It won't be long before you see the blur of Cooper-branded tires roaring around the race track.
Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has signed a five-year agreement with Formula Motorsports Inc. to create the Cooper Tire Championship Series, which will become the new home of the Formula Ford 2000 Zetec racing program.
The tire maker announced the agreement, which takes effect in 2004, at a press conference Aug. 9 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington.
The company will supply Cooper Zeon racing radials for the new series, which also includes separate Pro Championships in the Formula SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) and SCCA Sports Racer categories for cars using Van Diemen-manufactured chassis.
Cooper is making the Zeon racing slicks at its Cooper-Avon Tyres plant in Melksham, England, which it brought from the United Kingdom's Avon Rubber P.L.C. in 1997.
``We think that this sponsorship demonstrates our commitment to the precision and performance in developing replacement tires for sports and performance cars, as well as SUVs, light trucks and 4x4s,'' said Cooper Chairman, President and CEO Tom Dattilo in announcing the new sponsorship.
With its Avon racing tires, Cooper currently is involved in SCCA racing, including the Formula Ford and Formula Continental Series among other classes.
That three-year agreement, also with Formula Motorsports, concludes at the end of the 2003 racing season.
Cooper will replace the Avons with Zeons in the Ford 2000 Zetec series but will continue to supply Avon tires to the American LeMans racing sports car endurance series as well as other racing venues for the foreseeable future, said Carl Casalbore, Cooper's vice president retail sales and high performance tire development.
``Avon will remain as a viable brand in the U.S. both in racing and in replacement sales,'' Mr. Casalbore added.
The company also is involved in racing through its Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels subsidiary, which was acquired earlier this year with the purchase of Max-Trac Tire Co. Inc. Mickey Thompson will support all of Cooper's race activities at the track, Mr. Dattilo said.
In the off-road racing circuit, Cooper is sponsoring professional desert racer Bob Land in the 2003 Southern California Off Road Enterprises (SCORE) race series.
In all these racing events, Mr. Dattilo said, race teams pay for the tires, so ``this is a money-making proposition.''
With the introduction of the Cooper Zeon line in the past year, Cooper is shifting into high gear its push to capture a larger stake of the growing high performance and ultra-high performance (UHP) tire market segments in the U.S. The company wants to boost its share of this category to 10-15 percent from its current 5 percent within three years, Mr. Dattilo said.
While an aggressive goal, the chief executive believes it can be accomplished. ``We have a track record of outperforming the market in 18 of the past 20 years,'' he said.
In the Zeon line, Cooper offers the Zeon 2XS UHP passenger tire in 15- through 18-inch sizes. By next year, it will expand the line to include 19- and 20-inch sizes, Mr. Casalbore said.
In addition, the company will unveil an all-season version of the tire under the Cooper SLE Lifeliner name in this year's fourth quarter.
Cooper also launched three months ago the Zeon XST for sport trucks, with 18- and 20-inch sizes currently available.
By the fourth quarter of this year, the line will get 22- and 24-inch versions with a 23-inch size coming in the first half of next year.
For the tuner market, Cooper will introduce the Zeon ZPT in the fourth quarter initially in 15- to 18- inch sizes, with a couple of 19-inch sizes to be added in the first half of 2004.
Also in the fourth quarter, the tire maker will launch a touring sport truck line called the Cooper Discoverer HT Plus in 18- to 20- inch sizes.
Cooper will make the majority of these tires in the U.S., Mr. Casalbore said, with some product coming from the Cooper-Avon plant in Melksham.