Tyres: Budget versus Top-End

Competiton tyre versus budget tyre

How does a kart feel when it runs on budget tyres and then competition tyres? We find out. Let’s roll!

You can easily spend £150 on a set of tyres for your kart or you could take the budget option and get a set for £50. But what’s the difference? We pitched a set of LeCont’s top of the range CIK-spec LP11 tyres against entry-level Innova tyres. Fitted to the same kart, driven by the same driver on the same track, it’s just down to the tyres. The lap timer doesn’t lie.

So what is the difference when it comes to lap times? A second, a couple of seconds? Surely it can’t be more than that. Afterall, rubber’s rubber, right? Have a think about what the difference would be over a 60-second lap, remember the number and read on to find out.

What’s the going rate?

We searched the web for kart tyres that cost much less then competition tyres. Web sites selling kart parts actually all deal with professional brands such as Bridgestone, LeCont, Vega, MG, Mojo, Maxxis and Dunlop. Prices are more or less aligned. Using www.kkckartshop.co.uk as a yardstick, you can see that all branded tyres go for a similar amount. YJL Bridgestone tyres can be had for £108, while Maxxis go from £110 to £116. Dunlop are just below £100 for hard tyres and go to over £120 for softer compounds used in the gearbox category. Mojo for Rotax Max are set at £110 and Vega SL6 are just below £110.

For our test, we opted for a set of LeCont medium compound tyres from a web retailer, priced at £120.

Going cheap

With £120 as our benchmark for a set of tyres at the higher end of the spectrum, we aimed to find a set of tyres for a third of the price. On eBay was found a set of medium compound Innova tyres for just £45 a set of new Innova tyres of medium compound, not CIK homologated and for leisure karting, but commented by the seller as excellent!

Our tyres 

LeCont LP11
LeCont are based in France and have come on strong in recent years. Known for offering good performance and excellent durability and stability lap after lap. We used this year’s new LeCont LP 11 (Prime – medium) CIK L/Z. Tyres don’t get much better than this.

Innova IA-2886
Innova tyres are made in China. They produce tyres for many applications, from bicycles and quads to fork lift trucks and lawnmowers. At £10 a tyre, the appear to offer good value.

Start of test: Innova tyres

The Innova tyres looked of reasonably of good quality. Looking at the thread and carcass, it’s hard to see where any corners have been cut. The rubber looked and felt of medium-hard compound and we still had the feeling we could get something good out of our economic set. Mounting on the wheels was easy even through the tyres were new and quite stiff.

We inflated tyres to 0.7 bar at the front and 0.65 bar at the rear, with just 0.05 less on the external rear tyre (left on clockwise circuits), which naturally on our test track, the Viterbo International track, and in most tracks, heats up more and faster, too.

I started slow in my test as I know new tyres must not be run in too fast, since sliding, skidding and correcting too much oversteer or understeer when tyres are cold is extremely counterproductive. This won’t heat up tyres or result in a fast time in the first few laps. Remember, at least with competition tyres, always run them in slowly, following a correct line and avoiding sliding. Your best qualifying lap will almost always come out between lap 3 and 5 and it will be an extremely fast lap compared to all the others.

The Innova tyres seemed to be good at the beginning so I started pushing after a few of laps. I immediately noticed a strange squeaking noise produced by the Innova tyres along each curve, from mid to exit of the bend. Whenever tyres slid this strange noise was produced, as if I was actually running at an lap-record-breaking speed over the outside apex kerb, but, unfortunately, this was not the case. In fact I was actually trying to avoid pushing over the limit of the tyres and having to control over or understeer all the time. There was no solution though: even cornering at a limited speed to avoid the kart sliding too much with a view to getting the power down earlier did not help. To avoid skidding the tyres I had to slow down so much that I could feel I was losing time. It didn’t feel like I was driving a competition kart at all. Lap times were slow, and I had to battle for a terrible 1:03.64 sec lap on lap 4.

I stopped after 8 laps and checked everything was fine, but I was pretty disappointed to be so slow on a track that runs in the Super Rok category with Bridgestone tyres below 55 seconds. Of course this is true during race weekends, where all the rubber laid down provides great grip and all setups are perfectly tuned, but still, I was over 8-seconds off!

The tyre itself looked extremely smooth, which is a very clear indication of insufficient grip. Actually I had never seen such a shiny surface of a used tyre! The centre of the surface of front tyres and two parallel lines on rear tyres, which are the areas of greater contact with the asphalt, were almost polished!

I was back on track for another 15 laps to convince myself there was still margin of improvement… There had to be. I started to push hard, slowing down sufficiently in the braking phase to avoid immense understeer and anticipating the never absent oversteer exiting each corner. It was 15 laps of real torture, struggling with a kart that was much more tiring then when running with competition tyres. All I managed to obtain was a 1:02.84 second lap on lap 11. This result confirmed that the tyres were actually so hard there was no real decay of performance and judging by the lap time, no real performance at all!

At the end of my 15-lap stint, I had an “interesting” experience when braking along the back straight. I was in an extremely fast point of the track where I found myself spinning without really understanding what I did wrong. Sat in the kart, on the grass, I looked around the kart and discovered therear internal (right) tyre had actually come off the wheel even though anti-bead bolts were mounted!

Back in the pits we noticed the tyre was actually not usable anymore. The internal circumference of the shoulder was worn to a point where the tyre was not inflatable anymore. We tried and tried with no luck.

Moving on: LeCont tyres

This year LeCont has homologated new Option (Hard) and Prime (Medium) tyres. We decided to go for the best performing ones: Prime.

We inflated the tyres to 0.6 bar at the front, 0.575 for the rear internal and 0.55 for the rear external tyre. We were ready for our test, hoping for some real fun at last.

I took a couple of slow laps to run in the tyres. After lap 2 the tyres were almost warmed up and I was back to racing again! Although the tyres instantly felt like they offered grip, the lack of rubber on track made it difficult to extract extremely fast laps, but my kart at least was back to racing planet again!!!

It took a couple of laps to get used to hitting apexes again and not locking the wheels under braking. It felt like I was in a brand new kart, one that was twice as fast!

The laptimes moved quickly to low 57 seconds and on lap 9 I ran a 56.68 second lap, which is not bad. During a race weekend, conditions would be different due to the additional rubber on the track and so my fastest lap would have come sooner.

I ran 14 laps in the first session. Looking at the nicely scrubbed-in tyres, you could see the wear on both front and rear tyres was slightly uneven, showing good grip, even though some rubber curls on the internal edge of the surface of the tyres showed that the track was quite slippery and even grippy tyres like these could not compensate completely for these conditions.

I went out for a second session, seeing as there was plenty left in the LeCont tyres. The performance didn’t drop off, despite another 16 hard laps. I shaved a tiny amount off my first-session best time and managed a 56.62 second lap on lap 11, but also 56.66 sec on lap 8 and 56.69 on lap 14!

Our verdict

Save your money!

The difference in lap time between competiton and budget tyres was 6 seconds. Does that surprise you? Before the test we thought it might be between three and five seconds. We were wrong.

More expensive tyres are better than budget tyres is hardly the revelation of the century but it’s not just about lap time. Grip, handling, noise, and also safety, were much better with LeCont compared to the economic and somehow dramatic Innova tyres.

It can be painful shelling out for a set of competition kart tyres, when you can get four tyres fitted to your car at Kwik-fit for not a lot more. While no-one likes to spend more than they need to, the trouble with budget tyres is that the whole karting experience suffers. From missing apexes, to the kart snapping away under braking; a cheap tyre simply can’t hold the chassis, engine and driver input together, making for a frustrating experience.

If your really under a budget, buy a set of competiton scrubbed tyres. Go to any major race weekend and you’ll see teams selling or even throwing out tyres that might not be good enough for that vital extra tenth but would be perfect for the everyday driver.

The characteristics of a good tyre are still good, even when they’re worn.

The next time you’re tempted by budget tyres, think to yourself, are they really worth the money?