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Continental UHP Tires

Continental invests in the UHP segment

Paolo Ferrini

UHP tires are at the heart of today’s Continental programs, which strongly believes in the growth  of this market segment and is consequently ready to invest significant resources, both in financial terms as well as research and development. The reasons are quite obvious. In a relatively stable European market, analysts from the German manufacturer see significant growth prospects for the Ultra high-performance segment.

Less than 5% of the total sales figures back in 2001 and a little more than 10% in 2008, the UHP segment, according to Continental’s analysts, is destined to exceed the 20% mark by 2020, when a total sales volume of 37,3 million tires is expected. More specifically, 17 and 18 inch tires are expected to rise by 5% per year, on average, until 2020, while sales for 19 to 23 inch tires should consistently grow by 9% on average each year to reach the 7,5million mark in 2020, with 19 inch tires expected to grow by 8%, slightly less compared to the 10% forecasted for the 20 inch size and the 14% growth expected for the 21 inch size. In short, the demand for this type of product is expected to almost double by 2020.

The progressive development of what is still a niche market is not the result of an unexpected sales increase of high-end touring and sports cars, but rather the consequence of a progressive widening of UHP sizes, originally limited to a rather short 19-21 inch range, now also including tires from 17 all the way to 23 inch sizes, thus featuring also in the most crowded passenger cars segments such as mid-size sedans and SUVs.


A new concept of “performance”              


Are motorists leaning towards sports cars and as a result UHP tires? Not at all, in fact nowadays UHP tires come as standard equipment also on hybrid and even fully electric vehicles. The fact is that we must avoid the temptation of interpreting the word "performance" in terms of sheer speed and racing performance, in favor of a meaning that takes into account the “best use” of a tire. Qualities such as handling and grip, driving precision as well as braking distance are all paramount, especially when facing all those unexpected situations that are not, fortunately, part of our everyday life, but require adequate performance when having to face them. Maximum grip isn’t required each day, for example, but it is really reassuring to know that when we do need it we can count on our tires one hundred percent.

The innovative SportContact6                  


This is where the new Continental SportContact 6 comes into play, the result of almost twenty years of experience, in the segment of high-performance tires, available in 41 sizes, all with a ZF (Y) speed symbol for tires ranging between 19 to 23 inches in diameter. Competing on equal footing with Michelin’s Pilot Super Sport, Pirelli P-Zero Rosso and Zero, Bridgestone Potenza S007, Goodyear Eagle Asymmetric 2, SportMaxx Dunlop and Hankook Ventus S1 Evo, is not easy, but Continental produced a new and innovative tire in terms of compound, tread pattern and structure.

The German producer has further developed “Black Chili”, a compound designed to interlock with the smallest cracks of the road surface through atomic connections that act, at nanoscopic level, as small suction cups. A little as if the tire, by interlocking with the road surface, perfectly copies all the road bumps and cracks, even the tiniest ones, providing maximum grip in all driving conditions, dry as well as wet.

A new force vectoring technology that translates into optimal handling and reliability in all conditions. The improved inner and outer tread pattern ensures best steering precision and support for lateral forces during cornering. Depending on the size of the tire, the three or four longitudinal grooves and large shoulder blocks ensure the transfer of lateral forces, significantly improving the overall stability of the vehicle.

When cornering, the outer tread pattern of a tire is subject to greater stresses compared to the inner half of the tread, therefore the patterns of the stiff center ribs are designed asymmetrically in order to increase the stability of the tire. On the outer shoulder, different elements form a larger section, making it possible for every single block to work alongside the adjacent one to ensure the proper transfer of lateral forces.

To be approved for speeds up to 350 km / h, the new SportContact6 must rely, among other things, on a structure able to withstand the huge centrifugal forces developed at high speeds. For this purpose, Continental has designed an innovative structure able to effectively cope with the forces in play and uses an innovative and specifically developed material, called Aralon 350, a synthetic fiber in which two rigid aramid yarns are interwoven alternatively with a more flexible nylon. This new adaptive hybrid cap ply, incorporated in the compound just under the tread pattern as a seamless fabric ply, acts as an additional steel ply that wraps up the whole tire and guarantees the best possible all-round performance.

Obviously, new Y-shaped tread wear markings could not miss, as a further testimony to the attention to detail that Continental pays concerning the regular tread wear of its UHP tires:


Progress in all aspects                                 


It is rather difficult to quantify progress, especially when it comes to tires. Nevertheless, in the case of the new SportContact 6, Continental speaks of "significant progress compared to the previous ContiSportContact 5P", a tire that already offers excellent performance. Allegedly, steering precision has increased by 14% and handling in dry conditions by 11%. Furthermore, grip on racetracks increased by 4%, while the overall performance in wet conditions has improved by 2%. As if that were not enough, comfort and durability increased by 7%. At this point, all that is left to do is wait for the market’s reaction.




21 hi-performance years                         

The first Continental high performance tire - the CV90, the first official SportContact, once included in the market segment of normal tires from 13 to 16 inches back in the 90s - was launched on the market in 1994 and, as was the case back in the 90s, left the hot press in sizes ranging from 13 to 20 inches. In a short time, it became extremely popular among car manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche, to name a few) as well as tuners such as Abt and Hartge. The tires that followed, which received the new name ContiSportContact, had to meet the demand for tires of size up to 20 inches. These tires met with great success even among motorists.

Seven years later, in 2001, the ContiSportContact2, available in 22-inch size, made its appearance on the market, followed in 2003 by the ContiSportContact Vmax, particularly suitable at high speeds, reaching 360 km/h on the Nardò test track and even 409 km/h in 2007. Meanwhile, in 2006, Continental produced also the ContiSportContact3, available also with a 22-inch size joined in 2011 by the UHP ContiSportContact5.

Nowadays, production cycles have been greatly reduced, since research and development rapidly transfers to the ordinary motorist all the new technological developments. All ContiSportContact tires have been successful: in addition to the many eulogies in press tests, Continental products have obtained more than 250 original equipment approvals from carmakers and the tuning specialists. Since then not only performance parameters have been raised, size range has been enlarged too. 

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