AKRONTire makers are kicking off 2015 with eyes toward another year of strong competitionon the race track, that is.
Many manufacturers are already gearing up for the upcoming motorsports season and some have expanded their schedules. The following is a preview of several of those companies' racing programs for the year ahead (some tire makers were still finalizing plans at Tire Business presstime).
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. enters its second year as the title sponsor and spec tire for IndyCar's Mazda Road to Indy developmental open-wheel racing program, after replacing Firestone in 2014.
The deal made Cooper the tire supplier for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, along with the Pro Mazda and USF2000 classes. The three series serve as a stepping-stone system to foster young racers and help develop them into IndyCar level competitors, according to the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker.
Drivers begin by participating in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, a revived version of the USF2000 series that ran from 1990 to 2006, according to IndyCar's website. The goal of the series is to provide an entry-level open-wheel training ground.
Each year, the winner of that series is presented with a full ride scholarship to take part in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, according to Chris Pantani, Cooper's director of motorsports and business development. Similarly, each winner of that series receives a full ride to take part in the Indy Lights series.
Cooper is part of the scholarship package at each level, which has been expanded this year to include another stepping stone.
The 2015 Indy Lights champion for the first time will get a scholarship for three races in the 2016 IndyCar season, plus the Indy 500, Mr. Pantani told Tire Business.
The Indy Lights series had stagnated a bit in the last few years, Mr. Pantani said, but an updated chassis for the 2015 season featuring a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine has brought renewed interest. The series begins March 29 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and finishes up in September at Mazda Raceway in Laguna Seca.
In addition to its involvement with IndyCar, Cooper Tire is the title sponsor and tire supplier of the International Motor Sports Association's (IMSA) Cooper Tires Prototype Lites, another developmental series. The tire maker has also expanded its involvement with the The Off-Road Championship (TORC) short track racing series.
We have a tremendous light truck offering, and it really goes into our sweet spot, Mr. Pantani said. We race on our Discoverer STT tires and Discoverer ST Maxx (tires).
Cooper, he said, sponsors vehicles in the Pro Light category and was named TORC's tire manufacturer of the year for 2014. This year the company is expanding its teams for the Pro 2WD and Pro 4WD classes.
For Cooper, continued growth of its motorsports program has clear benefits.
What it's doing is it's allowing the ability to link your everyday productslike for us, it's the Zeon RS3-A, RS3-Swe can link our high-performance tires' direct lineage right to the tires that they're actually racing on, Mr. Pantani said. Some of the components are the same, so it's given us a test bed, but it's also linking our motorsports program into our everyday products.
Same thing with TORC, the off-road racing, he continued. The tires that our Pro Light trucks are racing on are the exact same ones you can go to the dealership and buy, so it's proving our product time and time again in a competitive environment.
New for the 2015 racing season, Falken Tire Corp. is offering a contingency program through the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), according to Nick Fousekis, Falken's director of motorsports marketing and events, who added that the company is pleased to see its Azenis RT615K tire continuing to give drivers what he called a competitive advantage.
Payouts for using and winning with off-the-shelf, available-for-retail-purchase products is the oldest manufacturer angle in the motorsports book, he told Tire Business.
...With SCCA Street Class regulations changing in 2015, requiring a 200UTQG or greater requirement for Street Class competition, we wanted to support what's surely to be a growing number of racers flying the Falken Tire flag.
Mr. Fousekis said Falken's street category competition tires will remain unchanged for 2015, but the Azenis RT-Slick tires, specifically for use on the Tudor United SportsCar Series Porsche 911RSR are in constant flux.
Our technical engineers come to every single event and vehicle test, as they are constantly looking for ways to improve our performance while we race and compete at the top echelon of sports car teams and manufacturers in the world, he said.
Falken also is reducing its involvement in the Formula Drift racing series this year. While not abandoning drifting all together, the company will no longer participate as an owner/operator of its own team, Mr. Fousekis said.
Falken will still be at each round of the championship series for tires support, he noted.
Goodyear's motorsports program this year remains much the same as in 2014, as the tire maker continues in its role as the official tire for both NASCAR and the National Hod Rod Association's (NHRA) Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock classes.
In 2015, Goodyear will be looking to further expand the use of its Multi-Zone Tread technology in NASCAR.
The tire maker debuted the technology for racing competition at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2013. Born from its Assurance TripleTred All-Season passenger tire line, the technology combines two different tread zones in a single tread for an improved balance of wear and traction.
In 2014, the Multi-Zone Tread tires were expanded for use at a number of NASCAR tracks, including Chicagoland Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
Based on early testing for 2015, the number of race tracks taking advantage of this technology will grow in 2015, a Goodyear spokes-man said.
Also new for 2015, NASCAR has expanded its use of Goodyear's wet weather tires to Sprint Cup Series road course races. The same tire has been used in previous years for Xfinity (formerly Nationwide) and Camping World Truck Series events, the spokesman said.
On the NHRA side, Goodyear is introducing a new drive tire for Pro Stock cars, the Goodyear D2211.
The new tire builds on the 10 year success of the company's previous offering, and incorporates new materials and changes to the tread compound, Goodyear's spokesman said. The tire was designed to provide the same level of traction and repeatability as the previous tire, but takes less time to 'break in,' saving teams both time and expense.
Goodyear also said it plans to introduce new tires in 2015 for use in several sports car series, including Formula Car Challenge and SCCA's Formula Mazda, Spec Racer Ford and GT3 classes.
Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. recently announced its participation in the National Auto Sport Association's (NASA) new affordable NASA Prototype Series as both a partner and the spec tire supplier.
Set to debut this fall, the series will feature a single-seat, closed-cockpit 1,550-pound prototype racing chassis built by Élan Technologies. The vehicle will be powered by a 185-horsepower, 2-liter Mazda four-cylinder engine and will run on Toyo Proxes RR DOT-style competition tires, according to NASA.
The package, which includes a six-speed sequential transmission, is expected to deliver a top speed of 155 mph, NASA said at the series' launch during the PRI Show in Indianapolis.
The ready-to-run NP01 rolling chassis will cost $59,995 for the first 10 customers, NASA said, and can be ordered either as a disassembled kit or completed vehicle per the customer's request. The price rises to $64,995 after the first 10.
Toyo's Proxes RR is a slick competition tire with two symmetric 4/32nd-inch deep grooves and wear inspection holes.
NASA National Chairman Ryan Flaherty said the new series' spec prototype chassis is designed specifically around the goals that make NASA competition so attractive to competitorseasy access to local racing with the chance to compete for a season ending class championship.
Toyo is the official tire of NASA and has a long-standing relationship with the organization. The tire maker supports racers at its longest road racethe 25 Hours of Thunderhilland is a presenting sponsor for the NASA Championships.
The tire maker also will continue to make its Proxes R1R tires available for competitors in the SCCA Solo and Pro Solo classes, the company said, and will serve as the presenting sponsor of the Cadillac Challenge.
On the off-road side, Toyo's racing schedule has already begun, with the Jan. 4 kick-off of the 2015 Dakar Rally, which runs through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
Toyo uses the annual event as an opportunity to showcase its Open Country M/T-R tires. Racing for Team Toyo in the event is Robby Gordon with his SPEED Energy/Toyo Tires No. 308 Gordini off-road racer and Guerlain Chicherit of Team X-Raid, driving the No. 323 buggy.
Two desert off-road racing series also are on the tire maker's motorsports calendar for the year: SCORE-International and Best in the Desert (BITD). Mr. Gordon will again compete for Team Toyo in each racing series, along with BJ Baldwin.
Toyo will return to competition in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series (LOORRS) after Team Toyo driver Kyle LeDuc won the 2014 championship in the Pro 4 Unlimited class, the tire maker said. Mr. LeDuc was named the LOORRS Driver of the Year.
Finally, Toyo will enter its third season as a major sponsor of the SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road series, created by Mr. Gordon.
Yokohama Tire Corp. is entering its second year as the sole tire supplier for the Red Bull Global Rallycross (GRC), which combines elements of circuit racing, off-road racing and rally competition. All participating competitors will race on specially designed Yokohama Advan race tires.
The competition has been expanded to 12 races for the 2015 season, its largest ever. The series kicks off May 31 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and ends Nov. 5 in Las Vegas.
Yokohama also will be returning as the sole tire supplier of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, with all Porsche GT3 Cup cars competing on the tire maker's orange oil-infused Advan ENV-R2 racing slicks. This year marks the company's seventh consecutive season in partnership with the race.
The GT3 Cup Challenge features semi-pro drivers in two classes of matched Porsches and is the largest single-make series in North America, Yokohama said.
The tire maker is continuing its involvement in off-road racing as well, partnering once again with the Desert Assassins team for SCORE-International and BITD racing events. Specially engineered 40-inch Yokohama Geolandar A/T-S R tires will be mounted on the team's 800-horsepower Trophy truck.
Yokohama said its Advan Neova AD08 R extreme performance summer tires will have a presence in the 2015 Formula Drift series, but teams and drivers have not yet been announced.
The new FIA Formula e Championship is coming to North America in 2015, and Michelin North America Inc. is along for the ride with its Michelin Pilot Sport EV series spec tire.
The inaugural season of the global open-wheel race series for battery-powered vehicles debuted last year in Beijing and continues through June of this year. Round five of the series takes place March 14 in Miami, followed by round six April 4 in Long Beach, Calif.
Michelin designed the Pilot Sport EV specifically for use on Formula e vehicles. Though it shares its appearance with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2that is, has a tread patternit is a genuine racing tire. Michelin is providing tires in size 245/40R18 (front) and 305/40R18 (rear) for competitors.
According to Tom Sullivan, manager, public relations for Michelin, the wheel rims for the Formula e cars measure 18 inches, which provides two benefits. For one, a tire with low sidewalls is subject to less deformation when running, which reduces heat build-up and its impact on fuel consumption.
In addition, with wheels and tires of similar size to road-going vehicles, Formula e can be an effective test bed for the tire maker's next generation of mass-market tires.
Outside of Formula e, the Michelin brand's North American motorsports efforts are focused primarily on the Tudor USCC and the Ultra94 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada presented by Michelin.
The tire maker's BFGoodrich brand has an even more expansive footprint in the region.
The Michelin motorsports program has a primary focus on endurance racing, both on- and off-road, globally, Mr. Sullivan said. BFGoodrich has a combined focus of toughness and grip performance in North America with a focus on desert and off-road racing, as well as strategic pavement racing on the professional and sportsman level.
For the 2014 racing season, BFGoodrich unveiled its Baja T/A KR2 racing tire, which Mr. Sullivan said performed well. It won seven desert race titles, including the Baja 500 and 1,000.
There continues to be slight modifications to the compound, but it has been a great tire, he said.
During the 2015 King of the Hammers event Feb. 6 in Johnson Valley, Calif., BFGoodrich will highlight its Baja T/A KR2-S tire, based on the foundation and structure of the KR2 tire. The company will offer a contingency program for the winner of the event.
Racing series in which Michelin's BFGoodrich brand participates include SCORE, BITD, LOORRS, Ultra4 King of the Hammers, Red Bull Frozen Rush, Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, NASA, Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs and the SCCA's Tire Rack Solo National Tour, Pro Solo and National Championships competitions.
Both brands, according to Mr. Sullivan, pride themselves on the unprecedented level of trackside engineering and customization support for racers.
In 2015, Bridgestone Americas' Firestone brand will continue to build upon its open-wheel racing heritage, entering its 14th season as the official tire of the Verizon IndyCar Series. In addition to that designation, the firm has two entitlement sponsorships with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Firestone also has official tire designations at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, with which the tire maker has a long-standing partnership dating back to 1996, and the Indianapolis 500, where Firestone has more victories than all other tire manufacturers combined.
According to Bridgestone, IndyCar will introduce aero kits in 2015. These bodywork kits, developed by Honda and Chevrolet, are meant to give each manufacturer's cars unique appearance and performance advantages.
The tire maker's race tire development efforts this season will be geared toward making sure the tires are optimized for use with the kits, according to a Bridgestone spokesman.
Firestone will also provide a new tire specification for the Indianapolis 500, the spokesman said. This development was also driven by the inclusion of the new aero kits and the expected increase in lap speeds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway due to the kits.
In total, Firestone will produce about 50 different specifications of tires for the 17-race schedule. On a typical weekend, Firestone will supply more than 800 tires to competing race teams, while the tire allotment for the Indianapolis 500 can be closer to 5,000.
All of the company's Firestone Firehawk race tires are developed and built in Akron.
The company will continue its comprehensive approach to engage fans, dealers and other key stakeholders through avenues such as public relations/media outreach, advertising, social media and digital and grassroots marketing.
One of the pillars of its marketing is its at-track interactive Fan Village display area, which the firm is updated in 2015 with augmented reality displays that will allow fans to use tablets to navigate a series of fun facts about Firestone.
The new experience will reinforce the company's commitment to performance, innovation and the Verizon IndyCar Series, the spokesman said.
Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. will continue in 2015 to build on its racing endeavors from the past several years with both the Continental brand in road racing and General Tire brand in off-road competition.
In road racing, the International Motor Sports Association L.L.C. (IMSA) has extended its race tire supply and sponsorship contracts for the Tudor United SportsCar Championship (TUSC) with Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. for two more years, through 2018.
The agreement calls for Continental to continue as the official tire of the TUSC and exclusive tire supplier and sponsor to the Prototype, Prototype Challenge and Grand Touring Daytona classes. Financial terms were not disclosed.
We are committed to the growth and success of sports car racing in America, said Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire, and we are happy to continue our dedication to giving drivers, teams and manufacturers a tire with the best technologies that they can depend on every lap.
The 2015 TUSC season starts Jan. 24-25 with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 53rd running of the 24-hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach. The 2015 season will encompass a dozen race weekends, wrapping up Oct. 2 at Road Atlanta for the traditional 10-hour Petit Le Mans enduro.
IMSA CEO Ed Bennett said it is vital to have enthusiastic partners to help us grow the sport. Continental Tire has been, and will continue to be, one of our most active and supportive partners.
Continental Tire will continue to supply competitors with its ExtremeContact race tiresmanufactured by Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. under a five-year-old technical agreement with Contitogether with trackside tire service support at all Tudor Championship and Continental Tire Challenge events.
The agreement also calls for all cars in the P, PC and GTD classes to display the Continental Tire logo and provides Conti opportunities for trackside exposure via hospitality, signage, event entitlements and other marketing initiatives. Conti will support the series off-track through a variety of promotions, marketing events and television coverage.
Fox Sports will broadcast TUSC events this year.
The TUSC's Grand Touring Le Mans class will remain an open class for tire competition; to date only Michelin Motorsports and Falken Tire Corp. are competing.
Continental Tire debuted as entitlement sponsor and exclusive tire supplier for the Continental Tire Challenge in 2010. The following year the global company became the official tire of GRAND-AM as well as exclusive tire supplier to both the Continental Tire Challenge and Rolex Sports Car Series.
In 2013, Continental gained the tire supply and sponsorship contracts for the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, which was created by the merger of the Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series.
In off-road, General Tire is offering contingency and trackside race support in the major racing seriesBITD, SCORE, SNORE, MORE, LOORRS, etc.and recently renewed its support of Jeepspeed Desert Race Series for the next few years.
General Tire has been the official tire of Jeepspeed since 2008, with participating teams using its Grabber line exclusively. Jeepspeed competition vehicles are fitted with DOT-approved 33- and 35-inch Grabber tires, which are also available for consumers at local General Tire dealers.
We're proud to extend our sponsorship with Jeepspeed, said Travis Roffler, director of marketing for General Tire. This is an action-packed, affordable race series that continues to grow each year, so it's a great partnership for us.
Clive Skilton, Jeepspeed founder, shared a similar sentiment.
We are honored that General Tire has decided to continue its marketing relationship with Jeepspeed, he said.
Today you see thousands of Jeeps on the road with the familiar red-letter Grabbers. It is quite remarkable how this success has occurred in recent years with Jeep enthusiasts that follow Jeepspeed and participate in Jeep enthusiast adventures.
In 2015, there will be three classes within Jeepspeed broken out between the Jeepspeed Challenge and Jeepspeed Outlaws Cup. For more information, visit www.jeepspeed.com.
Jeepspeed events are sanctioned by Best In The Desert Inc.; there are six race weekends scheduled for 2015.
American Racing's ATX Wheels brand is the series' presenting sponsor.
To reach this reporter: wschertz@ crain.com; 330-865-6148. Twitter: @Will_Schertz.