A late season rain storm rolled into sunny Los Angeles a few Fridays ago, just in time for us to go down to the Santa Anita race track and blow our meager earnings on the ponies slide around on wet autocross course set up in the parking lot of the San Gabriel Valley horse track. Only a few journalists were on hand for the event which was largely attended by tire distributors and shop owners. The lot of us got to sit under a tent and learn a few things about tires before driving.

What we learned is that the end result of the last few years of horsepower wars is an increase in wheel diameter, decrease in aspect ratio, and rise in speed rating on tires mounted on vehicles rolling off assembly lines. Most amazing was the statistic that overall sales of Ultra High Performance [UHP] tires were up 68% since 2002. This either means people want their cars to look wicked cool, or they're driving the snot out if their machines and demanding more grip.

After class came recess. The first two events were to compare sets of tires and last to put the latest tire Bridgestone UHP tire to the test. Cars on deck were Pontiac G6 front spinners and BMW 325i rear drivers. Instructors rode along to prevent cone mowing provide helpful driving tips. The first test was a touring tire comparo with the BMW 325i. We had One and seven-eights rain-soaked laps to compare the Bridgestone Turanza with the the Michelin Energy MXV4 Plus. Very little difference was noted, but to be fair it's hard collect subtlety over less than four laps.

Next up was the Rent-a-Car Challenge Pontiac G6 entries, and a toss up between a Firestone Firehawk GT and a Goodyear Eagle ResponsEdge. The Firehawk handled things fairly well, but the Goodyears cut loose against the rev limiter on lead foot application of throttle. The last event was a relay of sorts with teams competing against each other for overall time. A single BMW 325i was mounted with Bridgestone RE-01R UHP tires for maximum hoonage. Our team came in second, but we got to learn a few things about running cones and choosing tires. We also learned that the drive-by-wire throttle combined with traction control on the 325i stinks.

At the end of the day choosing the right tire is about being honest with yourself about your driving style, and a compromise between tire compounds and construction. Wicked sticky UHP? Don't expect long tread life. All-season radial with quiet good manners and long wearing qualities? Don't expect super lateral grip or quick turn-in. The manufacturers are getting better at blurring the lines with high performance all-season radials and so on, but there is no one tire that does it all. And finally, because only 19% of Americans ever check their tire pressure we remind you to do so once a month.

DISCLOSURE: Bridgestone supplied the vehicles, road course, tires, and the water truck for the Drive & Learn event. Additional rain was provided by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tire Companies to Consumers: Ten Years and Out [Internal]