Day In The Life: The Tyre Tester


Designing tyres is not a glamorous business. It involves a whole lot of number crunching, science and various other things you probably nodded off during at school. All to create something most of us buy begrudgingly and, as even the guys in the business admit, as a 'distress purchase'.

Chris Davison - Avon's man on a charge
Chris Davison - Avon's man on a charge
There is one exception in all this, and that's the job of testing. Many tyre companies have whole teams of test drivers, all specialising in one particular aspect of the tyre's performance envelope. Avon has Chris Davison. And as part of the team developing Avon's new ZZ5 performance-biased tyre he's logged over 30,000 miles, most of them at the wheel of a BMW M3 and a good proportion of those at the Nürburgring. What a rubbish sounding job that is.

Broad shouldered and possessed of that thousand yard stare you'll often encounter in those for whom life on the edge is the nine-to-five, Davison's day job typically involves rinsing the living daylights out of Avon's hard-working M3 test car at MIRA, the 'ring and various other test tracks across Europe. Much of it is deeply unglamorous, wet braking apparently especially mind numbing. The reward for all this graft though? Tooling around the Nordschleife and mixing it with the prototypes and test mules in the industry pool. And, on occasion, making mischief.


"We were waiting for the fog to clear one morning, like you do there," he chuckles. "And we had a Skoda Octavia vRS and the guys stuck bits of card over the badges to make it look like a mule. We were absolutely flying round too, people thought it was some sort of new performance prototype," he deadpans, breaking into another chuckle.

Testing at the 'ring is typically the culmination of the tyre's development programme and a chance to hone wear, durability and resistance to heat and other extremes once the more worthy stuff like noise and brake testing have been completed. For Chris this means 20-odd laps a day of the Nordschleife in five-lap blocks with breaks for analysis of how the tyre is coping.


Now hitting the market, the initial batch of ZZ5 sizing doesn't actually include M3-friendly widths and ratios so for the launch Avon has put Chris in an Audi S5 and a couple of laps of Monteblanco circuit in Spain reveal just how hard he pushes. Hard enough to have the S5 spluttering into limp mode after a couple of laps in 30-degree heat and whimpering back into the pitlane, brakes smouldering. The tyres look OK though!

Makes you wonder what kind of state the M3 test hack is in after 30,000+ miles in Chris's hands! "It's brilliant that thing, hasn't missed a beat," he says. "Just keeps going and going, it's a perfect test car."

Although clearly just a little bit unhinged, Chris's ability to make cool assessments of tyre performance while pumping in consistent eight-minute laps of the 'ring is what separates the men from the boys. "It's funny because it's quite boring in a way because you're just doing exactly the same thing again and again and again," he reflects, as if describing some mind numbingly robotic production line job. And for some in the business it's almost that, Michelin apparently even painting a line on the test track, GT5 tuition mode style, to ensure consistency whoever is driving. But then he lets slip another anecdote about tussling with AMG test drivers shaking down C63 coupes and you realise why he loves his job so much.


So how do you actually go about shaking down a tyre? "We found out the benchmark time for the M3 on its stock tyres from the BMW guys," he explains, "and I have to try and hit that every lap, as much as you can with the traffic and other cars out on track."

Traffic that, of course, is made up of equally hard-charging test drivers, spicing things up. "I was up against another guy in an M3 and he couldn't figure out why ours was faster down the big straight," laughs Chris. "I didn't tell him I was just leaving it in fifth - he was going mental trying to figure it out but you just learn how to get every bit of speed when you're doing lap after lap."


There have been other test cars too, a mildly tweaked Evo VII held in obvious affection by the Avon boys. "That thing was mad," says Chris. "Big flames when you lifted. Subaru were out testing at the same time and I really had to nail it to get past them and all the Japanese engineers were crowding round the Evo when we got back in wanting to know what we'd done to it."

Crashes at the 'ring are, on public days at least, big news recently. So what about in the industry pool? "People do go off, yeah," says Chris. "Tends to be in the last hour on a Friday afternoon for some reason. I don't know, maybe people are thinking about home time or something." Another chuckle.


Back at the presentation for the ZZ5 we're back to dozing off at the back of class as the talk turns to two-ply rayon casings, intelligent asymmetric tread design and tri-arc mould profiles. At least one daydreamer made good though, Chris Davison's special brand of scientifically measured hoonage bringing just a glimmer of charisma and personality to those unglamorous but undeniably vital bits of rubber hanging off each corner of your car. All of which takes a little of the sting out of that painfully expensive business of having to replace them from time to time.

Comments (32) Join the discussion on the forum

  • jmmc 02 Nov 2011

    That would be the best job.

  • LuS1fer 01 Nov 2011

    jamespink said:
    Has anyone tried Avon ZZ3 tyres? I bought some for my M5 after using Goodyear F1s and it has transformed the car. In a bad way! I have been used to utterly stable handling with the F1'S but with the ZZ3's. Its fidgety and it wanders with many more heart in mouth moments. The tyres just feel "blocky" and squirmy. I understand they are new (2000 miles so far) but they are not at all confidence inspiring! Also the traction control light is on FAR more often. That just did not happen anything like as much with the F1s. Not Good, NOT GOOD AT ALL!
    I tried a set on my 4th gen Z28 back in 2002 and didn't like them at all.

  • ArosaMike 01 Nov 2011

    tombstone said:
    It's a shame the reputation Avon have in certain circles! I have changed more sets of wheels over at a Mercedes dealership to prove that it was tyres at fault, not the car, and worst offender? Avons. Going out of shape, giving nervous, twitchy handling...Even Primewell budget-bar-of-soap-in-the-wet specials were better...!! Funny thing is, it's a name so many people have heard of, so PR/marketing are doing their job well, hence the popularity.
    It's funny when you tell the E500/CLS320/SL owner that Avon tyres are pants!
    Surely if this is a Mercedes dealership though you should only be fitting factory approved tyres? All manufacturers will test on a limited number of tyres and these are the only ones the factory will supply. Avon aren't usually an OEM supplier, so I'd be surprised if Mercedes use them. Quite possible I'm wrong though.

    Just because the tyre has issues on one manufacturer or model doesn't necessarily mean they're a bad tyre though. All tyres can be sensitive to specific camber or toe settings, and if it hasn't been approved officially for use on that car, you have to accept a certain possibility of issues with it. Even an off the shelf Dunlop or Continental will be a different compound to an OEM supplied one. If you really want to ensure factory grip/handling, you'd have to order your tyres through your OEM dealership!

  • tombstone 31 Oct 2011

    It's a shame the reputation Avon have in certain circles! I have changed more sets of wheels over at a Mercedes dealership to prove that it was tyres at fault, not the car, and worst offender? Avons. Going out of shape, giving nervous, twitchy handling...Even Primewell budget-bar-of-soap-in-the-wet specials were better...!! Funny thing is, it's a name so many people have heard of, so PR/marketing are doing their job well, hence the popularity.
    It's funny when you tell the E500/CLS320/SL owner that Avon tyres are pants!

  • ArosaMike 28 Oct 2011

    The spec tyre I race on is the CR500. Genuinely good tyre with impressive wear given it's grip. I've done 12 races, 6 qualifying sessions and 7 or so test days/track days and only got through 3 sets. Pretty good going when I can get 1.1G peak cornering and 1.4G peak braking!

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