I recently travelled to the South of France with Continental Tyres UK to take the Black Chili Challenge. Over two days and two stunning driving routes, I sampled Continental’s ultra high performance (UHP) tyres on some of the world’s most sought after performance cars.

The garage for the two day event was the stuff of dreams – two Audi RS3s, two Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG cabriolets, two BMW M240i cabriolets, two Porsche Boxsters and two Tesla Model S. It didn’t take long to reply to that invitation. Vroom, vroom, here we go!

Yet the interesting thing about this event in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region was that it was not about foot to the floor driving – it wasn’t even really about the sports cars assembled. As the Conti team put it to us, it was a ‘live marketing experience’ giving us an opportunity to feel the brand’s ultra high performance tyres on the road and learn more about tyre technology and Continental’s other automotive technologies – while enjoying great scenery, challenging roads and French hospitality.

So what’s the Black Chili Challenge?

The Continental Team also produced a challenge element to the event – the Black Chili Challenge. But it was not a race – I repeat, not a race. To boost our engagement with the event, each team was given an iPad with a number of challenges to be performed at particular intervals over the two day event. We also were given presentations on Continental’s automotive technologies.

You see there are many cars ‘powered by Continental’, with more than just tyres. For example, the BMW M240i we drove has a load of gear sourced from Continental – tyre pressure monitoring system, wheel speed sensors, dynamic stability control system, engine management sensors, heating and ventilation system and even the electronics in the seat.

The ESC (Electronic Stability Control) is the most amazing piece of automotive safety technology that keeps you on the straight and narrow every day in your car without you even knowing. Sensors on the car feed the ESC’s brain with information and make mechanical interventions like braking individual wheels to correct understeer and oversteer. This is incredible stuff.

For the Black Chili Challenge, we were also asked to keep our average fuel consumption below 15l/100km, which some of the cars seemed to make more challenging (looking at you Audi RS3). That also cut out any notions of nonsense behind the wheel. Points were awarded for things like safe and economical driving, time keeping and team spirit. There was even a card system like in football – so any naughty behaviour and you could be sent home!

What is Continental Vision Zero?

You see safety is a huge aspect of Continental’s work in tyre technology and creating other driving aids and assistance systems in cars. The company has been a pioneer of road safety for over 140 years. They have a vision, a big vision: well actually it’s the Continental Vision Zero! The company wants to evolve from “the best in braking to zero fatalities, zero injuries and zero accidents”. At any given time when driving, the tyre has only an area the size of a postcard in contact with the road. Yes, your tyres are very important for how you control and stop your car.

Continental Black Chili Driving Experience France 2018
The Continental Vision Zero is an initiative by the manufacturer to improve road safety

So what’s the significance of Black Chili? It’s an innovative rubber compound in Continental’s ultra high performance tyres that ensures optimum interlock­ing between tyre and road surface – making for outstanding grip in dry or wet conditions. Compared with conventional silica tires, Black Chili tyres have on average 26 percent lower rolling resistance, 30 percent higher grip and 5 percent higher mileage.

So were the cars good?

The cars for the Black Chili Challenge were chosen for a few reasons: principally of course (I might be stating the obvious here) because they were shod with tyres from Continental. For example, the Porsche was on new Continental SportContact 6. Approved for speeds of up to 350 km/h, the SportContact 6 has the highest speed rating of any series-produced tyre in the Continental portfolio. It was at this point where I learnt how in the development of a vehicle, a car manufacturer will often come to Continental to develop a specific tyre for that car. Continental will be given a number of requirements and they receive a pre-production car for testing (Continental has their own testing tracks in Europe and USA).

The Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche were chosen for the event because they are reasonably compact for the roads we were driving on in the South of France: the ‘Route des Cretes’ and ‘Route des Cascades’, two routes which get very narrow and dangerous in places. The largest car in the garage was the Tesla Model S. It’s a wide car and definitely felt it on these narrow, mountainous roads. In the company of the Boxster et al, its shortcomings as a performance car were apparent. But its inclusion was warranted because Tesla came to Continental with a specific request – develop tyres to reduce road noise in the cabin! Yeah it worked!

Continental Black Chili Driving Experience France 2018
Each team was given a road book with step by step directions to add to the challenge element!

My favourite car of the bunch was the Audi RS3. It just made such easy work of the tight hairpins and flowing corners, with beautifully weighted and precise steering with a fabulous supporting soundtrack from the 2.5-litre, five cylinder engine. The BMW M240i was another highlight with plenty of dirty pops from its 6 cylinder in line engine. It looked too pretty to make noises like that. You scoundrel!

Under blue skies and +25 degree heat , we climbed into the mountains above Nice, driving across asphalt of varying quality. Corner after corner, there was the opportunity to feel the grip of the Conti tyres, helping the cars pass their power to the road safely and efficiently.

So where did we finish? Well we were happy with a podium finish, taking joint third position in the Black Chili Challenge with Adam from UK motoring site CarWitter.

Did you learn anything?

But the event was about so much more for me than just fast cars. I genuinely learnt so much about tyres and automotive technologies in a real fun and engaging way. I was also very impressed with the passion, commitment, knowledge and dedication of the whole Continental team. They are not just employees but real advocates and ambassadors for their company and its Vision Zero campaign. The event was run fantastically well and it was cool to be awarded for our smarts, team spirit and safe and economical driving –  a fantastic message to send out.

I would like to thank the Continental Team for an amazing experience and a special mention for Mark from Continental Tyres UK. Also thank you to Marcel from Continental Germany for being an excellent co-driver, reading the road book perfectly and being great company over two days of driving!

Caroline Kidd

Continental Black Chili Driving Experience France 2018
‘Powered by Continental’