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Life in the Fast Lane: Yokohama Tire Corporation’s Andrew Briggs Discusses Motorsports Marketing

June 29, 2011

FULLERTON, CA (June 29, 2011) – Andrew Briggs became Yokohama’s senior manager of motorsports in January and has been running full speed ever since. Briggs, who joined Yokohama in 2003, now oversees Yokohama’s racing program, which includes campaigning sports cars and off-road vehicles.

Question: Why is Yokohama involved in motorsports, and how does the company benefit from it?

Andrew Briggs: Motorsports has always been a proving ground for Yokohama, and with our long history and rich heritage in it, as well as our constant focus on innovative technology, it will continue to be an important involvement for us. The IMSA GT3 Challenge by Yokohama is a strong example, for one, of how we’ve used motorsports to introduce groundbreaking technology such as our orange oil technology in our ADVAN ENV-R1 race slicks and to advance further the same technology in the tire’s successor, the ENV-R2.

Additionally, motorsports provides us with a powerful means through which we carry our overall branding message of technology, performance and even environmentalism.

Question: How is motorsports used to communicate your branding message?

Andrew Briggs: The use of Yokohama tires as series spec tires or on vehicles that we campaign has been one of the strongest ways we’ve been able to communicate our branding message. The Porsche cars in both the GT and GTC classes of the American Le Mans series must complete hundreds of laps at extremely high speeds. Likewise, the off-road trucks that compete at a race like the Baja 1000 go through an extreme and grueling environment for hours on end. The fact that our ENV-R2, the official spec tire of the GTC class and our Geolandar tire, respectively, can withstand these very punishing conditions, speak to the power of Yokohama’s technology.

Further, the drivers themselves become ambassadors of our technology messaging. When they are absolutely satisfied with the performance of the tires they’re using, they are the first ones to acknowledge as so as they celebrate their wins.

In addition, our involvement in motorsports enables us to have branding elements such as track signage, track displays, vehicle branding, website and social media presence, as well as television exposure. Television exposure really helps. ALMS has a great television contract this year, so we’re seeing our reach expanded quite a bit. That’ll help beyond the local community. Thanks to our TV packages for off-road and sports car, we’re able to expand and reach some of those markets where we don’t have a live event.

Question: Speaking of television, you recently used Yokohama-sponsored off-road champions Cameron and Heidi Steele in a couple of your TV commercials. Any plans to continue to use drivers in ads?

Briggs: Any time we can activate our motorsports sponsorships, whether they be driver, team or series sponsorships – it is another opportunity for Yokohama to tie our motorsports activities with our branding efforts. Cameron and Heidi Steele have also developed a loyal following, which further heightens recognition for the Yokohama name as they bring their own air of popularity and prestige.

Question: It sounds like you have a very direct way to connect with consumers. What, on the other hand, are some of the ways you involve your dealers?

Andrew Briggs: Motorsports is a great way for us to involve our dealers ranging from a principal, a store manager, the person behind the counter or an outside salesman from one of our distributors. We work with our sales team to create a special motorsports experience that can include more than just tickets – all of which allow the dealers to see firsthand and up close how our motorsports activities raise awareness among consumers that ultimately become their customers.

Question: Do fans understand the link between racing technology and how it works its way down to street tires?

Briggs: Definitely. At every one of our races, we make sure that our complete line-up of tires are on display, including our orange oil passenger tire, the dB Super E-spec™ and our ADVAN ultra high-performance tires, to demonstrate the tangible transition of our race technology to consumer tire technology. We make it clear there’s definitely a link in the chain. Fans can see the ENV-R2 race tire in action, for instance, and then see how the technology has transferred down to the dB Super E-spec, which has fitments for daily drivers.

Question: Has Yokohama’s “eco-racing” program helped the motorsports program?

Briggs: Absolutely. Our participation in the American LeMans Series and in the IMSA GT3 Challenge, as I mentioned earlier, have broadened our technological, as well as audience, reach. With respect to technology, for example, our eco racing has inspired us to push the envelope ever farther. While we first introduced our orange oil-infused ENV-R1 race slick in 2009, the ENV-R2 soon followed, which took our orange oil technology to another level.

With respect to audience reach, our eco racing has enabled us to broaden the type of enthusiasts we connect with. In addition to ALMS and the GT3 Challenge by Yokohama, for instance, we have campaigned at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the electric vehicle class using our low rolling resistance tires. We have done this for three years now with the most recent one this year at the June 26 event, all of which provided us with great success.

Question: Do you think we’ll see more “green” racing in the future?

Briggs: Everybody’s trying to figure how to optimize it. It’s certainly buzz-worthy right now. We are hearing about EV series, and Formula EV cars. There is a new series with events in Europe and a couple in the U.S. later this year. I think manufacturers, parts suppliers and the public are watching closely and really excited to see its benefits.

Last year, when we competed in the electric vehicle class at Pikes Peak, we were proud to have broken an all-time record by 65 seconds. This year, as we returned for the “race to the clouds”, we were once again very thrilled to set yet another winning time, breaking our own 2010 record by 57 seconds.

Question: Do motorsports fans come by the trailer at events and ask about Yokohama’s eco racing or orange oil technology?

Briggs: People are aware and curious about it. Some come by and ask if the tires smell like oranges, but many want to know how much orange oil is in the tire, where does it come from, what it does, whether or not it helps or hurts the performance and so on.

The teams and the drivers are our best spokespersons because they tell fans and the media, ‘Hey, the tire’s great. It’s fast, lasts long and the performance is consistent over a long period of time.’ The ENV-R2s are an easy-to-drive tire that proves you can blend performance with environmentalism.

Question: How does Yokohama decide which motorsports disciplines to enter?

Briggs: We look for good fits and where we can maximize our branding efforts. We participate in off-road and sports car racing at a very high level, and not every manufacturer can say that. That’s a good testament to our products.

When deciding on a particular team or venue, we consider a number of things. It could be with a team we’ve had a relationship with in the past or a driver who’s particularly good at tire development and feedback. Or, it could be an OEM that we have a relationship with on the sales side.

Question: Is there a particular race that generates more buzz for Yokohama?

Briggs: Each series has a showcase event. In off-road, it’s the Baja 1000. In U.S. sports car racing, it’s the 12 Hours of Sebring. Sebring is at the beginning of the sports car racing season and the Baja 1000 at the end of the off-road season, so they are a good bookend for us from March to November.

These mega events, and motorsports in general, are tailor-made for tire sales promotions, which stir a lot of excitement. Usually, there are races that come to town but once a year. There’s typically significant advertising that accompanies this and it takes place on television, radio and local promotions by the promoter to get the community involved. On our end, we can back that through our assets with dealer and consumer events, such as ticket promotions.

Question: Do you believe the old axiom “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” still holds true?

Briggs: It still resonates. Again, thanks to Yokohama’s long-time racing heritage, fans recognize the performance that goes behind our tires. They know our tires are race-track proven with the most advanced technology and that the same innovative technology can be found on our street tires. Motorsports reinforces that and race events highlight it. This helps when race fans are in the market for tires.

Question: What are your thoughts on Yokohama’s 2011 motorsports program so far?

Briggs: There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve been able to capitalize on a lot of the existing relationships and have developed a few new ones. We’ve got a new off-road team in the Lucas Oil short course series and a new GT team in ALMS. There have been challenges, but it’s a process; both are doing well and there is a lot of promise.

We are still hungry though, still striving and not yet where we want to be. We’re on the same page with everybody: our parent company in Japan, our drivers and our teams. We all see a common goal and have the tools to get there.

Question: You took over the position of motorsports manager in January. Tell us about the transition.

Briggs: I’m comfortable in the position thanks to my background. I started at Yokohama on the marketing side and worked closely with our motorsports team, so it feels like I’ve come home. There are challenges, of course. When the results aren’t right, people ask questions.

We’re trying to improve and succeed in every discipline. In some cases, like the GT3 series, we’ve enjoyed a long partnership and we’re looking for that to continue.

Question: How important is motorsports to overall tire development?

Briggs: In motorsports, the tire is put through situations, stresses, incidents and levels we don’t come close to approaching on the street. The ENV-R2 is a great example: we use it in short sprint races for the GT3 Series, and we turn around and run it in endurance races in the ALMS GTC class.

We’re really asking a lot of that tire, and my hat’s off to our engineers in Japan. They’ve done a great job making this an all-encompassing tire that lasts longer, performs well, is very fast and is easy to drive – and that’s not simple to do. They’ve definitely hit a homerun with the ENV-R2.

In off-road, we have two different tire categories. The first is the off-the-shelf DOT tires, the Geolandar A/T-S® and Geolandar M/T+® we use in the Lucas Oil Series and in the SCORE Series in the desert. These are tires any consumer can get from a local tire dealer and buy right off the shelf. It’s a great selling tool for our dealers, that you can put the same tire on your truck that’s won its class at the Baja 1000.

The other off-road tire is for Trophy Trucks, a development tire fitted on an 800 plus horsepower truck that’s racing through the desert at extremely high speeds. These conditions are simply not replicated on the street or even recreational off-road use. However, we are able to learn from this environment, analyze the data and employ the technology in our other lines.

Question: It seems like technology is one of the Yokohama’s main motorsports messages.

Briggs: Motorsports definitely relays the message that Yokohama is a technologically-sound and savvy high-performance company that produces great products on and off the track. You can see it in our broad line-up of consumer tires. Being able to prove our technology on the track or off road weaves through all of our products, which is why motorsports is an integral part of Yokohama.

Yokohama Tire Corporation is the North American manufacturing and marketing arm of Tokyo, Japan-based The Yokohama Rubber Co., Ltd., a global manufacturing and sales company of premium tires since 1917. Servicing a network of more than 4,500 points of sale in the U.S., Yokohama Tire Corporation is a leader in technology and innovation. The company’s complete product line includes the dB Super E-spec™ – the world’s first tire to use orange oil to reduce petroleum – as well as tires for high-performance, light truck, passenger car, commercial truck and bus, and off-the-road mining and construction applications. For more information on Yokohama’s extensive product line, visit www.yokohamatire.com.

Yokohama is a strong supporter of the tire care and safety guidelines established by the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Details can be found at the “Tire Safety” section at www.yokohamatire.com.