Global Network - Test Tracks play a Key Role in Tire Development
- From high-speed oval to off-road track
- Identical test requirements around the world
- Automated Indoor Braking Analyzer ushers in new era for tire testing
Although a large number of steps in tire development are already conducted via computer simulations, there is no real substitute for the measurement data from the test tracks and the subjective judgments of the test drivers with their many years of experience. The potential solutions of various technicians and chemists for overcoming conflicting objectives and the resulting contour concepts can be as ingenious as they like, but in the end, without tests they remain pure theory. Material tests in the laboratory and numerous simulations may provide promising indications of practicality, but the hour of truth is on the test track. That is where the true worth of new ideas is revealed. So, at the start of each test series for a new product, there are normally a range of tests with different treads to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the individual patterns. The best treads are selected, further optimized, and repeatedly subject to tests involving a high outlay, until finally a tire model is developed that satisfies the performance specification and will actually go into series production.
Continental's tire tests primarily take place at the Contidrom. The corporation's own test circuit in Jeversen, a small town north of Hanover, is the "mother of all company test tracks. " It entered operation back in 1967 and has been continuously modernized ever since to respond to the ever increasing technical requirements of tire testing. Before 1967, braking and swerving tests were still being carried out in public traffic, at airports, and on cordoned-off roads. But that was only possible for as long as the most widely used vehicle was still the VW Beetle. However, with speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour, new models such as the Opel Kapitän, Ford 20 m, and Mercedes-Benz W 108/109 placed entirely new demands on tires and their testing. In Jeversen, the tests were not only concentrated but also simulated according to a uniform test standard for the first time, which in turn made the results comparable - something that had never been achieved before at the time.
Today, the Contidrom is one of the most modern test circuits in the world and is therefore considered a benchmark by many customers in the automotive industry. Extending over 160 hectares, the testing ground offers every conceivable scenario for tire testing. The tires can be tested at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour on tracks of approximately ten kilometers in length and with many different surfaces, some of them covered with water.
The most notable features are the 2.8-kilometer-long high-speed oval with a 58-degreeangle steep turn, the 1,800-meter-long "small" wet handling track, and the 3.8-kilometer-long "large" handling track. Added to this are special tracks for testing off-road features and chassis elements as well as taking noise measurements. A team of 80 staff - including test drivers, fitters, technicians, engineers, data processors, firefighters, and a catering team - are on permanent standby to ensure that everything goes without a hitch. Since it was founded 47 years ago, around two million passenger car, truck, and motorcycle tires have been tested at the Contidrom using ever more elaborate methods.
The vehicle road tests can be broken down into two areas: subjective judgments and objectively measurable standard tests. The drivers subjectively rate the handling of the tires on wet and dry surfaces, the comfort level, and tire noise. The standard tests determine a major proportion of the tire's measurable features. These include:
-Wet grip performance on wet surfaces, in straight lines, and when cornering
-Braking performance on dry road surfaces
-Aquaplaning behavior in straight lines and when cornering
-Various winter tests, which of course cannot take place at the Contidrom
-Resistance to tire roll-off
Both types of tests are required to form a complete assessment of the new tire later on. Despite standardized procedures, the outlay for these road tests is extremely high. That is why the timeframes for a new product extend over many months and sometimes even years, not to mention the adverse weather conditions that sometimes make it impossible to carry out test series at the Contidrom. But even in such circumstances, nothing is allowed to stand in the way of tire testing with its tight schedule. In these cases, the crew hops on a plane and finishes off the test program on another circuit (always accompanied by part of its cargo comprising tires, testing devices, and test vehicles - weighing 25 metric tons in total). And quite often the test circuit is on another continent. To this end, Continental has several test circuits around the world. The most important ones are in Brimley (U.S. state of Michigan) and Uvalde (Texas) as well as in Jokkmokk and Arvidsjaur (Sweden).
The site located near the Canadian border in Brimley has belonged to Continental since 1998 and also offers tracks for testing winter tires over a total area of 218 hectares. The test track in Uvalde was built by General Tire in 1959. In 1997, Continental replicated the main wet grip tracks of the Contidrom on the 2,000-hectare area to enable comparison between test results with the same materials as at the Contidrom, where only summer tires are tested due to the mild climate all year round.
In Scandinavia, it's a very different story. There, everything tends to revolve around developing winter tires. Jokkmokk is in Northern Lapland, around ten kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. Arvidsjaur is just 150 kilometers north-east of it. Both sites have different tracks for road tests on ice and snow and can be ideally combined - depending on the desired test portfolio and weather conditions.
What makes these test tracks special is that they are newly developed every year after the onset of winter - sometimes on frozen water - and have to be freshly prepared on a daily basis in order to achieve reproducible results.
Outside Europe and the U.S.A., Continental uses other test tracks in South Africa, China, India, Japan, and New Zealand, which are only rented as and when required. The same applies for the Nürburgring in Germany and the test track in Nardo, southern Italy, on which high-speed tires are tested on a regular basis.
The latest milestone in the development of test technology for passenger car, 4x4, and van summer and winter tires was commissioned at the Contidrom in 2012. It is the world's only fully automatic and non-weather-dependent tire testing facility - the Automated Indoor Braking Analyzer (AIBA). The hall, which seems quite inconspicuous from the outside, is 300 meters long and up to 30 meters wide. Irrespective of the weather, up to 100,000 braking tests can be carried out inside the facility each year using an unmanned vehicle with fully automatic control. Speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour are possible. The standardized track surfaces can be changed hydraulically. Tests can be carried out on wet and even frozen surfaces in the AIBA. The ambient temperature can likewise be precisely controlled, resulting in 70% better reproducibility of the test results.
It goes without saying that the entire Continental Tire division was delighted about receiving two international awards in 2013: the "Development Tool of the Year 2013" award from the Vehicle Dynamics International trade magazine and the "Test Track of the Year 2013" award from the Automotive Testing Technology International trade magazine for the Contidrom.
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