CREATING SPACE WITH THE ALTERNATIVE UHP
The high-ranking stage for the market launch of the new supersport ZZ5 was the Monteblanco Circuit in Spain, where the new product was analyzed and tested
Mino De Rigo
As a manufacturer of niche products, there can be no doubt that British company Avon Tyres has gained ground among the aficionados of motorsports and GT championships. On one side, competitions and the ability to transfer its experience from the racetrack to the road; on the other side, the strategic decision to concentrate on the replacement market. Thanks to a range of products that "do not have a conventional positioning because, on the one hand" - emphasized Gavin Edwards, general manager of the European technical centre in Melksham - "they express a technological content that puts them on a level with competitors in the top segment, and on the other, they are realistically more expensive than budget brands". Up to now, Avon more or less totally concentrated on production and sport and commercial activities, but it has decided to come out of its traditional shell. And the occasion was the launch of the new jewel in the crown of its summer tyre line, the UHP ZZ5, when it organized a test for the trade press at the Monteblanco Circuit, not far from Seville in Spain. "This is a totally European tyre" - Edwards clarified - "designed and developed in England, which replaces the previous ZZ3 with improved handling, wet braking and rolling resistance, but without compromising tread wear".
Totally European tyres
Conceived on the basis of requests and suggestions by customers and retailers, extensively tested on half of Europe's motorways and circuits, including the inevitable Nürburgring track, the new UHP boasts an asymmetric tread design and a rubber flange to protect the rim. "It costs more to make, but in order to be competitive we have established a limited price differential of around 5-10% compared to the ZZ3". Available on the market in 9 sizes from 225/40 R18 to 255/35 R19 for 18" and 19" rims and only with speed rating Y, the ZZ5 completes a line of summer tyres that embraces the ZT5 and ZV5 treads, one asymmetric in the T and H category, the other designed for a wide range of sizes for 15" and 18" rims and with V, W and Y ratings. From the point of view of development, focus was on structure, compounds and tread pattern. "We applied" - explained the manager of Avon Tyres - "a technology called Intelligent Asymmetric Tread Design - IATD - to divide the tread into three different zones with continuous central grooves to maximize water dispersal when driving on the wet, an inner shoulder to give high contact pressures and yet good balance between improved wet grip and tread wear, and a wider, continuous outer shoulder" for confident handling in both dry and wet conditions. At the same time, the entire central section of the tread has been designed "to increase the feeling of precision when going into a corner, while large tread blocks on the shoulder contribute to improving traction".
Consistency and confidence taken to the limit
Subjected to tough testing on the Monteblanco Circuit on a sunny day in October with ambient temperatures above 30°C and close to 50 on the asphalt, the new tyres proved that their overall dynamic behaviour was more than adequate for a squadron of 4x4 Audi S5s with 4.2 litre V8 engines capable of generating 354 HP. On the dry section of the main track, the tyres behaved consistently and showed no particular signs of deterioration, even with the high temperature, rough surface and having to take journalists round and round the track without interruption. Which should testify to the durability of the tyres for road use. The quality that was most immediately perceivable was comfort, which was also thanks to the low rolling noise. And their general balance wasn't unpleasant, either.
A talent for fast Gran Turismo
Rather than overemphasize sportiness, more attention was given to comfort and driving pleasure. In fact, with excellent hold and steering even on the demanding wet handling track next to the main one, which they took with authority and smoothness, the tyres confirmed a talent for fast Gran Turismo rather than for racing. Which is justified simply by looking at the list of candidates in the aftermarket, which range from the Audi TT, RS6 and R8 to the BMW 1, 3 and Z4 series, from the Ford Focus C-Max and Mondeo to the Mercedes Slk, Amg E 63 and Slr, as well as the Volkswagen Golf, Opel Vectra, Nissan 350Z and Maserati Gransport. In terms of structure, compared to the ZZ3 the new tyres have a wider contact patch for better pressure distribution and improved handling, a 0- degree nylon spiral restrictor, needed to maintain performance standards at high speeds, over a 2-ply rayon casing for dynamic and predictable handling, and even reinforcement tabs inserted in the outer shoulder to increase rigidity for prompt steering response and greater lateral stability. For the compound "we used a new generation of silica technology" - Edwards stated - "which bonds the silica particles to special cross-linked polymers to give more even compound dispersion for improved wet grip and durability. We also used a special tread pattern that we call ‘optinoise', which allowed us to make the tyre quieter".
• Cooper Tire
In the tyre making business since 1904, Avon Tyres is now part of America's Cooper Tire & Rubber Company. In 2010, the group that employs close to 13,000 people had revenues of 3.4 billion dollars, 71% from North America and the remainder from international markets. It has three research and development centres: in Findlay, Ohio, Melksham, UK, and Shanghai, China. "The focus" - explained Nigel Hampson, marketing manager for Europe - "is on the replacement market with a strategy that targets international sales with particular leverage on the high-performance and UHP segments for cars, 4x4s and motorcycles".
It is no accident that Avon supplies motorsport tyres for over 140 championships, including the British GT and the Formula Ford Championship, and for monobrands Audi, Ford, Porsche and Honda in different countries. Cooper Tire is also present at evocative competitions like the Cooper Tires British F3 International Series and the Tires Atlantic Championship.