On the heels of confirmation of the class structure for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for the next two seasons, Continental Tire and IMSA announced Saturday a multi-year extension of its long-term partnership.
The new deal sees Continental continue as the title sponsor of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and exclusive tire provider of the TUDOR Championship Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes through 2018.
Sportscar365 caught up with Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire, to get insight into the announcement and his thoughts on the brand’s involvement in the future of sports car racing.
How has Continental’s commitment grown over the years in sports car racing?
“We’ve been huge supporters of IMSA and road racing since 2010 when we came in to take over the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge title sponsorship and then in ’11, we become the official exclusive tire of at that time, GRAND-AM.
“We want to think that when we come to an involvement – Major League Soccer or non-endemic or something like that – we want to get involved in every facet: Engage with the fans, television, teams and drivers.
“All three facets, we think we have a solid base in IMSA. We have solid track deals with Road America, Watkins Glen, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and Daytona.”
What do you hope to achieve from now until 2018?
“You’ll see an evolution in GTD. The GT3 platform is a global platform and we want to see how it opens up the arena to us to Europe and otherwise.
“We’ve done some work with Porsche with that platform – and the GT3 Cup Challenge Benelux series in Europe. It’s a tire that’s very good over there. We’ll see how that evolves in the GT classes.
“There’s also a new prototype coming [in 2017]. We’ll be involved fairly early as we need to be in order to have a proper tire.
“We have to make a tire capable for a gentlemen driver. We need to give them a durable, consistent lap time tire that isn’t edgy but can also push the envelope and they can save it. A professional can go way to the limit, if not exceed the limit, and still survive.
“Given those parameters it’ll be interesting to see how the car is set up and built and evolve a tire that works well under those conditions.”
Do you think being involved at the ground level of the new prototype class will come as an advantage in tire development?
“Absolutely, yes. With a single platform for prototype, we’ll be able to develop a tire specifically made to deal with that type of car.
“We tested with a couple P2s, but the [current] tire wasn’t specifically developed for the P2. It has to work for both platforms; we cant have two separate tires right now [by IMSA’s protocol].
“So I think it’s a compromise in both situations. It’s the tire we’ve been told to create in other words.”
Continental has extended its title sponsorship deal in CTSC as well. Do you like the direction the series is headed and would you support additional standalone races in the future?
“If we had our choice we’d want them combined [with the TUDOR Championship]. When we come to a track, we want to dominate that track for the race weekend. We want to be involved in whatever race series are going on there.
“The evolution of, bringing other series to a race weekend, it maybe lessens our message somewhat. We want to be as dominant as we can be.
“Obviously the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge is a very good format, probably the best road racing on the planet. Every race weekend is consistently less down to less than a second; so many manufacturers contending.
“It’s huge fields, so it’s fantastic race series. To set them alone, you wouldn’t get that kind of synergy with TV. If FOX is doing the TV for TUDOR, they’re able to do the broadcast for Continental Tire [Challenge], so there are a lot of synergies to be had.”
The brand is also heavily involved in MLS. Has there been considerations for any kind of cross-promotion between soccer and motorsports?
“We’re actually going to be doing a [short-video] series with Townsend Bell called ‘What You Got’ in the second half of the MLS season that will run on ESPN.
“We’re going to take six MLS stars, three from the East and three from the West, and pit them against each other driving a Lamborghini in a Solo 1 or Solo 2 track at two different venues.
“We’ll take their times and the best of the best will go up against each other at the MLS Cup for the final. The winner will win a 12-month lease on a Lamborghini.
“We’re excited about it and it’s trying to get the crossover into motorsports. Even some of the biggest stars in Major League Soccer are not big car guys.
“There’s maybe a 10 or 15 percent crossover right now, so we’re trying to create that interest to get fans pushed over.”