Photo courtesy of IMSA

Continental Tire looking ahead to ‘new adventures’ from 2019

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The fact Continental Tire’s tenure in IMSA will end after 2018 comes as a bit of a surprise to the sports car world, following a prolonged period of negotiation to extend its role into 2019 and beyond following its initial five-year contract.

IMSA has announced Michelin for the new contract in 2019 and beyond in a multi-year agreement. Both Continental and Michelin have been within the same top-level series – either the American Le Mans Series or IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – since 2013.

Continental was the PC class single supplier in 2013 and from 2014 in the merged championship, the single supplier for the Prototype, PC and GT Daytona classes, while Michelin raced in GT Le Mans, the series’ lone class for open tire competition.

“We are extremely grateful for the role Continental Tire played in helping to grow our racing platforms throughout our partnership dating back to 2010,” Scott Atherton, IMSA President, said in a release. “Continental has been an outstanding partner and was instrumental in elevating the status of the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire Challenge to new heights. We extend heartfelt appreciation to our friends at Continental for their unwavering support.”

Continental, throughout its tenure, had sought to activate and promote sports car racing heavily. Continental served as title sponsor of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and a race sponsor at numerous tracks, notably at Road America and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Some of the areas where it invested off-track was with using some IMSA drivers to develop a new street tire, podcasts featuring IMSA drivers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, veteran IMSA driver Ryan Eversley with “Dinner with Racers” podcast co-creator Sean Heckman, its at-track displays and in other areas of marketing. It also supports IMSA Radio and its Continental Tire pit lane team.

On-track, the company responded without fail to numerous customer requests and made changes to either its constructions or compounds of tires as the series evolved.

This included working through the merger period as the top level Prototype class combined both Daytona Prototype and LMP2-spec machinery through 2016, before the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and LMP2 2017-spec cars came in this year and saw Continental create a new Prototype class tire.

It’s with all those elements in the backdrop that IMSA’s decision and the waiting to announce this news comes as a shock to the system at Continental, but also something they feel they can bounce back from.

Travis Roffler, director of marketing of Continental Tire the Americas, explained the process behind the decision and where Continental Tire goes from here.

“We were informed a few weeks ago. I’d say we’ve been in active negotiations for most of this year talking to them about it and getting more information about what they were looking for,” Roffler told NBC Sports.

“We were given a framework or target to shoot for. We believe we gave a very fair response to that proposal, including a significant increase to our current investment level, which I can tell you throughout our entire contract we always outspent our contractual obligations. This was a step above our current spend.

“Our investment has been there to have the huge display at every race, engage with the fan base, and go through some challenging years of sports car racing, switching from DPs to P2s to DPis, going through when car counts dropped, we stuck through it.

“It was disappointing to go through that and now feel there was a good alignment moving forward… before getting ousted.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA

While disappointed with IMSA’s decision, Roffler hailed Simon Hodgson, IMSA Vice President, Competition, for his transparency and dialogue throughout the process.

“In a spec series you’re never going to satisfy every team, because one team, make, model, or competitor feels another one is getting a better deal,” Roffler said.

“Simon has been wonderful to work with and great in letting us improve development of the tire, whereas in the past… (IMSA) wasn’t so receptive. We felt in a good place.

“But this announcement… we’d been involved in the timing. We’ve been sitting on it, knowing you were getting a divorce and waiting to announce it until the last minute. It’s been a challenge to say the least.”

Continental has given quite a lot to sports car racing over the years and following its acquisition of Hoosier Racing Tires last October, is still confident of moving into other areas in motorsports. Therein lies the challenge and the next opportunity, which Roffler said the company will embrace with open arms.

“With the purchase of Hoosier Racing Tire, we’re invested in motorsports globally. We look globally to grow,” he said.

“We’ll continue to develop on platforms like GT3, which is a global platform. That might look strange, given we’re being escorted out of IMSA. But that platform lives globally in other series around the world. So we’ll look to move that platform forward in other series going forward.”

Roffler was heavily concerned about the Continental Tire staff who have sunk a lot of time and investment into tire design and production, and their jobs. But he’s thankful for what they’ve accomplished in IMSA as they look forward to their next motorsports opportunity.

“It’s bittersweet at this point,” he admitted. “This entire team have dumped a lot of heart and soul into this program and as I said before, lived through some lean years. We were touted the merger would be a ‘holy grail’ but it took two-three years to get there. Our whole model was challenged, but we stuck through it. We were determined to do what we could do for our consumers, and move the needle.

“The first renewal came up and we kind of got the legs kicked out from underneath on this first one. It’s a shock to the program.

“But we’re tough. We’ll get over this, dust ourselves off, we have ’18 still in front of us, and we’ll be looking forward to the new adventures in ’19 and beyond.

“The big man says every time a door shuts, another one opens. I full well believe that we’ll find something even better.”

2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship/Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring/Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, FL USA/Saturday 18 March 2017/Continental tire/World Copyright: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Images

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”

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