Yokohama celebrates top flight & grassroots motorsport success in 2017
Although no specific motorsport activity formed part of the tyre maker’s 100-year celebration at a global level, the centenary year of 2017 proved an incredibly exciting and successful one for Yokohama on race and rally track, with numerous event and championship victories swelling the silverware cabinet.
Here in the UK, one of the most notable and satisfying successes of the season was with young British rally driver Ed Fossey. Yokohama’s support for Fossey dates back to his days in Formula 1000 as a recipient of the Next Big Step Award. This year was Fossey’s first full season of rallying and also the year of his maiden championship win – in September, the took the BTRDA rally championship in the Thomas Panels 1400 Rally Championship category for vehicles up to 1400cc.
Fossey and co-driver Chris Shapre-Simkiss had already taken several class podiums during the season, but wrapped up the title in impressive style, finishing the Trackrod Stages rally in 31st place overall, with many more experienced drivers in more powerful cars ranking below them.
In Ireland, having finished runner-up in the last two seasons, Rod McGovern finally clinched overall victory in the Yokohama-backed, SEAT Supercup Ireland championship. Driving for Mick Merrigan Motorsport, McGovern took the title in the penultimate round of the series at Kirkstown Motor Racing Circuit, securing an unassailable lead.
12 years of WTCC supply an honour
In top flight motorsport, Yokohama tyres continued to be used by all competitors in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC). With reigning Champion José Maria López having departed to another Championship, the WTCC series is set to have a new champion. Former Swedish Touring Car Champion, Thed Björk, currently leads the series with just the round in Qatar remaining.
Naoki Ando, global motorsport manager at Yokohama Rubber until he passed the baton on to Minoru Nakayama earlier this month, considers the round in Motegi in late October a highlight of the 2017 WTCC season. “The round in Yokohama Rubber’s home country is always special for us, but especially so this year,” Ando commented to Tyres & Accessories. “A big typhoon hit and eventually the main race was suspended halfway, but the enthusiastic Japanese spectators did not mind the terrible weather conditions. They were able to see the unparalleled exciting competition at the track live, and naturally we are very proud that Yokohama tyres played an important part in it.”
Another uncertainty at the moment is the direction WTCC will take next year, with no 2018 technical regulations published to-date. The most likely scenario at this point of time appears to be that the WTCC will adopt the regulations used by the TCR International Series next year, however an agreement hasn’t yet been announced. Ando noted that a lack of information regarding 2018 regulations means “we have no concrete plan at the moment” for tyre supply next year. “However, we are very honoured that we have supplied our tyres to this top-level FIA World Championship for 12 years continuously,” he added. Should Yokohama be given the chance to be tyre supplier for the global touring car championship in future, in whatever form it takes, Ando said the company would “do our best as ever.”
Regardless of the outcome of current talks, Ando is convinced that Yokohama’s participation in WTCC has yielded good results both on the technology transfer front and in elevating the tyre maker’s brand image. It’s an arrangement Yokohama would prefer to continue, however should this prove impossible for now, national-level activities will stand it in good stead. “We are not sure of the shape of the future WTCC, but at least we should be involved in any top category races without any pause, especially in Europe,” commented the global motorsport manager.
Motorsports Department replaces subsidiary
The Yokohama Rubber subsidiary dedicated to motorsports activities was dissolved on 30 June 2017. The operations handled by Yokohama Motorsports International Co., Ltd., a 100 per cent owned subsidiary established in 2013, were transferred to a new internal Motorsports Department, including supply arrangements for numerous competitions, such as control tyres to the Japanese Super Formula Championship series, GT Asia, the Sepang 12 Hours endurance race, the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship Series and the WTCC.
The main purpose of this organisational change, explained Ando, is to reinforce internal cooperation amongst related divisions. With the Motorsports Department, Yokohama Rubber intends to further expand and broaden its motorsports activities around the globe; Ando spoke of a constant search for opportunities to expand Yokohama’s motorsport activities and business all over the world: “Every race could be our target.” It was decided that an internal organisation would be better able to effectively supervise and coordinate these activities than a subsidiary.
Grassroots support to continue
Looking ahead, Yokohama expects 2018 to be another exciting year. The company will continue to support a number of grassroots motorsport series and young drivers, including its ongoing support for Ed Fossey. Meanwhile, a number of high-profile projects are expected to be announced by the company at Autosport International. To be amongst the first to hear about Yokohama’s 2018 motorsport activities, visit Yokohama HPT Ltd. (stand 2750) at the Birmingham NEC between 11 and 14 January. firstname.lastname@example.org