Nico Meier, product designer at Continental, talks about the special challenges that the tires are exposed to in this series, the importance of the tire sidewall in general, and its role in the sidewall design of the Extreme E tire in particular.
What is the task of the sidewall of a tire from the viewpoint of a technician?
The sidewall plays a key role in the overall construction of a tire in the truest sense of the word. Modern mid-size class vehicles now regularly have a permissible gross vehicle weight of 1,500 to almost 2,000 kilograms. The increasingly popular SUVs come to three metric tons. That’s roughly the same weight as a full-grown hippo.
Talk me through the Continental tires equipped on cars in the new Extreme E racing series. What distinguishes this tire from conventional tires.
The tire is exposed to much larger loads during the races than any other tire. This is due firstly to the vehicles used. The specially-developed ODYSSEY 21, which is driven by all of the teams, is an extraordinary vehicle which is roughly similar to commercial SUVs in length, width and weight, but with its electrical equivalent of 550 HP has three times the torque of the Formula E Gen 2 vehicle. Secondly, the races do not take place on standardized race tracks with comparable road surfaces, but in a natural environment with varying and very different surfaces: sand, scree, mud, ice, to name but a few.
Added to this is the general race situation with extreme accelerations, violent braking maneuvers, high speeds, even on tight corners, drift movements, and even jumps. We are dealing with the biggest challenge that tires in motorsport have to face. With the help of ContiPressureCheck technology, tire data such as the air pressure and temperature should therefore be displayed on a screen in the cockpit during the race for the drivers, so they can adapt their driving style in extreme situations.
The challenges on the tires are very different from race to race, because the venues are so different. Sometimes it’s through the desert, another time through the rainforest or even the Arctic. Is there a special tire for every race?
No. Using the tried-and-tested Continental CrossContact, we have developed a tire that should work at all event locations and in all conditions. So there’s no special desert tire, or a special polar tire. Nor is it the intention to fit new tires for every start. This would also not be in line with the sustainability requirements of the racing series. In other words, the tires do not differ visually from one another.
Are there legal requirements for the sidewall design for these special products?
No. However, the tires for the Extreme E racing series also have some important information on the edge of the rim – for example, “Only for racing,” so it is clear that this tire cannot be purchased commercially. Since this inner ring is correspondingly small, we have more space for individual design. This is a rare stroke of luck that we have to capitalize on.
What immediately catches the eye is the unusual color. Can you talk me through that?
The design of the tire is divided into four zones. One zone contains the Continental logotype, another the product name CrossContact – both in Conti yellow. In between are zones with multi-colored structures. This colorfulness is a striking contrast to conventional tires. We decided on this for two reasons. Firstly, unlike products in the retail sector, these tires will rarely be seen at close proximity.
Thanks to the colored highlighting, we achieve improved visibility at greater distances and on digital media. And secondly, with the color of the design elements, we want to reflect the extreme and breathtaking natural landscapes in which the races are held. Green is the color of the rainforest, yellow stands for desert sand and sandstone mountains, blue for the ocean, and white for the Arctic. In addition, we have created a 3D effect that gives the elements the appearance of a protective layer – similar to a dragon’s skin or a lizard’s scale armor. In doing so, we highlight the extremely robust and resilient character of the tire. During the races, the rotation creates a fascinating flow effect.
A racing tire is subject to different loads than an ordinary tire. Did you have to take this into account in any way in terms of design?
The extreme loads result in the tire undergoing relatively high deformation during the race. This also results in significant temperatures. We cannot rule out the possibility that the design elements will be damaged. Especially since abrasions are also possible in the event of unintentional contact with the vehicle’s surroundings. We are therefore developing special repair kits for the sidewall design which we can use to restore tires that were only visually damaged during the races, on location between the individual stages. However, the final concept for this has not yet been determined.
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