Six amazing cars and two days of thrilling driving staged against the spectacular backdrop of Andalucia, Spain. Yes, this can only mean Continental Tyres’ Black Chili Driving Experience. The event allows the tyre giant to showcase its ultra high performance tyres, all made using a special “Black Chili” compound, fitted to an intriguing blend of fast cars.
Jaguar's drop-dead gorgeous drophead F-TYPE was the lone Brit in the Black Chili stable, joined by two Americans - the game-changing 100% electric Tesla Model S and the iconic Corvette C7 Stingray.
A Teutonic trio made up the pack - a Porsche Macan S, Mercedes CLA 45 AMG and a BMW M4 cabriolet. Our base was the renowned La Cala Golf Resort, Mijas, which boasts not one, but three 18-hole championship golf courses. Less than 30 minutes from Malaga airport, it's perfectly positioned for the Costa Del Sol and stunning Andalucia inland.
In two days, we drove for some nine hours over more than 300 miles. It wasn't a race, just a series of carefully researched routes, using public roads - and all the usual rules. This gave us time to enjoy the drive through classic towns, villages and jaw-dropping scenery, the highlight of which was Ronda, famed for its stunning views and the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its centre.
We also drove up to the El Torcal Park Nature Reserve (el Paraje Natural de El Torcal) - the most geologically stunning of all of Andalucia’s natural parks. Instantly recognisable thanks to its bizarre limestone rock formations, it was under the sea until 100 million years ago.
The Black Chili Driving Experience allowed me to test a few cars I'd never driven before - most notably the Corvette Stingray. With its enormous 6.2-litre V8, the Stingray was a surprisingly relaxed car to drive and at the speeds we reached, it was barely possible to get the manual gearbox into seventh. Like all the cars available to us, it's also capable of brutal performance - 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed approaching 200mph. And with 460bhp going through the rear wheels, it needs all the grip its ContiSportContact 5 P tyres can offer.
I can recommend trying the A7 motorway tunnel near Marbella - a great place to enjoy the glorious engine rumble and exhaust note of the Stingray and its Black Chili stablemates (except the silent Tesla, of course!).
Tyres are rarely given the credit they deserve, which is odd when you think about it, because they are the four corners of your cars that are in contact with the road. One in three new vehicles produced in Europe leaves the factory fitted with Continental Tyres and the company produces 250,000 tyres daily worldwide. Fitting the wrong tyres to a car can make a surprising difference, affecting handling, grip, smoothness and road noise.
Which brings me to the Tesla Model S - a very special car. A combination of handsome, spacious saloon, remarkable acceleration and unrivalled refinement. Contintental has played its part in the Tesla success story. As standard, the car is fitted with ContiSilent tyres, where the inside of the tyre is covered with a special foam material, reducing interior noise by up to nine decibels.
I also know the Jaguar F-TYPE pretty well. Not only is it one of the best looking cars ever, it's also fun to drive. The Black Chili Jag was fitted with ContiForceContact tyres, specifically designed for top performance.
It's hard to believe that the all-wheel-drive Porsche Macan S is fitted with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel because it's both refined and very fast - an SUV that drives like a fast car. Our Macan was fitted with ContiSportContact tyres, offering maximum safety and driving pleasure.
I also got my first drive in a Mercedes AMG CLA 45. It looks like a sporty saloon, but it's also got one hell of a growl and has phenomenal grip, thanks to AWD and its SportContact 6 tyres.
Apparently, the chemists at Continental have further developed the “Black Chili” tread compound, ensuring optimum adhesion when pushed to the limits. The rubber compound is designed to mesh with the roughness of the road. At the same time, temporary atomic connections between the tyre compound and the road surface ensure high adhesion, acting like small suction pads at a microscopic level.
Finally to the BMW M4, fitted with ContiSportsContact 5 tyres. Capable of 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and a top speed of 155mph (limited), it offers great handling and an entertaining drive, with plenty of popping and crackling from the exhaust when wanted.
Stopping off in Ronda, the scenic highlight of the road trip, was the perfect antidote to the high octane thrill. Parked up outside the historic bullring in the old town, our fast cars became an instant tourist attraction as we wandered over the bridge for tapas and soft drinks at La Pilastra del Torero - a friendly restaurant perched on the side of the cliff.
The Black Chili Driving Experience was more than just a chance to drive fast cars. It's a reminder that tyres are the unsung heroes of the motoring world. Often just a "distress purchase" after a puncture or MoT failure, manufacturers such as Continental can spend as many as four years working on the development of a new car from concept to showroom. Safety is paramount, but economy, handling, refinement and grip also come into the equation.