Cooper Tires Exceed Expectations
In evaluating the performance of the new Cooper Atlantic racing tires this pre-season, paraphrasing the old postal service credo seems most appropriate – neither heat, nor cold, nor rain shall keep these tires from completing their appointed rounds.
Through several off-season tests, the new Cooper Atlantic racing slicks and rain tires have consistently demonstrated the ability to deliver the mail quickly and reliably, no matter what the conditions. Over the course of the first two series-sanctioned open tests – at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway in January and earlier this month at MSR Houston in Texas – competitors logged nearly 20,000 miles of track time on the new Cooper tires. And through the heat, rain and high winds in Sebring to the cold temperatures present at MSR Houston, the Atlantic tires have proven durable and have given the Mazda-Cosworth/Swift cars a high level of performance.
“It’s been a very successful transition to the Cooper Tires for us. They’ve been awesome right off the bat,” said Atlantic racer Jonathan Bomarito, who’s familiar with the Cooper brand after having won the Cooper Tires Formula Ford Zetec championship in 2003. “We went from running in the heat and the wet on a high-grip track in Sebring to running in the freezing weather on a fast track like Houston and no matter what the conditions, the tires have been tremendous. As a driver, you can’t ask for anything more.”
The accolades for the new racing rubber have come from all over the Atlantic paddock and the comments are certainly satisfying for the engineers from Cooper, who first began testing and refining the new compound last summer in preparation for the company’s entry into Atlantics in 2007. With their experience in providing high-performance tires for several top open-wheel racing formulas, including the A1 Grand Prix series and British Formula 3, Cooper certainly had a good base to start from when creating the new Atlantic tire. But the Atlantic cars also provided their own unique challenges.
Through testing sessions with the Walker Racing Atlantic team and former two-time series champion Jon Fogarty last June and July, Cooper discovered the right balance required on the precise Atlantic machines and what changes needed to be made to increase the level of performance.
“We knew that with the previous tires the cars were set up to reduce their natural understeer,” said Paul Coates, Cooper Tire motorsports technical manager. “We tried to address that right away and found that we could get much more front end and balance out of the car.”
Those early testing sessions helped refine the tire’s performance and the lessons learned translated into the impressive results seen during off-season winter testing with the Atlantic teams.
“We’ve been very happy with the way the tires have responded and the feedback from the teams has been very positive,” said Coates. “We’ve found through the testing that the tires can provide significantly longer periods of running and that they respond well to small car changes, even after more than 120 miles on the race track.”
One thing that Atlantic racing fans will also notice this season is the immediate impact that new tires will have on the cars once they’re equipped with a fresh set of Coopers and the consistent level of performance after the initial speed. “It will be interesting to see how the teams manage the tires this year,” said Bomarito. “The first five laps with new tires will be very, very fast and after the first wave of heat cycles through the tires they’re very consistent. It should make for some exciting qualifying sessions and races, for sure.”
And if Mother Nature should frown on the Atlantics at any point this season, the new Cooper tires will also ensure that the competition on track remains at a high level. Cooper technicians entered the Sebring open test actually rooting for wet weather so they would have an additional opportunity to test the rain tires on the Atlantic cars. They got their wish as the second day of the test featured a steady rainfall throughout the morning. The smiles on the faces of the Cooper techs told the story as the wet runners responded as well as their slick cousins.
“We were exceptionally pleased with the wet running at Sebring,” said Coates. “The cars had a good neutral balance both in the full wet conditions as well as running on the drying line on the track without the usual wear and tear.”
With the tires passing the heat and the wet test with flying colors, the next hurdle was the cold. The Houston test gave ample opportunity for the Coopers to climb that mountain as temperatures were in the 40s on the second day of testing. Despite the concern that the tires might not have the chance to reach the proper operating temperature in the unusually cool conditions, the Cooper Atlantics exceeded expectations as a pair of drivers – James Hinchcliffe and Raphael Matos of Sierra Sierra Enterprises – both shattered the unofficial Atlantic track record at the circuit.
“To break the lap record (at MSR Houston) despite less than ideal conditions gives a good indication that we’re on the right track and in the street races this season, where the elements could be a factor and the tires tend to run at lower temperatures, the tires will perform the way we all hope they will,” added Coates.
With the final pre-season test on the horizon at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, during Atlantic Spring Training March 7-8, series competitors will continue to learn and test the limits of the new Cooper Atlantic tires. By the time the first official green flag of the season flies at the Vegas Grand Prix, April 6-8, everyone will be in tune with the nuances of the new rubber and anxious to see how it handles Atlantic competition.
“I think the Cooper tires will be a big addition to the Atlantic series this year,” said Walker Racing team manager Rob Edwards. “We’ve seen in the two open tests that we’ve done so far that the tire has performed even better than we expected from the testing we did last summer with Jon Fogarty to develop the tire. We will definitely see some closer racing this season because of it.” Champ Car Atlantic PR