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An incredible experience for celebrating an historical anniversary for Continental: fun on the world's longest racing track next to the German company's drivers and with a rapidly-beating heart

Sonia Pari

A highly unusual way to celebrate Continental's anniversary! You jump into a racing car, strap yourself into the passenger seat, experience a rush of adrenalin and then say to yourself: "You won't forget this!"
The occasion is the German company's 140th year, a history of almost a century and a half that would take hours to tell. But it is not the main subject of the Continental invitation: the purpose is to have a special experience of a car race, create a different interest which, in its turn, creates an automatic link with everything that has taken place to date.
The "crime scene" is the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, seven kilometres of very fast, hilly roads in the Ardennes, the most challenging Formula 1 track.
The protagonists are the "Fun Cup Beetles", the brightly coloured replicas of the VW Beetle with 175 HP engines capable of reaching speeds of 230 km/h.
The producer is Continental, with Uniroyal, the only supplier of the RainSport 2 tyre, as the director.
"For years we've used the Uniroyal Fun Cup throughout Europe to create customer loyalty for the umbrella brand by putting them in a real racing car and letting them become drivers for a day", explained Alberto Bergamaschi, PR of Continental Italia and also a Fun Cup driver. "To celebrate our group's 140 years we wanted to give our guests the unique experience of feeling the way drivers do every time they put on their helmet".
There are 120 Beetles at the starting line of a 25 hour race: an endurance test not only of the cars but also of the physical strength of drivers who come to Belgium from all parts of Europe. Continental has two vehicles, both sporting the "140 years" livery: one with a "serious" crew aimed at getting results, the other driven by Alberto Bergamaschi and by colleague Alberto Richard, who have the task of taking it in turns to transport the 23 passengers on this unusual adventure.
The spirit that pervades the Uniroyal Fun Cup is special and devoted more to fun than to competition in the strictest sense: in the hospitality tent all the competitors seem to be great friends, but will they still be when they jump into the cockpit? The atmosphere is that of a rural festival with stands of all types in the paddock, mobile delis preparing hot dogs of improbable dimensions, and rivers of beer flowing straight from the keg into the stomach of madmen who look as though they had been "born with an airbag". A gala dinner after the official trials, the programme says. Luckily, we did not bring evening dress! We are met by the hostesses who give us helmets with horns, fake swords, shields and spiked clubs: undoubtedly a Viking gala and a festive atmosphere as a consequence. Everything is seasoned with fake tribal duels, rustic food, the images of previous editions of the 25-Hour Fun Cup projected onto screens, with five-a-side football tournaments in the best tradition of the sponsor of the World Cup 2014. But there is still no mention of the historical anniversary.
The climax comes the next day with the start of the race. The engines are checked for the last time, the drivers get ready, the cars line up at the start. It's a long procedure that also involves the spectators who can go onto the track to take a closer look: the historical Beetles are lined up, a band is playing, models are being photographed beside the cars, and the Continental drivers are still wearing their Viking outfits of the previous evening!
It's the start of an extraordinary show: seen from a distance, they look like 120 multicoloured sweeties in an interminable winding procession down the Eau Rouge and then up to the bend at Radillon. And so it will continue for 25 hours, until the chequered flag comes down on only one of the 120 cars that will be able to boast the title of 25 Hour Fun Cup winner 2011.
But let's get back to us: wearing a tracksuit and helmet, I wait fairly apprehensively for the Fun Taxi (the name of our car) to come back to the paddock. The weather is unsettled and typically Belgian; one minute it's dry, the next it's raining. I'm strapped into the passenger seat and it's almost impossible to breathe, but they tell me that's the way it should be so that the consequences of an accident will be minor - that's a good start! I'm connected to the driver via radio so I'm immediately reassured that he doesn't intend to smash the car at the first bend - God forbid! Then the decision: fast or slow? "Well, to be honest, I'd prefer not to exaggerate...". And that was enough to convince the driver to demonstrate that corners are hazardous entities free from any physical laws of centrifugal force. In the compression of the Eau Rouge at 200 an hour, your stomach drops down to your feet and then immediately rises up to your throat on the Radillon to re-establish physical equilibrium - nausea permitting. The strip of asphalt seems to get narrower the faster we go and it appears impossible to overtake in these conditions. But there's a trick: just push your car's headlights into the rear lights of the car in front and, hey presto!, you zip out on the right or left and find yourself in front almost without realizing it - there're only a couple drops of cold perspiration sliding down from my helmet to my neck! And so one, then another and another ... Then it starts to rain again and the Uniroyal RainSport 2 come into their own, righting the car every time the rear tends to veer on the wet. I wouldn't have believed it, but lap after lap I get used to this crazy carousel and I realize that I'm having fun... lots of fun! Pure adrenalin, said Alberto before starting off. Pure adrenalin I confirm and I'm almost sorry that the forty-five minutes of expected torture have ended in a flash and my mouth is still watering. Of course, the world did spin for a few minutes after I jumped over the roll-bar and stood on the ground again. And the look in my eyes betrayed a rapidly-beating heart. In a trance, I watch the race from the paddock wall with the professionalism acquired from the knowledge that I, too, had been a protagonist in this adventure. The chequered flag ended the event amidst a celebrating crowd. I congratulate myself on the splendid experience and only then do I remember why I am there and why I'm still wearing a tracksuit: ah, yes, the 140 years of Continental!

• 1871-2011: 140 Years of innovation and progress

The dawn of Continental: 1871-1900

1871 • On 8 October, Continental-Caoutchouc-und Gutta-Percha Compagnie is established in Hannover as a joint-stock company. The main factory on Vahrenwalder Straße also makes articles in soft rubber, rubberized fabrics and solid tyres for carriages and bicycles.
1882 • The symbol of the city of Hannover, the horse rampant, is adopted as a trademark.
1898 • 
The manufacture of smooth tyres for cars begins at Hannover-Vahrenwald.

The inventive spirit: 1900-1930

1901 • The first German airship, the LZ 1, uses Continental aerostatic materials to seal the gas containers.
1904 • Continental presents a car tyre with a tread.
1905 • Continental manufactures studded, anti-slip tyres, the precursors of tyres with steel studs.
1908 • Continental invents the removable rim for saloon cars, an innovation that saves the time and effort required to change tyres.
1909 • Samples of synthetic rubber developed by the Bayer laboratories are vulcanized by Continental and processed to manufacture test tyres.
1921 • On its 50th anniversary, Continental is the first German company to introduce cord tyres to the market. The rigid, square-woven casing is replaced by the more pliable cord fibre fabric.
Continental produces the first large tyres for trucks to replace the solid tyres used until then on commercial vehicles.
1926 • Carbon black is used by Continental as a reinforcement to guarantee greater resistance to wear and ageing. It gives the tyres their characteristic black colour.

Successes in sport: 1931-1960
1932 • 
Continental launches a rubber-metal compound and registers it under the trade name of Continental Schwingmetall. It is used to support the engine and insulate vibrations and noise.
1935/40 • A series of successes for Continental racing tyres on Mercedes and Auto-Union vehicles.
Four consecutive wins at the Grand Prix in Germany, four wins in the North African race in Tripoli, three wins in Italy and numerous speed records bring drivers like Carraciola, Rosemeyer and Stuck international fame.
1952 • Continental adds M+S winter tyres to its range of conventional tyres.
1951/55 • In close collaboration with Daimler-Benz and Porsche, Continental continues its wave of successes on the track.
Racing in vehicles fitted with Continental tyres, in 1952 drivers like Karl Kling, Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio win the Carrera Panamericana and the Grand Prix in France, England, the Netherlands and Italy.
1955 • At the start of the year, Continental is the first German company to begin manufacturing tubeless tyres.
Continental is also the first company to develop pneumatic suspension for trucks and buses.
1960 • The large-scale production of radial tyres begins.

Internationalization: 1961-1990
• Construction of a tyre manufacturing plant at Sarreguemines in France.
1967 • It opens Contidrom, the tyre testing circuit on the edge of Lunenburg Heath.
1971 • The creation at the Korbach plant of the largest flexible tyre manufacturing facilities in Europe.
1972 • Continental launches the ContiContact winter tyre without studs.
1979 • The acquisition of the European plants of US company Uniroyal, Inc. gives Continental a wider base in Europe.
1983 • Continental's hydraulic supports (special elements with bearings used in engines to attenuate vibration and noise) are mass produced for the automotive industry.
1985 • Acquisition of tyre manufacturing plants from Semperit of Austria.
1987 • Acquisition of General Tire Inc., the North American tyre manufacturer.
1989/90 • A joint venture with Portuguese company Mabor for the manufacture of tyres at Lousado. The acquisition is completed in 1993.

Supplier to the automotive industry: 1991-2011
• The entire line of rubber products for the industry is reorganized under the ContiTech brand.
Continental launches an environment-friendly tyre for cars: ContiEcoContact.
1993 • The majority shareholding in Czech company Barum includes a tyre manufacturing plant for passenger and commercial vehicles at Otrokovice, in addition to a commercial organization of about 50 outlets.
Continental owns over 2,200 outlets and has retailers under franchise in 13 European countries.
1994 • Benecke-Kaliko AG merges with the ContiTech division. The main products are imitation leather and film.
1995 • The Automotive Systems division is set up to increase the development of systems for the automotive sector.
1997 • Continental presents the Integrated Starter Alternator Damper (ISAD), which wins the German award for industrial innovation. This important technology is a precondition for hybrid engines that makes a substantial contribution to saving fuel and emissions.
1998 • Acquisition of the Automotive Brake and Chassis unit of a US company with a worldwide operation, the centre of which is Alfred Teves GmbH in Frankfurt am Main.
1998/99 • Continental strengthens its international position as an international tyre manufacturer with the opening of production sites in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Slovakia.
Further progress towards the internationalization of the ContiTech business is made in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Hungary.
2000 • The opening at Timisoara in Romania of a new plant for manufacturing car tyres.
Continental and Nisshinbo enter into a joint venture (Continental Teves Corporation) in the sector for brake and chassis systems for the Japanese and Korean markets.
2001 • Continental strengthens its business in a constantly growing market for automotive electronic components by acquiring Temic, the international specialist in the sector.
2002 • To increase the supply of tyres for Japanese car manufacturers, Continental and Yokohama enter into a joint venture on equal terms.
2003 • Presentation of ContiSportContact 2 Vmax, the road tyre homologated for speeds of up to 360 km/h.
Continental strengthens its position as a tyre manufacturer in the ASEAN area and in Australia by entering into a joint venture with Continental Sime Tyre of Malaysia.
2004 • The acquisition of Phoenix AG. Development continues with the merger between ContiTech and Phoenix, a company specializing in technologies for rubber and plastic materials.
2005 • Cooperation with ZF Friedrichshafen for the joint development and sale of technologies for hybrid vehicles.
2006 • The start of the production of brake callipers at the new plant in Zvolen, Slovakia, and of tyres for cars, vans and commercial vehicles in Camaçari, Brazil.
Continental acquires the branch of US company Motorola Inc. making electronic components for the automotive sector and expands its business also in the area of information technology.
2007 • With the acquisition of a majority shareholding in Continental Matador Rubber s.r.o. of Slovakia, Continental expands its position in the Tyre and ContiTech divisions in central and east Europe.
Continental acquires Siemens VDO Automotive AG and becomes one of the top five suppliers for the automotive sector at world level; it also strengthens its competitive position in Europe, Nord America and Asia.
2008 • The start up of the plant in Nuremburg for the manufacture of lithium ion batteries for hybrid vehicles.
2009 • The new headquarters for Asia and a research and development centre are opened in Shanghai.
Schaeffler KG becomes the majority shareholder in Continental AG following the finalization of an acquisition offer made public in the summer of 2008.
2010 • The market launch of the ContiSportContact 5 P. This new, high-performance summer tyre is designed specifically for sports cars and tuning.
Launch of the new HD Hybrid, an innovative tyre for the drive axle of trucks.
2011 • Official inauguration of the first Continental plant in China. The new high-technology plant in Hefei has an annual production capacity of 4 million car tyres, which will be sold on local markets in China and Asia.

• With a turnover of 26 billion euros in 2010, the Continental group is one of the top suppliers for the world's automotive industry. The Continental group employs 155,000 people in 45 countries. Over 30% of new European cars leave the factory fitted with Continental tyres as original equipment.
Its brands are Continental, Uniroyal (with the exception of NAFTA countries and Columbia and Peru), Semperit, Barum, General Tire, Viking, Gislaved, Mabor, Matador, Euzkadi, Sime Tyres and Dunlop only in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. The Car Tyre and Light Transport divisions include the Two Wheel business (tyres for mopeds and bicycles) and commercial companies with over 2,200 firms specializing in the tyre sector, and franchises in 13 countries.
The Continental group's Tyre division is one of the official sponsors of the FIFA World Cup 2014, which will be held in Brazil.

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