Driving on ice - how I learned so many lessons to take back with me for the road
Continental has just launched its latest winter tyre, the TS860 and although we won't see it here until the end of the year, we went to Finland recently to try it out on ice.
We also learned about the Stop the Crash programme, an initiative designed to bring advanced safety systems to developing countries to reduce accidents and road deaths. After a technical briefing, where we learned more than we'll ever need to know about tyre moulds and tread patterns, we were brought to a frozen swamp in the early morning pre-dawn.
Our first challenge was to try the latest winter tyres on a fleet of Audi RS3s and Porsche Boxsters.
A short but challenging circuit proved to be easier than expected to negotiate, particularly in the 4WD RS3.
We got it into some lurid angles, but it always came back into line. The Boxster, a powerful, rear wheel drive sports car, was a bit trickier to handle but had plenty of grip.
Next, it was on to glorified golf carts, where we explored the differences in grip between tyres with 8mm, 4mm and 2mm of tread. Particularly on the 2mm treaded tyres, the grip just disappeared, proving the importance of keeping an eye on the condition of your tyres.
Not even winter tyres can perform miracles if they're in a poor state. Our next test again compared tyres with different tread depths. This time, we drove identical Audi A3s and using telemetry, posted our best 0-40-0 kmh times. Once back at base, we studied our traces and it was clear how much traction and braking performance is lost with worn tyres.
The final test was quite interesting as Continental had gone to the considerable trouble and expense of making a batch of tyres using materials and technology from the year 2000.
These were fitted to new BMW 1-series hatchbacks while a fleet of 1998 BMW 3 series compacts were fitted with the latest TS860 tyres.
This test was designed to show how far tyre technology has come in 15 years but in reality, both cars proved to be a handful on the ice. I suppose what we learned is that both tyre and chassis technology have come an awful long way in a relatively short period.