Since Piloti went belly-up, the universe of casual driving sneakers with anything approaching real street cred has experienced some serious shrinkage.
Sure, you can pick up one of the bazillion pairs offered by Puma, but so can your grandmother, and she probably already has.
That pretty much leaves us with the kicks from Sparco, the same folks that suit up the best driver in the world -- yes, that’s Sébastien Loeb -- and make the seats in Brian O’Conner’s Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Along with its lineup of proper racing boots, the Italian outfit sells two styles of street shoe here: the Time 77 and the Esse.
I checked out the Esse, the name of which means “S” in Italian and is appropriately festooned with the company’s single-letter logo in gigantic type.
A leather model is available for $90, but I tried the $80 suede version, which is really a mix of that material up front, fabric sides and a white leather eyestay over black, blue or red, or a black one over white.
The look is very Euro and the perfect match for three-quarter length pants and a soccer jersey emblazoned with a foreign mobile phone provider’s name, but goes just fine with the pair of Levi's and Blipshift T-shirt that you’re better off wearing to the autocross at your local (American!) football stadium parking lot.
The uppers breathe well and have a wide but low-cut toe box, the latter to save those precious hundreds of thousandths of a second as you lift your foot from the pedal, or something like that.
Tire-tread soles are thin under the forefoot to deliver good pedal feel and get slightly thicker as they approach the heel, but without an extra cushioning layer tucked in there only provide so much comfort for double shifts on cone duty.
Soft, tubular laces do stay tied for the duration.
As with any legit driving shoe the sole wraps up onto the back of the shoe, but makes a sharpish Lesmo-like turn as it does, rather than a smooth Curva Grande-style transition.
I know I’m nitpicking like a prima donna F1 driver, but depending on how you naturally rest your foot this style can create a pressure point that becomes slightly annoying on long trips, defeating much of the purpose of choosing to wear driving shoes in the first place.
Unless, of course, you just want them to match the Sparco sticker on the rear window roll call of your WRX, in which case, downshift and go, young man, downshift and go.