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Cooper Tire explains its new motorsports involvement -- and shift in corporate strategy

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Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s announcement Saturday that it was sponsoring its own racing series in 2004 begs a lot of questions. So the company asked -- and answered -- them. Here are the responses.

Q: Why is Cooper Tire sponsoring Formula Ford Zetec racing?

A: Cooper Tire is an emerging performance tire player. Racing is performance at its top. It is natural we should blend these facts and become involved with professional motorsports. We see value beyond the technology transfer and promotional opportunities.

Cooper is committed to the development of future drivers. The Formula Ford Zetec, Formula SCCA and SCCA Sports Racer series develop drivers we will see in the future at higher levels of racing classifications.

Q. How is this sponsorship different than the Avon sponsorship?

A: We are the title sponsor for the Cooper Tire Championship Series, which encompasses the Formula Ford Zetec, Formula SCCA and SCCA Sports Racer series. The tires have the Cooper Zeon name upon them.

Previously, Avon was the spec tire for the Formula Ford Zetec. The scope of Cooper’s sponsorship is much broader and covers three series, not just one.

Q: What are the terms of the sponsorship agreement? How long is the agreement?

A: Our agreement is five years, which proves our long-term commitment to the Cooper Tire Championship Series. As title sponsor, we will highlight our Zeon family of performance tires through the Championship Series.

We feel there is excitement and momentum that motorsports infuses into our performance tire line. Development of motorsport tires brings tremendous benefits to our street tire business through enhanced technical development and product performance. In other words, what we learn on the track transmits to better tires on the street.

Q: What is Cooper Tire's role in racing? Is this a one-time sponsorship or are you looking to grow this commitment in the future? Has Cooper sponsored any racing in the past?

A: We have raced for years, but mainly under the Avon name and largely in Europe. Avon is an established and highly respected force in motorsports. Cooper-Avon has been supplying tires to the F3000 Championship since inception, as well as the British F3. F3000 is the stepping stone to Formula One, in which we participated in the early '80’s. Cooper is no stranger to the checkered flag.

But our involvement with Formula Ford Zetec is new for the Cooper brand. Cooper entered off-road racing this year, via Bob Land Motorsports in the Southern California Off-Road Enterprises (SCORE) Series. The fabled Baja 1000 is part of this series. Don’t be surprised if Cooper is involved in other race venues in the future if it supports our strategic, long-term initiatives. This is our inaugural step into racing.

Q: What tires will the Formula Ford Zetec drivers be running in 2004? How do they differ from your competitors’ brands? Are there new tires? When will they be available? Where are they available?

A: The drivers will use Cooper Zeon slicks beginning in 2004. These tires will be made in our Melksham, England plant. We are the spec tire for all three series in the Cooper Tire Championship Series, so we aren’t pitted against any competitors. But we have gained a reputation as a fast tire in series where competition is open to all manufacturers.

We bring the same level of technology and commitment to spec series. We are confident that if the Formula Ford Zetec were an open competition series, we’d be standing at the top of the podium. With Cooper tires on the track supported by Mickey Thompson, it’s a strong combination for success for the Cooper Tire Championship Series.

Q. How did you get Johnny Unser involved? What’s his role? Why Johnny Unser? Does Cooper work with any other drivers?

A: Johnny Unser embodies the values and qualities, which Cooper possesses as a corporation, and he brings a rich racing heritage and knowledge to contribute to our own expertise -- a great combination. Officially, he serves as a performance advisor to Cooper. His experience of pushing tires to their peak performance has been valuable in designing our Zeon performance line. He has skills and tire insights you can only acquire as a winning race driver.

Beyond his expertise behind the wheel, Johnny is an excellent emissary for Cooper. We work with Bob Land, professional SCORE Series racer too. But Johnny is our one and only official performance advisor.

Q. Is racing the future of Cooper Tire? Is this a shift in corporate strategy?

A: You will see the Cooper name in more racing in the future. Yes, it is a shift in corporate strategy, but not a major leap. Remember that we have raced for years under the Avon brand. We have the proven technology and experience that wins races.

We now are applying the same technology and experience to the Cooper brand.

Cooper is our flagship brand in North America. We are becoming an emergent performance tiremaker. Naturally, racing under the Cooper brand makes sense as we develop our image as a serious performance tire player.

Q. Will you be moving more aggressively into the ultra-high performance market?

A: Definitely. Within five years, our vision is to be 15% of the H-rated market and 10% of the V/Z-rated market in North America. These are aggressive goals. But that is us talking about performance. Racing with the Cooper brand is proof of performance.

Q. Are you moving from being a replacement tire to OE?

A: Currently, we have no OE plans. But never say never? Three years ago, we had no vision to become a performance tire powerhouse, either.

Q. How much do the tires cost each racing team?

A: We’ll just say that all tires cost the teams the same amount.

Q. Does Cooper Tire currently sponsor any other races and/or sports? Are there any plans to sponsor NASCAR? What’s your sponsorship strategy?

A: At the moment we do not sponsor any other races except for this series, but Cooper is the official tire of six top collegiate conferences. We have been the title sponsor for the Bay Hill Invitational golf tournament, and Arnold Palmer has been our spokesman since 1997. We are always aligning the Cooper name with the best of the best and capitalizing on opportunities, and those opportunities are in motorsports at the moment. Right now, motorsports is growing in popularity all over the country and racing supports our image in the performance tire market.

Currently, we have no plans to sponsor NASCAR. It has to make good business sense for us to enter a motorsports event. There are many other race opportunities in America. We will review all opportunities and act on the ones that make sense for Cooper, the race series and the image of both.

Q. Is this sponsorship a "me-too" move for Cooper Tire? Why are you late to the game?

A: It may seem like our sponsorship is a "me-too" move, but remember, we have raced for years under the Avon brand. We were racing before many of our competitors. The only thing new is the introduction of the Cooper brand.

Previously, Cooper was viewed as a replacement tire for 'Middle America.' We fostered that reputation and it served us well for decades. A race program for the Cooper brand seemed inconsistent with our brand image. And although it is still true that we are a replacement tire for Middle America, there is a new, performance edge to our overall brand image. Racing supports our performance image well.

We will not forget our roots or the customers who built Cooper. But as the entire tire market swings more towards exotic, performance tires, Cooper wants to remain the independent tire dealer’s best option. Racing experience gives Cooper 'braggin'' rights, and technology that allows us to earn our customers’ performance tire business. Racing never made sense for the Cooper brand, until now.

Is Cooper Tires offering any driver incentives?

A: No, we are the title sponsor of the entire Cooper Tire Championship Series. The individual teams purchase their tires for a price set by the series management. No team receives preferential pricing.

What else will Cooper Tires be doing throughout the Formula Ford Zetec 2004 season to stay involved? Is this event the extent of your role?

A: This media launch event is only the beginning of our involvement in the Cooper Tire Championship Series. We will build excitement into the series for race fans, our tire dealers and tire consumers in the markets around the race circuits where we race. We will tie performance tires and racing into our advertising efforts. Where you see Cooper, expect to see Formula Ford Zetec and the other series.

Q. Do you have any details on next year’s season, schedule, races, etc.?

A: The 2004 season is not final yet. However, expect a west series and an east series, with the overall Formula Ford Zetec champion decided at the 2004 SCCA Run-offs (at Mid-Ohio in Lexington, Ohio).

Q. What’s next for Cooper? What can we expect? New products?

A: We have launched our first three performance tire lines. Between now and January 1, 2004, expect three more lines. By mid-year 2004, we should have 19-inch and 20-inch passenger tires, 24-inch sport truck tires and maybe even a DOT racing/track day tire.

Our product offering is changing fast. The heart and core of Cooper is the same, but our tire offering screams performance. Expect us in places you never expected in the past.

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