March 29, 2014
Race track country clubs that cater to driving enthusiasts, local sports car clubs that rent the track for a weekend of hot laps for its members, and a growing number of high performance driver education events (HPDE) have opened the gates to anyone who seeks the thrill of driving at the limit in the relative safety of a racetrack environment. That means more driving enthusiasts today can turn a wheel on a racetrack than ever before.
This growth in track time for enthusiasts has coincided with the growth of several categories of DOT-legal, track-focused tires. In today's tire world there are a variety of tire options for drivers wanting to enjoy their car at the track, from specialized Racetrack & Autocross Only (but still DOT-legal) R-compound semi-slick tires, to street-friendly Extreme Performance Summer tires. In the middle are Streetable Track & Competition tires designed for the track, but engineered to cope with the variety of tasks driving them to and from the track brings to the equation.
Continental has recently entered the fray with the ContiForceContact. Developed in Europe with several key tuning partners like AC Schnitzer and Techart, the ContiForceContact is designed to challenge the dry performance of established favorites while adding improved wet weather performance.
To find out how well the ContiForceContact delivers on its promise, Continental invited several members of the Tire Rack team to experience it in a track environment side by side with two benchmarks in the category, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup and Toyo Proxes R888. The original Pilot Sport Cup tested here really invented the Streetable Track & Competition category, and is well known for delivering capable dry track performance mated with a road-friendly demeanor. The Proxes R888 is actually a Racetrack & Autocross Only competition tire not intended for use on public roads, but was included in this comparison as it's one of the more popular options for drivers who want the elevated performance of a real track tire, but don't want to use shallow treaded, semi-slick R-compound track-only tires.
For our test we used a familiar platform to us, a BMW F30 328i sedan riding on full-tread depth 235/40R18 tires. While the 328i's torquey little turbo motor may be a little underpowered to significantly challenge drive traction exiting faster corners, the BMW 3 series has a capable chassis on the track, making it a reasonable compromise to average the wide variety of cars that see track duty.
Dry traction and handling is what Streetable Track & Competition tires are all about, and why track day enthusiasts use them in the first place. Our test comprised of 5-6 laps by each of several drivers running until consistent lap times within a few tenths were achieved. The 1.6 mile road course featured moderate elevation change mixed with predominantly third and fourth gear corners, a second gear S-turn section and peak straightaway speeds right at 100mph.
|Tire||Avg. Lap Time (seconds)|
|Michelin Pilot Sport Cup||89.82|
|Toyo Proxes R888||91.32|
In the first flying lap on the ContiForceContact you say, "Hello, my new friend we speak the same language." This tire communicates very well through linear steering response that gives what you ask for and exactly what you expect. During cornering, the rear tires feel engaged so that the car seems to rotate around it's center axis rather than simply leaning on the front or yawing at the rear. Front/rear balance is good with no unexpected behavior from either end. The plateau of maximum grip feels relatively wide, and breakaway is predictable when the tires do reach the limit. The grip gradually falls away with good reserve and reasonably quick recovery. The ContiForceContact's precision and communication go a long way to building trust and quick lap times. If only it had a little more ultimate dry grip.
In comparison, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup displayed more dry traction than the ContiForceContact, and was able to lap the track a little faster. The Pilot Sport Cup needed a few laps to reach full operating temperature and maximum grip. Its overall balance on the BMW 3 series was modest understeer, as the rear end was totally locked down unless provoked into a slide. The Pilot Sport Cup's quick pace came at a small price in the form of more abrupt breakaway at the limit than the other tires. If caught early, the penalty for slips or small slides was minimal thanks to this tire's high ultimate grip, but it required some concentration to walk the fine line between going quickly and asking too much.
In contrast, the Toyo Proxes R888 felt less precise than the others, requiring noticeably more steering input to initiate a turn and more angle to drive down to the apex. Transitional response felt slower, but it didn't feel numb, just slower or softer than the "bright" feel of the Continental and Michelin tires. The soft demeanor of this tire did pay dividends, however, with plenty of warning of the approaching limit, and lots of time to react within its big plateau, plus plenty of reserve when you stepped over. This tire quickly built trust for our drivers, encouraging them to challenge every corner entry knowing the tire wouldn't let them down with any bad tendencies or abrupt behavior when making speed adjustments to hit the apex. In the end, this tire felt like it should be faster than the lap times showed. Of note was the tread pattern noise. Leaving the pits and at anything below fast track speed our drivers heard a distinct monotone growl that changed pitch with speed. Good thing this tire isn't meant to be used on the street, as it would be easy to think something was mechanically wrong with the car.
It's easy to imagine the Proxes R888 being very fast and predictable on smaller and lighter, well-balanced cars, but it might be somewhat of a handful on bigger platforms. While not part of our test, this tire's feel at full tread depth suggests shaving or wearing the tire down to shallower tread depths will help with precision and stability.
We also took the opportunity to instrument our test car and measure 60-0mph, ABS-assisted stopping distances as a way to gauge ultimate braking traction. Multiple stops on each tire were averaged. Not much distance separated the group, with the Toyo Proxes R888 holding a small advantage over the others.
|Tire||60-0mph ABS Stop (feet)|
|Michelin Pilot Sport Cup||122.3|
|Toyo Proxes R888||117.4|
Admittedly, most track-oriented tires have a singular focus on dry traction and performance, and wet grip and hydroplaning resistance can suffer as a result. But track time is precious, and most HPDE events continue to run even if it's raining. Also, Streetable Track & Competition tires are often driven to and from the track so their ability to also handle wet roads is necessary, too.
For consistency we used a dedicated wet test track. Several drivers ran multiple laps until consistent lap times were achieved for each driver. The .95-mile course featured a water system to consistently wet the track where most turns were driven in third gear with several tighter second gear turns, and peak straightaway speed at just under 70 mph.
|Tire||Avg. Lap Time (seconds)|
|Michelin Pilot Sport Cup||74.95|
|Toyo Proxes R888||78.65|
The ContiForceContact felt very balanced and predictable in the wet at speed much like it did on the dry road course. One of our drivers commented, "the rear doesn't slide out (under acceleration at corner exit) and the front doesn't have noticeable understeer." What breakaway there is feels very gradual and oh, so, controllable, allowing you to place the car exactly where you want it whether it's driving down to the apex or gliding out to the curbing at corner exit. All together this added up to driver confidence in a tire that's fun to drive at the limit.
The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup also carried its dry characteristics to the wet, displaying moderate understeer unless the driver induced oversteer with too much trailbraking or aggressive throttle input. The window of peak grip was a little narrower than the ContiForceContact, along with a bit more abrupt breakaway when the tire reached its limit.
The Toyo Proxes R888 displayed less overall grip than the other two, and breakaway was slower than with the Pilot Sport Cup. Our drivers could notice the lower hydroplaning threshold speed of the Proxes R888 in several fast sections of the track. The front tires would briefly lose touch with the track, resulting in understeer entering the fast no-brakes sweeper on the course, or delayed braking into the corner at the end of the fastest straight.
We again took the opportunity to instrument the car and measure 60-0mph ABS-assisted stopping as a way to gauge ultimate braking traction. Multiple stops on each tire were averaged. Like we found on the wet track there was a noticeable difference in ultimate braking traction across the three, with the ContiForceContact showing a clear advantage.
|Tire||60-0mph ABS Stop (feet)|
|Michelin Pilot Sport Cup||225.6|
|Toyo Proxes R888||249.7|
We instrumented the car to look at rolling wheel speeds of the two front tires. One tire ran through a long, narrow pool of water while the other rolled along bare pavement. Comparing the speeds of both tires showed when the tire in the water lifted off and began to slow down as it floated on the water, rather than remaining in touch with the pavement. The results match the subjective ranking and relative difference in hydroplaning our drivers felt on the wet handling track.
|Tire||Hydroplaning Speed (mph)|
|Michelin Pilot Sport Cup||50.2|
|Toyo Proxes R888||46.9|
Streetable Track & Competition tires aren't for everyone. But they are for drivers who want to get more from their car at the track than even the most capable road tire can deliver without having to carry a set of dedicated tires and wheels along that have to be changed trackside.
The Continental ContiForceContact delivers an impressive blend of dry track performance and wet traction. This tire can thrill you during hot laps with its precise handling and confidence-inspiring demeanor while still being able to get you to and from the track, rain or shine. The only downside for track enthusiasts is its limited range of sizes. Hopefully Continental will continue to expand the size range so more drivers can experience the ContiForceContact.
Continental ContiForceContact (Streetable Track & Competition): The ContiForceContact is Continental's Streetable Track & Competition tire developed for serious driving enthusiasts looking for predictable performance to help them maximize their driving experience as they drive their cars to and from racetracks to participate in track lapping days and High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) events. Developed at the world famous Nürburgring circuit, the ContiForceContact is designed to bring together Continental's racing and passenger car tire technologies. However, like other Streetable Track & Competition tires, it is not intended to be driven on extremely wet roads with standing water where there is the risk of hydroplaning, or in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. It's also essential these tires be stored indoors at temperatures maintained above 32 degrees F. Read more.
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