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Q&A with Satoru Ushida of Falken Tyre Europe

Falken explains its decision to enter a Porsche GT3 R in the 2011 Nürburgring 24h


PMW: Tell us about a little about Falken?
Satoru Ushida: Falken is owned by Sumitomo Rubber Industries, the sixth largest manufacturer globally, with manufacturing facilities across Asia. The Falken brand was created in 1983 and was first sold in the US and Europe some years later.

: Is motorsport the preferred tool for marketing Falken?

SU: Since 1999 we have competed in the Nürburgring 24 hours, which is increasingly being used by the car and tire industries to develop and market products. We also have a significant presence in the drifting market, but we have a greater emphasis on road racing in 2011. Here in Europe, we have committed to running a Porsche 997 GT3 R in the Nürburgring 24h. We have a great team of drivers that brings both experience of racing at the Nürburgring (such as Peter Dumbreck, who has been with the team for several years), as well as factory Porsche drivers Martin Ragginger, Wolfgang Henzler and Sebastian Asch. [The Schnabl Engineering-run car finished 48th overall after losing more than two hours when the transmission failed].

: Falken doesn’t sell its race tires, so is competing in motorsport purely for marketing?

SU: It’s not that simple! Of course, increasing brand awareness and recognition is crucial for driving sales, and this year our advertising and PR will be integrated into our motorsport campaign. Lots of people claim that there is technology transfer from motorsport to road activities and we would agree. The information we are learning from the testing we have done at the Nürburgring, the feedback from the experienced drivers we have used for compound and construction evaluation, is fed directly back into our R&D team in Japan. There is also extensive sharing of knowledge in off-road applications too and our FK452 tire has been successfully used for drifting with good endurance and grip.

PMW: How do you leverage your motorsport activity?
SU: This year we are using the participation in the race as a hub for other product and brand promotion. We have many of our tire distributors and dealers coming to the race weekend where they not only get behind the scenes at our participation in the race but also learn about our expanding performance tire range and our plans to promote this.

: Your Nissans have become a familiar sight at the 'Ring in recent years. Why choose a Porsche after successfully running Japanese cars at the race?

SU: We believe the Porsche will be very competitive and it is a proven winner in the VLN series. It also is more relevant to our European customers than some of the cars we have been running. It also gives us more consistency from a marketing point of view as our partners in the USA have been running a GT3 RSR Porsche in Falken colors in the American Le Mans Series.

: Does Le Mans hold the same affection for Falken as the Nürburgring?
We have a special affinity with the Nürburgring. It poses unique challenges with a unique track layout, surface and climatic conditions and lap length. I would go as far as to say that we are even honored to run our tires at this venue. The experience gained here and in the USA is highly relevant to Le Mans and who knows – maybe one day we will be there too!

This interview is from July 2011


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