In the most lucrative, and therefore competitive, segment of the tyre market, it's now the turn of Dunlop to raise the stakes.
The new Sportmax Qualifier replaces the outgoing D208 and sits neatly between the surviving D208RR and the sport touring D220ST. It's fair to assume, though, that far stickier, more track-focused adaptations will arrive to generate the racing pedigree left behind by the D208GP. For now, though, it's time to get acquainted with the stock version.
The twisty technical layout of Almeria in southern Spain is an excellent setting for a tyre test because its undulations and hard downhill braking tend to pose demanding questions of a chassis and its rubber. Dunlop claims that the Qualifier will out-grip its predecessor and out-perform it in all key areas such as warm-up time, turn-in, corner speed etc. The standard version of the D208 was not one of Dunlop's greatest tyres - I once had a very difficult time getting a CBR600RR around Donington at anything like a respectable pace, shod with a pair of the same.
I started out on the 600s to get a feel for the tyres, though the track temperature was already fairly high. The tyres may have been stone cold from the off, but they were ready for punishment by the end of the first lap. The superb brakes of Kawasaki's ZX6-R forced a slight squeal at the end of the back straight but the bike held a dead straight line lap after lap. The rear could handle a fairly large fistful of throttle coming out of turns without any break in traction and the overall effect was certainly confidence-inspiring. Turn-in on the Suzuki GSX-R600 was as quick, but I was more impressed by the ability of the front tyre to cope with over-enthusiastic corner entries (and subsequent slamming shut of the throttle) without sitting up or going off-line.
Predictably, with the R1 and GSX-R1000, the power had to be fed in smoothly to stop the rear tyre breaking traction, though it would do so progressively and without drama. However, on the road (which is where it's destined to spend its life) was where the Qualifier excelled. It traversed horrible ridges and surface changes bordered with thick tar lines, providing a level of comfort and stability that I've yet to come across in a high performance tyre.
The range is available now. Check out www.dunloptyres.co.uk for fitment info.
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