Review by Lesley Wimbush, photos courtesy Bridgestone

PHOENIX, Arizona – Heat waves shimmer off the hot tarmac at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, just south of Phoenix, Arizona. But the blazing sun is a welcome caress after the brutal winter we Canadians have endured, and we luxuriate in its warmth.

Our spirits are lifted even further by the cheery orange cones arranged on the vast expanse of pavement – and the waiting line up of Scion FR-S sports cars.

Back in 1985, Bridgestone released a tire called the Potenza RE-71. It revolutionized the world of performance tires, quickly becoming the standard for sports car racing and performance driving of all types.

Potenza (Bridgestone’s performance tire lineup) just released an all-new tire called the RE-71R, “R” for “Return” which pays homage to that popular tire of the 1980s.

The RE-71R replaces the previous RE-11A as Bridgestone’s highest street-legal ultra-performance tire. It’s constructed with a wide centre rib for “agile steering response”, stiff sidewalls to eliminate roll, and an aggressive shoulder block for hard cornering. The tread compound is soft and malleable, allowing it to mould around surface irregularities, giving it tremendous grip.

Wet performance characteristics have been enhanced too, with an angled directional tread pattern, and wide circumferential grooves for better water evacuation.

Generally, a tire manufacturer will showcase a new product by pitting it against its closest competitor, sending us out on either road course or autocross, in identically specced vehicles.

Oddly enough, rather than a competitor’s tire, Bridgestone had us compare the new RE-71R against their own Potenza S-04 Pole Position, a fine high-performance tire in its own right.

We headed onto a large autocross, featuring some tight turns, hard braking and speed sections, in a Scion FR-S shod with S-04 Pole Positions. The FR-S is the perfect vehicle for this sort of venue, small, light and nimble enough to negotiate the hairpins, cornering flat and stable throughout the turns. There was a decent amount of grip with the S-04 tires, and I had a terrific time tossing the little car around the curves. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Oh yes it does.

Next up were the new RE-71Rs. You didn’t need to be a tire expert to immediately feel the difference. The increase in grip allowed much later braking in the hairpin, and the RE-71Rs held tight through the curves that had required a tap of the brake during the Pole Position run.

By the end of the first lap, I was smiling. By the second, I was laughing out loud.

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