Michael Galimi
December 19, 2008

Last winter, Nitto Tires unveiled its NT555R 20-inch drag radial tires to its extensive line up, the first of its kind in the drag radial niche. It is no secret that Nitto NT555R tires are very popular, as the line takes aim at the street/strip crowd, with more emphasis on the street portion. There are other tires better suited to drag racing on the market (including new tires soon to be released by Nitto), but Nitto has focused its efforts on the real world with the NT555R. The tires carry a DOT rating and actually offer grip in the rain. The new 20-inch sizes released last winter, 275/40-20 and 305/35-20, have been a popular item amongst the S197 Mustang crowd. The 20-inch wheels look right at home on Ford's latest ponycar and with the popularity of blowers and turbos, the NT555R was welcomed with open arms.

We received a pair of 275/40-20 tires to put through its paces at Englishtown's Raceway Park. There was one car that we knew would be perfect for this test, a 2006 Saleen that belongs to Billy and Bryan Sorby. These speed maniacs added a Hellion turbo system to their Saleen and it made an insane 570 rwhp. You can read about the installation and dyno in the Tech section of this website. Mild is not in these guys' vocabulary, they spend their weekends with a nitrous-injected LX coupe that goes 7.40s on true 10.5-inch tires. The 570-rwhp results were accomplished with 17.5 psi of boost, race fuel, and generous ignition timing. For the street, the timing has been backed down, boost is set to 13.5 psi, and pump gas is utilized--Exxon 93 octane to be exact. In this trim, the Saleen churns out 480 rwhp, more then enough power to prowl the streets of New York with pride. Billy reports that he has caught a few C6 Corvette Z06 owners by surprise on the highway.

The car was in desperate need of a pair of sticky rear meats, "the Pirelli tires go up in smoke in Third gear," stated Billy. The problem arises when the car is cruised along the highway and a competitor rolls up next to the black S197. The driver downshifts into Third and floors the pedal, only to be met with chattering tires. Some days the boost comes on so quick that the rear tires actually leave marks on the highway. "We needed something better than the Pirellis, which were great with the stock naturally aspirated engine, but we couldn't even get on the car from a stoplight once the turbo was installed. The only chance we have to keeping the tires somewhat glued is from a roll," he continued. Swapping to a smaller set of 18s and getting a pair of drag radials was not an option. The 20-inch Saleen wheels are gorgeous and anything different would certainly ruin the style and authentic look.

Enter Nitto Tires and its latest NT555R sizes; the rubber is exactly what the Sorby brothers needed. The 275/40-20 size will allow the brothers to keep the factory Saleen wheels but also give them the required grip for the turbocharged fury under the hood. "We like the 555R tires because they are more of a street tire. The Saleen only sees the drag strip a few times a year, we mostly play with it on the street," was Billy's comment. The tires went on and instantly, the turbo Saleen was a different beast. Third gear blasts were insane as the 555R meats held the road nicely. Billy was even capable of getting aggressive at stoplights. The true test would be on the track during a chilly day this past Fall at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park (Englishtown, NJ).

Setting tire pressure on any set of radials is always questionable and debated heavily. After consulting a few folks on the 'net, we decided on 17 psi and we kept that pressure consistent. The reason we didn't go up or down was that the car itself proved to be largest variable in our track testing. We found that doing a nasty, gnarly burnout was the only way to get enough heat in the tires and get them to work on the cold track surface. We didn't take a track surface temperature reading, but when the clouds blocked the sun, the track cooled off, and the tires barked off the starting line. That pushed the sixty-foot times into the 1.95-2.05 second range. The best sixty-foot was a 1.82-second time, which came on the best run of the day at 11.70 at 121.09 mph.

The burnout technique was proven time and time again as the driver, Bryan Sorby, tested this theory during three runs. Each time he cleaned the tires off, or what some would call a quick burnout, the car would bark the tires on the launch and on the gearshifts. Bryan launched the car consistently by walking it out part-throttle and easing off the clutch, this produced the most consistent leave that he could repeat over and over again. The best time was the aforementioned 11.70 at 121 mph, using a 1.82 sixty-foot time. Bryan posted a half of dozen 11.80 runs and many 11.90s before he got the launch and burnout technique perfected.

Automatic-equipped cars have gone even quicker in the sixty-foot as some friends of the magazine reported times as quick as 1.69 seconds. We think the Saleen had a couple of things working against it, namely a road-race inspired suspension and enormous front and rear brakes. The front binders are massive 14-inch units from Saleen while the stock rear rotors were replaced with large diameter Baer pieces. The suspension lowers the overall ride height, which effects weight transfer. The springs are also geared towards great ride quality and bettering cornering ability--further hurting the Saleen's chances of getting the heavy front-end to lift and transfer weight back. Other factors in the Saleen's anti-drag racing attitude include the monsterous 20-inch front wheel and tire package, heavy body kit, and dismal 3.55 gears. The car certainly needed a set of 4.10s to help acceleration. But overall, the looks and 11.70s are more than enough to make me and I suspect most of you reading this, happy. Bryan and Billy were certainly more than thrilled with the performance of the car.

Going 11.70s at 121 mph in this Saleen is impressive and a lot of fun, the Nitto tires worked great. The neat thing about this test, the car was driven to and from the track with only a tire pressure change. Nothing else was touched, making this one cool street/strip ride. They plan on adding more power and possibly an automatic, we will update the website with new power and track results when the weather breaks this spring.