Avon Tyres Supply British GT for Third Year
Avon Tyres celebrated the launch of the company’s third season as control tyre supplier to British GT racing at the beginning of March. Tyres & Accessories met Avon Motorsport sales and marketing manager, Roger Everson; and development manager, Mike Lynch, at Silverstone and found out how the Cooper Tire Europe division’s involvement in the series and motorsport in general has grown over the last 25 years.
Avon’s British GT supply contract means the manufacturer has been involved in races that have seen Aston Martin DBRS9, Ferrari 430 and Dodge Vipers battling similar 500bhp machines at a number of UK racing circuits. This year race organisers have introduced a new GT4 category based more closely on production models than the specifically race-designed GT3 machines that make up the bulk of the series.
“Last year’s championship was fantastic as it went down to the final round, and 2008 looks set to be even better,” said Julian Baldwin, managing director of Cooper Tire Europe. “As well as a good entry of GT3 cars already signed up to fight for the overall title, there has been a lot of interest in the GT4 category, both from new and existing teams. It all helps to add even more evocative sports cars to the grid and showcase our products in the most spectacular way.”
The 2007 championship was won by Bradley Ellis and Alex Mortimer, whose Team RPM Dodge Viper narrowly beat the bio-ethanol-powered DBRS9 of Barwell Motorsport’s Jonny Cocker and Paul Rayson. But none of the could have got off the starting grid, let alone win anything, without the right tyres.
Avon Racing (Avon Tyres Motorsport) was founded during the tremendous growth of interest and participation in motorsport that took place in the 1980s. And, according to company representatives, the company was able to “fill a void” in the manufacture, distribution and supply of motorsport tyres left by the other market participants at the time. With this in mind, the business was from the beginning run as a commercial venture. And in order to satisfactorily fulfil the race teams demands for short lead times and great flexibility, the business unit ran separate to, but in parallel with, general passenger car production at what is now Cooper Tire & Rubber Europe at its Melksham headquarters. According to Roger Everson, this decision gives Cooper significant flexibility when it comes to producing high quality racing products without having to satisfy the economic demands that are part and parcel of volume passenger car tyre production. “We are willing to work out programmes with particular customers or special products,” Everson explains referring to a particular project that saw Avon partner with Tyrell in the production of a six-wheeler tyre, based on 10-inch diameter wheels.
The tyre production facilities are based on some of the most modern machinery, adapted for motorsport needs. This however does not mean that the plant is a fully automated facility, instead certain parts of the process still receive the human touch, allowing for the kind of flexible approach that is necessary in this business.
During the earliest days the operation was known as International Race Tyre Services. What you may not know is that at this point a certain Bernie Eccleston had his finger in this motorsport pie. Avon went it alone in 1983, following a strong growth trend in take-up of the company’s motorsport products across the board.
Today the dedicated motorsport tyre production department produces a total range that covers some 400 sizes. Avon Racing’s wide range still supplies bias tyres to certain international markets where these products remain popular. All Formula 3 and national GT races run on radial tyres. In the UK, some classic vehicle series specifically request the kind of authenticity that comes from running on bias tyres. However, race series that feature high power and high down-force vehicles all opt for radial tyres.
Until recently Avon Racing’s speciality had been single-seater lightweight open wheel racing series (Avon supplied the Formula 3000 series, for example, from start to finish), but when the opportunity to enter British GT came along the company job at the chance, stepped up to the challenge and has expanded into this role. Despite it being a quite different series to the open-wheel racing Avon had mostly been involved with before, company representatives told T&A that the development team was able to get up to speed quickly.
Fast moving [non]consumer goods
And they had to. Avon manufactures race tyres as close to race date as possible in order to ensure that customers get fresh, appropriate product. To illustrate the lengths that the 70-strong team goes to: it is not unknown for tyres to arrive at the track still warm from curing process. Now that really is hot off the press!
Having proved its ability to meet the challenges of the GT racing, Avon racing is now looking forward to other potential opportunities. The company is, for example, now in the second year of supplying champ car Atlantic series and the motorsport team manager doesn’t rule out the possibility of even entering NASCAR in the US. Avon representatives say their products proved themselves in ASCAR (the company designed a bespoke tyre from scratch in this instance, with development taking place at Rockingham). So, Cooper is definitely in a position to produce tyres capable of meeting the challenges of NASCAR. “Always looking for new emerging markets to buy our products,” explained Avon Racing sales and marketing manager Roger Everson.
Speaking on the subject of 2008 British GT series, technical manager Mike Lynch summed up the adaptable Avon racing philosophy: “Equivalency is the key change here. We are very confident this will be our best year yet. The tyre is not fixed for the year, as it is in some other series, so we can introduce a new tyre at any point, so long as we give the same to everyone. The key is to be very fair with everyone.”