the rims until they start to spark! That's a tough reputation to overcome at a higher price. ZII seems like it will be the same or, likely, better with 2 grooves eliminated and the void support structures in them. Priced very competitively also.

3/19/2013 UPDATE
Andy Hollis on Dunlop ZII vs. BFG Rivals and other tires - this is one tire review you don't want to miss! This part sums it up best:

... the ZII is most likely to be highly setup dependent, and will reward precise driving.  The Rival, on the other hand, floats all boats higher.  It will make "heroes out of zeros", much in the way that the Kumho V710 r-comp did when it first came out, versus the super-precise Hoosier A3S03 of the day.  This is especially critical on the track, where one small mistake can have disasterous results.  For autocross, in the right hands and with the right setup, the ZII may prove to be faster for the best drivers.

Related posts:
More Thoughts on Street-Legal Performance Tires from Andy Hollis
Best 2013 Performance Tire Poll
Dunlop Direzza ZII - Onboard Video at the Autocross
Dunlop Direzza ZII - First Driving Impressions
Dunlop Direzza ZII: The Lap Time Comparison We've All Been Waiting for!
First Dunlop Direzza ZIIs Shipped to Customers!!
BFGoodrich g-Force Rival: The Plot Thickens!
Bridgestone RE11A: A New Suspect Has Entered the Crime Scene
Autocross, Track, or Karting: What's Most Bang for Your Buck?