IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Ryan Dalziel is calmly speaking into the tape recorder.
Fortunately, he doesn’t have to hold the tape recorder, which is good, because his hands are pretty busy: He’s accelerating up to and beyond 150 mph at the wheel of a new Dodge Challenger SRT 392, a 485-horsepower manual-transmission monster with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8.
At the end of the straight at the Thermal Club private driving facility outside Palm Springs, Calif, Dalziel throws the 4,279-pound Challenger into a sweeping left-hander, keeping the car sideways as long as possible. The Scottish driver grins. This is fun.
The event is the media and dealer introduction of the Continental ExtremeContact Sport, the company’s newest ultra-high performance tire.
Though Continental has a full roster of tire engineers and professional testers, management realized that through its involvement with the WeatherTech Championship came access to many of the best sports car racers in the world, like Dalziel, who has wins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans on his resume.
Continental committed to involving IMSA drivers and incorporating their feedback into the development of the ExtremeContact Sport to help the tire manufacturer reach its goal of making it the best consumer ultra-high-performance tire available.
But not just on the race track, or in high-speed situations, the tire also had to raise the bar on wet-pavement handling, and wet and dry braking ability.
That’s where Dalziel (Visit Florida Racing), Ozz Negri (Michael Shank Racing), Joao Barbosa (Action Express Racing), Andy Lally (Magnus Racing) and Lawson Aschenbach (Stevenson Motorsports) come in: The five played key roles in the development of the ExtremeContact Sport.
“We chose five of the best sports car drivers in the world to help deliver what the performance driving enthusiasts demand in a tire,” said Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire.
“These drivers pushed our tires to the limits to help develop a tire that includes superb dry handling, while not sacrificing any of Continental’s award-winning performance in the wet.”
“It’s a natural,” said Dalziel as the Challenger’s wide ExtremeContact Sport tires squeal in the left-hand sweeper as he drifts through the corner.
“This is a great tire on the track because you can abuse it and it never gives up. As a street tire, this was already an excellent product, but wet traction has been improved, tire life has been drastically improved – and those are areas where this tire was already near the top.”
This was not a publicity stunt to involve some high-profile race drivers – this was an extensive effort to get the input of drivers who compete at the highest levels in a series where speeds can top 200 mph and run in daylight and dark, wet and dry, on tracks that range from maximum available grip to slick as butter.
The IMSA drivers evaluated the tires under a variety of circumstances at several locations, including Continental’s own massive testing facility in Uvalde, Texas.
“We didn’t know which tire we were testing,” said Negri fresh from leading his team to an overall victory at the IMSA season-ending, 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. “We just knew them as Tire A, B, C or D. And then they debriefed us separately.”
At first, Negri said he wasn’t immediately interested. “I thought, ‘You know, I drive a pretty cool race car, with a lot of tire grip,”’ and he wasn’t sure what he could bring to the table for a street tire program.
“But when we got started, I realized that when I was working to make my race car better, it was just for me and the team,” Negri said.
“But with this project, we’re working on making a tire better for a whole lot of other people. And we learned how many good folks there are behind these tires – how much passion and professionalism they have to make this tire the best.”
At the Thermal Club facility, Continental had dealers and media from publications like Car and Driver, Automobile, Road & Track and Motor Trend participate in tests that included a dry autocross; an autocross that had dry and wet pavement with a wet braking test; and a comparatively slow track session where Continental tire engineers and testers demonstrated their own testing procedures.
And finally there was a high-speed test of the tires on a variety of cars that included BMWs, a Challenger SRT Hellcat, a Ford Mustang massaged by NASCAR’s Richard Petty-owned Petty’s Garage that was supercharged to over 800 horsepower, and a track-ready Porsche Cayman race car.
The overall impression: This is a tire that is remarkable on dry pavement, astounding in the wet, especially in wet braking.
Tested against not only the current generation ExtremeContact Sport tires, the new tires were compared to other top-of-the-line performance tires from multiple brands.
The ExtremeContact Sport, available in February, comes in 71 sizes, including 17 new sizes, ranging from 15–20-inch wheel diameters with a W and Y speed rating.
“I’m really proud to be part of it,” Dalziel said. “And I don’t think this is the end of programs like this one.”