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Welcome to the White Hell

Sophia Epstein

This is White Hell: the northernmost car tire testing centre in the world. Spread over 700 hectares of Finnish Lapland, the facility boasts more than 20 testing sites, from snow-covered tracks to iced-over lakes – and more are added every year. The latest addition is an ice-filled indoor testing track over 600 metres long and 50 metres wide.

"We can start testing earlier in the year now, compared to when we just had the normal ice courses," says Matti Morri, technical customer service manager for the centre. "We'd have to wait until the lakes had 10cm-thick ice before we could drive on them."

Known formally as the Ivalo Testing Centre, it is mostly used by Finnish tire-maker Nokian to test out its creations, between November and May.

"When we start to develop a tire, we have from four to six kinds of pattern, tread compounds and structures," says Morri. As the testing goes on, the weaker designs are cut, and the best features are kept. This means working six days a week with skilled drivers, he says. "Last season, we tested over 20,000 experimental tires."

Each tire design can take up to five years to be assessed, a process involving both summer and winter testing. The Arctic conditions are extreme, and temperatures can fluctuate up to 40˚C throughout the day, but this is essential. "You have to test and develop tires in the same sorts of conditions that people use them," says Morri. Although computer simulations have greatly improved, they are not enough. "This kind of outdoor testing is the only way of building these types of tires."

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