Traction gurus


Words by Grant Spolander. Pictures by Grant Spolander and Craig Fox.

Traction gurus

Mickey Thompson tyres are synonymous with high-performance motorsport, but this company also caters for off-road enthusiasts. We recently chatted with the folks at ATS – the sole distributors for Mickey Thompson products in SA – along with the brand’s international marketing manager, Bill O’Roake, to learn more about their products and future offerings.

SA4x4: Bill, Mickey Thompson’s products are well regarded among professional racing drivers, but what separates your tyres from competing brands in the off-road enthusiast market?

BILL: We can’t speak for competing tyre manufacturers, as we don’t know how much time and effort they put into new developments and tyre technology; however, at Mickey Thompson, everything we do is for a purpose. Since the company’s inception in ’63, Mickey Thompson has proudly incorporated hi-tech tread designs and compoundrubber improvements. Every angle, shape and contour of our tread designs is there for a reason. We don’t add features just to make a tyre look more impressive. Even our sidewall tread patterns are shaped in a particular way, usually for maximum traction and optimal aerodynamics – aggressive tread designs are often noisy thanks to air turbulence flowing over the lugs, and not because of the rubber making contact with the road.

SA4x4: The needs of an off-road enthusiast are completely different to those of an off-road racing driver. What do most enthusiasts want from an off-road tyre?

BILL: We’ve posed this question to countless buyers, and the three factors that commonly come up are ride, wear and noise. We strive to integrate these three fundamental features in all of our tyre designs. We’re continuously looking for new and innovative ways to improve our tyre technology, even if it’s just a minor change like siping grooves on our Baja Claw TTC’s sidewall tread; this particular development aids traction on smooth rocks.

What’s your most popular tyre among off-road enthusiasts?

BILL: Our Baja Claw MTZ. It’s an aggressively-designed tyre for extreme off-road users. The tyre also offers great highway handling and Mickey Thompson’s trademarked PowerPly technology, which utilises a special third ply that’s offset from the other two layers. This feature provides added protection against punctures, while offering better on-road performance and towing capability because of less sidewall flex.

SA4x4: Several years back, Mickey Thompson bought the Dick Cepek brand; how do these two brands differ from each other?

BILL: As mentioned before, Mickey Thompson products have a performance-focused heritage, while Dick Cepek is well regarded as a lifestyle / travel brand, showcasing design elements that emphasise the tyre’s ability to deal with various terrain types typically encountered during long off-road trips.

SA4x4: Mickey Thompson recently launched a new AT tyre called the STZ. How does this tyre fit into your range?

BILL: Our new STZ is replacing the Baja
ATZ Plus, which is one step closer to a more road-biased tyre than our hugely popular Baja ATZ. Among many other features, the new STZ has strategicallyplaced siping for long tread wear and improved traction, as well as multi-lug angles for self cleaning and reduced stone retention. The tyre will be aimed at the market of SUV– and pick-up owners wanting a tyre that’s marginally more off-road dedicated than their OE fitted units.

SA4x4: There’s a common perception that Mickey Thompson tyres are made from a soft compound and will wear quicker than other brands. Is this true? And how do you compare your product’s longevity with that of your competitors?

BILL: Due to our racing legacy, people often associate our tyres with softer compounds and premature tread wear, but that is definitely not the case. Our tyres are manufactured to the highest possible standard, and we’re always on the lookout for new developments and new material compositions. If anything, I’d say our tyres show better wear resistance than many of our competitors’, especially when you take our deeper-than-average tread depth into account, which automatically gives you added tread life.

SA4x4: Many of our readers like to travel to far-off places – to areas like Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. When buying a new set of tyres, people like the reassurance that they can find the same tyre in other parts of SA and abroad. What are the distribution plans for Mickey Thompson tyres?

ATS: We started importing Mickey Thompson tyres in ’07. Since then, there’s been a growing interest in these terrific tyres. As things stand, we have dedicated dealers scattered all over the country – approximately 120 stores nationwide. We’ve also got representatives in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Gaborone, and aim to further increase our foreign outlet divisions. What’s more, we have a very effective freight / transport system which ensures that we can deliver tyres – to any of our trusted dealers – within a 24-hour period

SA4x4: What about wheel bolt patterns? Mickey Thompson’s alloy rims are becoming very popular in SA, but unfortunately these wheels won’t fit many of our 4x4s, including the Navara, Amarok and Land Rover range. Will this change in the future?

BILL: Unfortunately, we don’t get many of these vehicles in the US and most Land Rover drivers don’t venture off-road in America, so it’s a difficult justification. However, that’s not to say things won’t change. We’ve recently launched a new Mickey Thompson rim called the Gun Metal 7, and this wheel’s PCD will fit the Navara pick-up. We also hope to have something for Land Rover products in the not-too-distant future.

SA4x4: What other new and exciting products can we expect from Mickey Thompson?

BILL: We’ll be launching our new ATZ P3 early next year in the US, and it’ll be available in SA shortly after that. We’re also releasing some new Dick Cepek tyres that we’re very excited about. But rest assured that there will be more to come; the tyre industry is an evolutionary process, and one that we’ll always be a part of, and strive to lead.

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