Our (sometimes) trusty BMW 335i has seen plenty of hard street miles. From highway driving to weekend canyon crushing, it’s done the Tour du’ SoCal like a champ. With all the hours and dollars spent on go-fast bits, the E90 is seeing more and more track time, and despite my many track outings, I’ve never stuck it out with a car long enough to really dial it in for the road course. We’ll continue to delve into the details of the build itself in the future, but for now, it was time to put some proper rubber on the ol’ BMW
With all out dry performance at the top of our list, while still using a DOT-legal street tire, the Extreme Performance Summer category is where the search began. There are really only a few major players in this arena, but we’d heard enough praise from the Bridgestone’s RE-71R to give them a shot.
Now, controlling the 335i on track is no easy task. It’s immensely fast, thanks to two turbos and six cylinders, but also tips the scales at a not-so-svelte 3650lbs with me in it. Asking that mass to transition from turn to turn, without understeering or driving over the tires themselves is no easy move. Thankfully, I’ve fit probably the widest front setup on a non-M 3-series around, at least within the constraints of the factory fenders. I decided to run a square setup for neutral handling and, most of all, the ability to rotate tires instead of just burning through them unevenly. This was a good move!
Thanks to the guys at APEX Race Parts, who specialize in BMW track wheels, I’m now running 18x9.5” +35 wheels all around. The super aggressive Flow-Formed ARC-8 design offers proven strength, light weight at 18 lbs a pop, and good looks with a concaved face and anthracite powdercoat. I wish I could say fitting this setup was easy, but the struggle was worth it!
Bridgestone sent over a set of 265/35/18 RE-71R’s. At first glance, they look the part. A unique and aggressive directional tread pattern paired with that soft, rich black hue you expect from track rubber. They started with a blank canvas here, utilizing design features that were fine-tuned to maximize performance, handling, traction and control. If you’re looking for a do-it-all tire, good for heavy rain, snow, cold temps, etc…, look elsewhere. The RE-71R is solely intended for warm or moderate dry and damp conditions.
The newly developed tread compound is designed to enhance grip by increasing the contact patch. Part of this is thanks to a continuous center rib that travels down the center of the tire. On either end of the center rib are enormous shoulders that provide constant contact with the road and gives way to lightning-quick steering response and cornering stability. There are circumfrential grooves between the center rib and shoulders and “7-shaped” lateral grooves on the shoulders themselves to help with water drainage and evacuation, aiding in better wet traction.
Internally, the tires structure features a symmetric shape to help evenly distribute pressure during hard cornering. High-speed stability is owed to two wide steel belts reinforced by spirally wound nylon.
Did you get all that? Perfect. So now you’re wondering, does all this tire tech result in faster lap times and a tire that walks the walk? Short answer: YES.
I kid you not, the first time I made a turn on the street I felt the difference. And it’s not like I was driving around on bald all-seasons. I had removed a set of Falken RT615K’s. The instant bight and precision the RE-71R offers is in-your-face noticeable. The E90 has super powers now, in fact, I think I could dodge a pebble at speed. Having always run tires in the Extreme Performance Summer category, road noise and I are best buds. I will say, though, these are probably the loudest tires I’ve run on the street, and the firmest too.
After a few hundred street miles, I headed out to Willow Springs Raceway to run the Streets course. This was my first time on track with the E90 after a slew of major suspension and alignment changes, but Streets is a tight, technical course with hard turns; not the ideal environment for a heavy, RWD sedan with 500hp. While fine-tuning rebound and bump settings on my KW Clubsport coilovers to find the sweet spot for the course, I noticed one blatant quality of the RE-71R: this tire can make anyone look like a hero. The sheer grip is mind blowing for a street tire. Honestly, it drives like a race slick at times. I had so much fun looking for the adhesion limit, I found myself deliberately over-driving, tossing the car around and laughing at the results. Despite failing factory brakes with upgraded pads, I managed a best of 1:29.3, placing me 8th in a field of 29 drivers.
Plenty of fun was had, but when I pulled the wheels off to rotate the tires after the event, I saw some pretty serious treadwear. The RE-71R’s have a 200 treadewear rating, which really should hold up a bit better than what we’ve seen here. Just appears that the rubber compound is extremely soft, which of course gives insane levels of dry traction, but at a cost.
Following the event at Streets of Willow, I put another 500 street miles on the tires before trailering the car up to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for a two-day event with Street Ventures, to compete in the Bimmer Challenge time attack series. (We’ll have a full report on this soon!) Laguna Seca is a big boy’s track in comparison to Streets, featuring much higher speeds through the turns and on the straight. Although the shoulders and center rib were worn from the previous event, I had nothing but confidence across the epic 2.2-mile track. Laguna really put the tires to the test under hard corner-exit acceleration and braking from the 140mph straight away into turn 2, or hard on the brakes into the corkscrew. The RE-71R maintained composure, and past the limit, correcting was easy as pie. Here’s a quick power-on oversteer moment.
Such a capable, responsive and precise tire makes suspension tuning a breeze. With the RE-71R fitted, I feel miniscule changes almost instantly on track. With a proper race brake kit from StopTech, and the rubber compound to match, the 335i finally fell into its groove with a 2nd place finish in a field of 22 drivers, with a 1:46.2. Feels good losing to a properly setup Porsche Cayman GT4! The RE-71R really does turn you into a track hero.