Caroline Kidd at the Contidrom, Germany
Dry handling tyre testing at the Contidrom, Germany, in the Hyundai i30N

Caroline travelled to Hanover, Germany, for the launch of SportContact 7, Continental’s new high-performance tyre.

I’m idling a Toyota Supra on new Continental SportContact 7. In front there are two more Supras sitting patiently behind an Audi RS3 pace car driven by one of Continental’s test drivers. He’s going to be fast, isn’t he? Behind me a fleet of Hyundai i30Ns, also on new SportContact 7. I can hear angry pops behind me, random crackles. The anticipation builds. I put my Supra into drive as the Supra in front starts to pull away. This is it. I’m going to find out exactly why good tyres matter.

Where am I? Dry handling testing on the Contidrom, the premium German tyre manufacturer’s famous test track just outside Hanover, the home of Continental. Nervous? Me, no…

What’s so special about Continental SportContact 7?

“With the new SportContact generation, we are offering drivers who want to experience performance driving, a very safe, handling-oriented and high-mileage tyre,” says Enno Straten, Head of Strategy, Analytics and Marketing for Tire Replacement Business EMEA at Continental.  

The SportContact 7 replaces SportContact 6 and has been developed for passenger cars with performance attributes and supercars. SportContact 7 will be available in sizes between 19 and 23 inches, with the product line being further expanded over the coming year. The tyre has significantly higher mileage, but also offers one of the lowest values in the UUHP (ultra-high performance) tyre segment with its fuel efficiency classified as class ‘C’ on the EU tyre label, making it appropriate for all sporty vehicles, whether electric or powered by a combustion engine.

Nico Rosberg at the launch of SportContact 7 in Hanover
Nico Rosberg at the launch of SportContact 7 in Hanover

The night before my Contidrom track debut saw the official launch of SportContact 7 at a glitzy production in the H’UP on the outskirts of Hanover city. Before dinner, Continental’s tyre development team share their insight on the journey to bring the new tyre to market, delivered with the sort of enthusiasm that even leaves me a bit starry eyed for these round rubber things. Nico Rosberg adds star power with a silent arrival from the wings in an Audi e-tron GT – the car wearing the obligatory SportContact 7s, wheels provocatively positioned to show off Continental’s new darling. Like everyone else, I take too many photos of the same thing. Later I’ll wonder why I need ten photos of the same tyre.

With the new SportContact generation, Continental promises drivers a high performance, very safe, handling-oriented, high-mileage tyre. In Continental’s own internal tests comparing SportContact 7 to its predecessor, service life was shown to be extended by 17%, mileage on the racetrack increases by 10%, wet braking distances are reduced by 8%, and the new SportContact 7 is 6% better in dry braking too. Handling and grip in both wet and dry conditions also benefit, as I was soon to find out.

SportContact 7 is aimed at high performance cars
SportContact 7 improves high performance driving with better handling in the wet and dry, plus longer service life

Dry Handling Test at the Contidrom

Looking at tyres is nice. But then you have to play with them. The Supra hits the track perfectly. The car and the tyres are faster than me. I know my limits of course. Maybe I gain some confidence after a lap or two. The tyres certainly know what they are doing. The Supras in front disappear. Alone on the track I have something of a transcendent experience. I become distinctly aware for the first time in my life of the tyres as a piece of equipment.

The car is good but the tyres seem better, flexing themselves all over the hot tarmac. Athletic and malleable, the car dips and dives for the corners. Today I love corners. I’m looking for the apex. Slice it. Cut it in half. Grip and go out of the corner. Back on the throttle, earlier than what I might do. Maybe I can push it a bit more this lap.

I find some rhythm on parts of the track, again that little magic feeling imparted by good tyres designed for exactly this. The Supra can be a tricky one to handle but today on these tyres it feels far more stable than when I drove it a few weeks ago on back roads in Ireland at half the speed I’m driving today on tyres that had probably seen better days. I never knew a tyre could have so much impact on the performance of a car.

Dry handling test with the Toyota Supra
Dry handling test with the Toyota Supra

After a few laps it’s back to the ‘pits’ to swap into the same car on Continental SportContact 6 to compare. This time the Supra feels a little looser, the limits closer. After a few laps I’m exhausted. I haven’t concentrated this much for a while. My senses feel a little bit sharper. I think it’s called being in the moment. You could practice mindfulness for years and still never get this close to being in the moment. I feel like I’m flying. I feel like I’m a much better driver than what I actually am. Then it’s rinse and repeat in the Hyundai i30N.

I know this car a little better. Well I actually have a huge crush on it. It’s front wheel drive, predictable, fool proof you might say but then maybe it never met a fool like me. When I get back to the ‘pits’ the man from Continental tells me I can go faster. Can you imagine being told to go faster in someone else’s car on someone else’s tyres on someone else’s track with someone else’s fuel? It must be 28 degrees already and it’s not even midday. Changing Lanes is having a good day. I’m grinning. Focus, focus!

Joining the track in the Toyota Supras
Joining the track in the Toyota Supra behind Continental’s test driver

How did Continental improve the high performance tyre?

Continental’s SportContact 7 features three new technical tyre details. Adaptive tread design adjusts to dry and wet roads. The BlackChili rubber compound has been precisely adapted to the tread design for maximum grip.

“The focus of our development is on wanting to have the best sporty summer tyre on the market for every vehicle class,” says Professor Burkhard Wies, Head of Research and Development for the Passenger and Light Truck Tire replacement business worldwide at Continental. “This includes significantly improved handling on dry and wet roads or racetracks and an exceptionally long service life that surpasses that of the previous model by 17 percent.”

With an asymmetrical, adaptive tread design, the new SportContact 7 can adapt to dry and wet roads, ensuring precision handling and strong control characteristics, even at high speeds.

“You can put a tyre under stress if you put increased demands on it,” says Wies. “In this kind of situation, the new adaptive tread provides safety and driving confidence together with very precise cornering stability in wet and dry road conditions.”

While driving, the tyre’s footprint ends at the point of the highest water removal in the tread, to offer the best grip when braking, accelerating, and cornering on wet roads.

When cornering on dry roads, the footprint shifts to the outer shoulder, which is designed to transmit the highest forces for stable handling. New “locking elements” in the outer shoulder ensure further stability, only enabling limited movement of the tread for high ride stability.

The Hyundai i30N on Continental SportContact 7
The Hyundai i30N on Continental SportContact 7

Wet Handling Test in the Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 S

Next up is the wet handling track and a fleet of Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 S. The track is reminiscent of a wet M50 – just with better drivers. I hop into the driver’s seat, get comfortable. We will test the same car on the same track with SportContact 7 and SportContact 6.

I start on SportContact 7. Over the radio, Continental’s test driver guides us through the track. I’m from Ireland, of course I know how to drive in the wet. Famous last words. When he says ‘aquaplaning spot in the braking zone’, I have a brief vision of me flying off the track. Yet the all wheel drive Mercedes on Continental SportContact 7 on the wet track feels good, confident and sure-footed.

Then it’s back to the ‘pits’ and time to rejoin the track in the Mercedes on SportContact 6. IT FEELS LIKE A DIFFERENT CAR. I’m quite stunned by that. My contact with the surface of the track feels looser, the car doesn’t feel as fun or sporty.

When I’m back at base the word in the camp is that the Mercedes Benz A45 S is a whole 5 seconds faster around the track in the wet on SportContact 7 vs SportContact 6. That my friends is progress.

Caroline Kidd on the wet handling track at the Contidrom
Caroline driving the Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 S on the wet handling track at the Contidrom

Matching tyres to vehicles

Conventional sports tyres react differently to different vehicle models, depending on the weight, size and engine of the car in question. But the new Continental SportContact 7 is the first product in the high-performance tyre segment that is tailor-made for every type of vehicle. Heavy vehicles require different tyre solutions to light cars. So, the specifications of the SportContact 7 are adapted to each vehicle class.

“As a result, we have developed new technologies, suitable for roads and racing, that are used depending on the tyre size, so the typical driving feel of the SportContact family is retained irrespective of vehicle.,” says Wies. “This includes a design tailored to different vehicle classes. We can also adapt the stability of the sidewall, the grip under different loads, as well as the high-speed capability, handling and design of the carcass to every vehicle class.”

The third technological building block of the new SportContact 7 is the BlackChili rubber compound, which has been precisely adapted to the tread design.

This soft compound perfectly matches the very rigid, low-profiled tyre design for better handling and but significantly increased mileage. Tyre engineers and chemists at Continental had to balance out various conflicting objectives to achieve this. The result is an unusual mixing compound technology, which together with the tread design, enables significant progress in handling characteristics, as we felt on the track at the Contidrom in the vehicles provided.

Fleet of Mercedes-Benz A45 S at the Contidrom wet handling track
Fleet of Mercedes-Benz A45 S at the Contidrom wet handling track

Wet Braking Test in the Volkswagen Golf GTI

Continental has assembled a fleet of new Volkswagen Golf GTIs for a wet braking test. We will test the same cars on SportContact 6 and SportContact 7.

The Golf GTI feels really nice. Each car is equipped with its own measuring device, which I activate before hitting the test tarmac. The instructions are to bring the car to a speed of between 85 and 90 km/h before hitting the brakes hard as I pass through the cones. I can do this!

The Golf behaves impeccably, with no drama as the brakes are applied hard. But the braking distances tell the full story. In some instances the Golf GTI on SportContact 7 stops a whole 4 metres short of the same car on SportContact 6! It could be the difference between bruising your Golf GTI or destroying it.

Wet braking test at the Contidrom
Wet braking test at the Contidrom

You can read a lot of reviews of tyres, watch a lot of videos. A day at the Contidrom discovering the relationship between car, tarmac and tyre gave me a new appreciation for the tyre as a piece of equipment that can transform the experience of driving and how fun and safe a car can feel on the road.

There are many facets to tyre design but the SportContact 7 strikes an appealing balance between wet and dry handling, and tyre mileage.

While all drivers require a tyre that is safe, legal and durable, the SportContact 7 is designed for high performance cars and drivers looking to exploit the best handling characteristics and longevity, whether on road or on track.

“We are really looking forward to the arrival of the latest SportContact 7 tyre in Ireland,” says Tom Dennigan, Head of Continental Tyres Ireland. “The level of engineering that has gone into producing this latest high performance tyre from Continental is phenomenal.”

“We will see the SportContact 7 very soon in Ireland as original equipment fitment on a range of new performance cars. For any drivers of such performance cars in Ireland who are looking at replacing their tyres, they could honestly not choose a better product than the SportContact 7, given its capabilities in improved wet and dry braking performance, and a significantly longer service life.”

Thanks Continental!
Thanks Continental!

By Caroline Kidd