With five rounds in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in the books, the new-for-2014 series reaches the halfway mark later this month at Watkins Glen for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
Along with support from more than a dozen auto manufacturers, Continental Tire has also been one of the series’ strongest partners, as the exclusive tire provider for the Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona categories, in the first of a long-term, multi-year commitment.
Sportscar365 caught up with Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire, to get his thoughts on a wide range of topics, including Prototype car count, P2 tires, GTLM ambitions and more.
Five races in, has the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship met Continental’s expectations?
“I think we’ve had excellent races. Attendance has been fantastic and viewership on the networks has been solid. I think the only thing that maybe looks short of expectations is car count in the Prototype class.
“When [ALMS] was running on average about eight prototypes [P1 and P2s] and there were as high as 16 DPs in GRAND-AM, we were obviously hoping for to have 20 overall. But we started 11 P cars at Detroit.
“That part has been a little bit disappointing but it’s been a learning process from the teams. IMSA is obviously learning Balance of Performance between those two different cars. I think it’s been a learning curve for the teams and IMSA.
“Do I think [more teams] are going to engage next year? Absolutely. Prototype will continue to grow. GTD, we couldn’t be more happy with. And can you say enough about Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge? It’s probably the best road racing out there with phenomenal car counts.”
What have you been able to learn with the P2 cars so far this year?
“We know P2 cars are obviously lighter, more nimble and much less abusive on tires. We were given the clear instruction not create a different tire [for P2]. We have no issue with that but the bottom line is that we’ve been given a clear statement of work and that is to create one tire for both cars.
“We’re trying to balance as much as you can. If you soften up the tire too much for a P2 car, the DPs will [go through] tires and can’t even make a fuel stint. If you go the other way, then the P2s can’t get a lot of heat in the tire and it takes a while to come in.
“It’s really a question of what they’re going to do there. We’re waiting to hear from them.”
Would you have the capability to create a P2-specific tire should IMSA change their philosophy?
“Of course. We’ve tested with P2 cars at length [last year], with Scott Sharp and the ESM guys. It’s a 400-pound lighter car [than the DP]. Obviously, under most constraints, would require a different tire.”
Are you pursuing any teams to partner with in GTLM in the future?
“The issue is that… a lot of the philosophies [in GTLM] are more global in nature. I’m only tasked with the budgets and to grow the brand and our presence in North America.
“[Hypothetically speaking], if BMW wants to go over and race in Europe with the same platform, we would have to work on a bigger scope and get our European colleagues involved. It’s a much bigger scale
“We’ve continued to ask some teams but as of right now, we haven’t had any takers and we haven’t had anyone approach us saying they’re ready to go. But we’re obviously still interested and want to approach this class and see what the series is going to do with it and go from there.”
Does the 24 Hours of Le Mans interest Continental?
“We’re focused on our efforts in North America, certainly in the U.S. Are we capable of producing a tire that can be competitive at Le Mans? Of course. We just haven’t had any interest there yet.
“For budgetary reasons, we’d have to get our European colleagues involved. The scope and scale of the thing gets much better. We’re trying to focus our efforts here.”
Where do you see the future of sports car racing in the U.S. headed?
“Ultimately, if I put my five-year vision glasses on, it’s going to be tremendous for sports car racing. We’re ecstatic to be involved and to have a partner like IMSA in helping grow the sport. We’ve continued to invest. We need to get [more] teams on board and they need to make some adjustments in prototypes to figure out the direction.
“I think everything we’re doing is making steps in the right direction. In three to five years down the road, we’re going to be having a conversation on how phenomenal road racing is in the United States.”