Putting Conti tires ``on ice'' has no sinister connotations like you might hear on HBO's popular ``Sopranos'' mobbed-up TV show. None whatsoever.
Actually, Continental Tire Canada Inc. got a lot of PR mileage by putting its winter tire technology on display as the official tire supplier for the recently concluded sixth annual Challenge sur glace Damafro du Canada. Some 100 race drivers from around the world gathered at Sherbrooke's solid ice-covered track to participate in the event, which drew more than 42,000 racing fans.
The Challenge featured drivers from Europe's prestigious, popular Andros Trophy series, including former world Formula 1 champion Alain Prost. Altogether, 16 teams from Europe and one from Quebec competed. Speeds during the intense competition were often in excess of 100 mph.
Guy D. Hardiman, marketing/operations coordinator for Woodbridge, Ontario-based Continental Tire Canada, told Tire Business the event was ``important for us because, basically it's an ice race on studded snow tires, so it's a way to continue promoting our tire line. When consumers and dealers see cars racing around on our tires, it's going to have an impact and promote a better image for our company.''
He added that the popularity of the Challenge ``makes it a perfect opportunity to tell the Continental story and increase brand awareness within our target group.''
Although all the drivers piloted vehicles shod with the Continental IceRacingContact, a racing tire designed just for such an event, Mr. Hardiman said the company offers a mass-market counterpoint, the three-year-old Conti WinterContact 790. Based on the race tire, it is marketed in Europe and North America. A successor to the 790 is in the process of being tested.
Mr. Hardiman said the key for Conti Tire Canada, a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental Tire North America Inc., is to increase market share in an area important to the tire maker. He said the firm's winter tire sales in 2003 surpassed the previous year by 32 percent-in a market down roughly 3 percent. ``With just over 4.4 million winter tires sold in Canada, this makes up just over 22 percent of the entire Canadian tire market,'' he said. ``This segment of our business is important to our customers and therefore us as well.
``Continental is a leader in winter tire sales in Europe, and we plan to follow suit as we envision the same sales increases in 2004.''
Back on the ice the weekend of Feb. 29, drivers Marcel Tarres and Bertrand Balas took the Challenge's overall championship. In the end, the team of Alain Prost and Philippe De Korsak settled for seventh place due to a balky engine, despite winning the first leg of the event.