"All-Wheel-Drive Cars Need Winter Tyres, Too" - Interview with Dr. Andreas Topp

In an interview with ContiSoccerWorld, Dr. Andreas Topp, tyre developer and Head of Technical Benchmarking at Continental, explains the importance of proper tyres for SUV cars – and why Continental should maybe offer winter workshops for football pros.

Question: Mr. Topp, let’s dare to build a bridge between the topic of football and winter tyres. Many professional football players drive luxury limousines or all-wheel-drive SUVs. What do you think - do all of them drive with winter tyres on their way to the training grounds?

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Dr. Andreas Topp: Well, I can imagine that football pros do know their way on the field very well and always wear proper studs underneath their shoes, for example. But they probably are not experts in tyres. Actually, many stars from South America or Africa play in the European leagues, so the subject of winter tyres may not be right at the top of their agenda, traditionally speaking. Especially when it comes to all-wheel-drive cars, there is a misunderstanding in many cases that the 4x4 tyre’s chunky tread pattern is supposed to be absolutely perfect for driving on ice and snow. And that is probably misunderstood by many drivers, not only by the football star from Brazil.

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Dr. Andreas Topp

Question: Why aren’t tyres - which are great off-road in the summertime - suitable for roads in winter? On the way to the next German FA Cup match, for example?

Topp: All-wheel-drive cars need winter tyres, too. Unfortunately, there is a misbelief that an all-wheel-drive with chunky tread is supposed to be some sort of a wintertime guarantee. Starting a car on loose snow with a chunky SUV tread may make a certain impression. Maybe the driver thinks: That’s great traction. But that isn’t the case when you hit the brakes and certainly doesn’t work on hard snow or ice. But you only notice that when it's too late. The braking distance for summer tyres at a speed of 50 km/h is more than twice as long as the braking distance of winter tyres. A test revealed this: The all-wheel-drive car only stopped after 65.6 meters with summer tyres; it stopped already after 28 meters with winter tyres. Many SUV drivers aren’t aware of this. And yet there are certain winter tyres especially made for all-wheel-drive cars. Fans driving on their way to the next match should definitely use winter tyres this autumn and winter. Otherwise they maybe won’t experience the kickoff whistle in the stadium.

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Question: What’s the difference between these tyres and summer tyres?

Topp: You have to keep very heavy cars with a high centre of gravity safely on track – SUVs are usually built rather large and high, which means that other physical forces are involved than for a small car, for example. That’s why winter tyres for these cars have been manufactured for extreme conditions. The tread with special sipes and lugs, for example, has been designed for high cornering forces.

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Question: What does that type of winter tread look like?

Topp: It’s got high-grip edges for deep snow in the outer shoulder area for cornering, special snow pockets between the tread lugs, wide drainage grooves in the centre of the tread to expel snow, rain and melt water. And then it’s got so-called progressive sinusoidal sipes on the tyre surface area and jagged sipes in the inside area for optimum grip. Tread design is indeed a science of its own. But the bottom line is: Only winter tyres are able to keep heavy SUVs on track in curves and provide traction during braking.

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ContiCrossContact Winter

Question: Do you need different winter tyres for driving off-road and on-road?

Topp: No, we do not offer different winter products. Basically, whoever drives an off-road car in winter should use winter tyres, regardless whether the driving is on-road or off-road. You even need winter tyres for driving on snow-covered rubble. And, by the way, you also have to get to the off-road course and winter tyres are obligatory for this trip under wintry road conditions. Figures make this clear: In 2010, there were nearly 49 000 accidents involving personal injury in Germany, of which about 20 000 happened on slippery roads because of snow and ice. And all of this happened even though there is a very high percentage of drivers in Germany who change from summer to winter tyres; in the 2010/2011 season it was 88 per cent. But all-wheel-drive cars are still below that. By the way, the M+S letters on a tyre don’t explicitly mean it’s a winter tyre; the snowflake on a mountain indicates that. Only tyres with this symbol have been approved for winter conditions.

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(Foto: GES/Augenklick)


Question: Getting back to football once again: Well, Continental not only supports the German FA Cup as well as the Football WC and EC, but also several football clubs such as FC Bayern Munich or Hanover 96. In this case, shouldn't Conti try to offer some winter workshops for football pros?

Topp: That’s a good idea. Because there isn’t much difference between the choice of proper studs and proper tyres: You slip quickly if you’ve got the wrong equipment. In that case I’ll offer my services as a German FA Cup kit manager straight away … (laughing)