Julian Baldwin of Avon Tyres Has His Say
Julian Baldwin's job title is actually the Director of Marketing
and Motorsports of the Cooper Tire & Rubber Company. Graham
Goodwin sat down with him at Rockingham on August 12,
and we present their conversation as a straightforward Question
how long a commitment has Avon got to (specifically) GT racing?
no end date to it, it’s not a one, two or three year commitment,
it’s ongoing. Remember we’ve been in GTs and sportscars
for a long time in the past. It’s just another part of our
a conscious choice and a marketing reason to come back to GT racing
coupled with your other programmes, particularly Formula Three?
true to say that we are relatively new to GT racing but as for sportscars
we’ve been in continually. The deal for British GT came up
for tender and we were one of the tyre companies that was approached.
At the time
it suited what we wanted to do, not just from a motorsport point
of view, but we were looking for something to promote the Avon brand
in the UK at that time, so it suited from a marketing point of view.
are clearly using the branding of the British GT Championship in
your wider marketing activity. Is that part of the ongoing strategy,
particularly beyond the motorsport media?
so. In the motorsport community you are preaching to the converted.
No, of the advertising and media we have done, we have specifically
not done advertising and promotion via the motorsport press. What
we’re doing is via the motoring (right) rather than
motorsport press, and then via national and regional newspapers
- and radio and some TV as well.
a figure that can be put on that activity?
give you a specific figure but if you included what we are doing
to financially support the Championship itself, and then added all
that we’re doing with the media, advertising and the PR work,
the stuff we are doing to get radio and TV alongside, then you’re
into well over six figures a year in total. You’re talking
a lot of money.
aim is to maintain that effort into future years?
year one of a programme like this you find out what works and what
doesn’t. Year two you really focus on what you think is working
and in year three you really build on that work and consolidate.
you been impressed with the value for money you are getting from
of the motorsport industry, yes. Inside the motorsport industry,
I’m not happy at all, but the main target is not within the
What I think
the issue is, is that the British motorsport industry is not in
a particularly healthy state. Championships like this need people,
commercial sponsors, to come and support them. To take my motorsport
hat off and put my commercial sponsor hat on for a moment, outside
the motorsport industry yes it’s done the job - whether it's
with dealer hospitality, media or whatever, but the motorsport industry
has to realise in the UK that if it wants commercial sponsors to
come in and stay, it’s no good just taking the money and saying
thank you very much, or not even saying thank you! They have a responsibility
to that sponsor and that Championship to give something back.
tried to set this up and the promotion we’ve done is that
there are several strands. Obviously we are doing it to promote
the Avon brand, but by in doing that we can promote the Championship
and individual events. So we’re working alongside not just
SRO but also the individual event organisers.
We also help
the teams and their sponsors and the drivers and the way we set
it up to do that is we are doing a lot of work pre-event in the
local area, with regional TV, radio and newspapers, plus competitions
through our dealers and through local press. So what we are trying
to do is to build up interest pre-race and a big part of doing that
is to realise that regional press love a team that is based locally.
If it’s done right you can benefit the Championship, you can
benefit the event organiser because you’ll get more people
through the gate, you can benefit the teams and the drivers because
they are getting exposure. So that’s what we’re trying
to do and that works quite well. Some teams are working with us
far better than others but that’s just the way it is.
Within the motorsport
community people seem to expect to have money, but that there’s
no other wider responsibility beyond running their car. On one level
that’s fine: they are all very focused and I understand that.
I think as a generalisation, and this is not just talking British
GT, if people in the motorsport industry really want funding to
come in and stay coming in, flowing from commercial sponsors (who
let’s face it can spend their money in loads of places), they
have got to take a responsibility beyond just running the car, the
team, the driver and be responsible for investment in the Championship.
If you come down to the motorsport industry, I’ve been disappointed
that some people haven’t chosen to see the wider responsibility
they have of helping the Championship.
Some of the teams and some of the drivers have taken
a very responsible role, others haven’t.
How do you
see your relationship with SRO?
working well. You have got a partnership between ourselves, SRO,
the circuit owners and the teams. There are several groups that
have got to work together but there are certain elements don’t
always see that they have got a responsibility to be on their own
rung. We’ve all got our own jobs to do but we’ve also
got a responsibility that cuts across the whole lot and that’s
what I don’t see happening.
Is the criticism
here about making cars or people available?
partly that but it’s also about the way in which they talk
about issues or problems, or perceived problems, and we’re
not going to get commercial sponsors to get into British motorsport
and stay with that sort of stuff going out.
They would say: “Why am I going to stay here
where there’s bickering going on, there’s a negative
vibe around the Championship, people aren’t sorting things
out behind closed doors, they’re sorting it out in public.
I’ll go somewhere else where there’s a more positive
outlook.” That is an issue I think.
of the objective to get people back through the gates to watch motorsport?
the things we’re trying to do, and we’ve done it quite
successfully at some events, this race (Rockingham) was always going
to be difficult, you have Grand Prix Masters making its UK debut
just down the road (Silverstone) and the Touring Cars are racing
this weekend too, but yes part of the idea with the regional promotions
is to try and get people through the gate. That’s why we haven’t
targeted motorsport media, their readers will either come or they
won’t. That’s why we’re hitting the regional media.
Oulton Park was incredible and part of that was down to MSV, who
did a great job, but part of it was down to stuff that we did as
well. Let's not forget that there are a lot of things to choose
from for people wanting to do something with their leisure time.
looking poorly supported this season and GT3 looking to be stepping
up for 2007 what is the appeal for Avon, is it the cars, the drivers,
the variety and the sort of cars that are involved from a road tyre
branding point of view. It’s as simple as that, whether it’s
what we’re using in our ads or via PR or whether we’re
bringing (corporate) customers here. They are cars that people get
point then do you see this as being a good value deal for Avon over
say, two, three or four years?
really tell after just one year. The only way you’ll judge
this is 'Is our market share going up?' and you aren’t going
to tell that over such a short period because there are too many
other things happening.
The only way
you’ll tell it over this short a space of time is through
the dealers and they are very positive, certainly the ones that
have come along have been fired up and their local promotions have
is the Unique Selling Point for Avon?
We very much target what is termed in the tyre industry Ultra High
Performance, not in terms of just the supercar market - but perhaps
‘spirited driving’ is a good expression to cover it.
has been comment up and down the pitlane about the racing product
itself. The competitors have been very positive about the Avon personnel
but many of them also say that there is a way to go with the product.
Is that fair comment?
in terms of the motorsport press I would encompass a little bit
of my comment that people need to be a bit more responsible. The
press can say what they like. What we want is context and balance
and I have to say that the reporting, and I include you guys in
this, the balance and context has not been there and I’m quite
disappointed by that.
instance one team in the pitlane this weekend has expressed to me
that they are frustrated that the cars are fundamentally slower
than last season. That means there are other sportscar series in
the UK, the Porsche Carrera Cup for instance, that are now quicker
than British GT Championship cars and that situation cannot be right?
down there would like to go faster than they are going. We haven’t
targeted going as fast as we could because what you have down there
is a huge variety of cars and we’re trying to have some form
of equality if you like, as much as you can between vastly differing
chassis and engines - so in any contract formula the name of the
game is not to go as fast as you can. We’re coming at it from
a different angle but in motor racing everyone wants to go as fast
as they can all the time, that’s the nature of it of course.
the question then that if going as fast as you can is not the name
of the game – what is the name of the game?
of the game is coming up with something which does a job to provide
good racing for drivers but also for spectators. It’s a very,
very tricky job to satisfy people that they are going as fast as
they can, but without dissatisfying people who are going to be disadvantaged.
teams would claim that if you want the variety then they will need
to run a compound that gives them an edge in order to offset other
fundamental disadvantages of their package against other cars over
a race distance. Is that fair for them to expect you to help make
chooses to race, say, a traditional front engined configuration
of car versus a rear engined and mid engined car, is it our job
to make those equal really? Or to iron out all the inherent differences?
You cannot make a tyre supplier responsible for completely equalising
those completely different configurations and it is unreasonable
to expect it.
But the issue is surely that there is a product that suits some
of the cars better than others - that perhaps actually sometimes
it can work in the opposite direction and hand an advantage to one
team or car over another? In FIA GT3 for instance we have seen different
compounds of tyre being used as part of an equalisation process.
Is it really so unfair to expect the Championship supplier to react
to a situation where some cars cannot use the rubber supplied as
well as others?
we have reacted at a level where we think it’s reasonable.
Any team manager down there that isn’t beating the teams he’s
competing against by what he considers is a huge margin is going
to want to do so, quite rightly because that’s their job.
If I was down there I’d be pressuring us to give me an advantage,
because that is what they are paid to do.
of the controversy, and indeed some of your feelings about the way
the issues have been reported, surround the different tyres provided
for the GT2 Ferrari at Snetterton. I know Team LNT tested back to
back with new and old on Friday and have found that the new rubber
doesn’t work well with their car. How fundamentally different
are those two tyres?
a lot different. LNT quite rightly said that 'Ferrari said they
were at a disadvantage so we did something that suited their car
(the Ferrari 430)'. Because that car is pretty unique for a GT car
in the way that it uses its tyres, it was really quite hard (for
us). So we did something for them. LNT then said we want a level
playing field, we’ve given them one but the car is fundamentally
different. How far do you go? And I know exactly what would happen
if we made it a completely level playing field, any team manager
down there would say “That’s not fair, I want this gap!”
feel it was the right way to deal with it at Snetterton?
we reacted to pressure. I think we had to try and give the team
what they felt they needed, but it’s the sort of thing that
in this area you are never going to make everyone happy.
what would Avon do differently moving forward both in marketing
and engineering terms next year, and what would you require from
the various parties involved to help you to do it?
it was announced that we had got the deal there was a huge amount
of negative press. The way that deal was done, and I know because
I was involved in responding to it, was to ask the tyre companies,
this deal is on offer, tell us what you are going to do, and it
is more than tyre supply. So we put together a package which was
a significant investment and commitment to build the Championship,
which is what we’re trying to do. We’ve actually delivered
on our part of that this year in terms of the activation we’ve
done, the media work we’ve done and everything we’ve
tried to do. I don’t believe the Championship has delivered
what I would have hoped they would have in terms of helping us to
do that and I don’t just mean people giving us cars to put
on dealer and shop forecourts, I mean in the responsibility in the
wider sense - and I think you could make that same comment about
a number of series in the UK. People need to wake up and realise
that people don’t have to put money into motorsport.
The negative press we got there though, I don’t
understand why because it was a fair and open business tender. We
went into it in good faith, did it. We put together a package which
obviously worked better. We put a lot more money into the championship
this year than has been put in in many recent years. We’re
trying hard to build the Championship.
When it was
announced and we got the negative press we haven’t really
had people say, forget the tyre bit, “Actually Avon are trying
bloody hard to build this Championship” - which is good for
the teams, the drivers and the Championship. So when all the plans
came out in terms of what we were doing, we got what I would say
is virtually zero credit in the motorsport media for that piece
of it. That’s the kind of thing that disappoints me.
What I’d do differently is to find a way of
saying to people “Before you print stuff three-quarters of
the way through the season, as we are now, and we’ve had a
lot of stuff printed about tyres, why has nobody come over and talked
been a huge amount of discussion about tyres and the major motorsport
publications we’ve now talked to, but at our own instigation.
How can we be this far through the Championship with so much discussion
of tyre issues and nobody’s come to talk to us about it?
it does take two? We for instance have had minimal contact from
right, it does take two but we weren’t the people writing
things about the product. We’ve got people in the paddock:
it’s kind of disappointing that I don’t think we’ve
been given a fair crack and we certainly haven’t been given
fair credit for what we have been doing around the Championship.
comment on the work being done on marketing and PR, the visibility
of the Championship is certainly better. But is there anything on
the product front that you are looking to do differently for 2007?
The build up to this year was really difficult. For instance
the LNT car didn’t appear until – well, we found out
about it at the Autosport Show, basically. It used different sizes
from anything else, it takes three months to get moulds. We turned
ourselves upside down and we got them out in advance and that meant
testing. A lot of these guys don’t come out and test. It took
us a lot of time to sort things out. We’ve been learning and
developing. Certainly these things are easier from a compound point
of view than for other applications we have in the UK, so yes we’ve
been learning and developing as we’re going along. That can
be difficult when you’re racing and unfortunately you can’t
develop with the whole grid at every race - so inevitably you learn
a bit here, change a bit there and then you get the Snetterton situation
where you think ‘Oh Bugger’ that didn’t work out
because you can’t move everything at the same rate, you are
going to get situations like this.
So that’s going to improve next year, now
I think we know more about where we’ve been we’ll try
and level it out.
Do you deal
with the teams individually or would you prefer to deal with an
Association of teams?
think it would help with any tyre issues. It might help the overall
championship by pulling together the guys who want to help build
this Championship, let's have a common voice, let's try and be sensible
about how we do it. I don’t believe it is the answer to every
problem, because let's face it they are all going to be fighting
their own corner, quite rightly as I said earlier, pressuring us
to the best job we can for them.
engagement with all the teams outside the race weekends?
got one guy who’s headed up the whole effort, Mike Lynch.
He’s co-ordinating the efforts of the other Avon engineers
and he’s been working incredibly hard both with our people
and the teams.