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Gone Muddin’: Cooper’s New Off-Road Course Makes Testing More Scientific – and Fun

Cooper’s New Off-Road Course Makes Testing More Scientific – and Fun

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Who says big boys – and girls – don’t love playing in the mud? Having the chance to splash around in muck and climb rocks, especially in well-rigged off-road vehicles, would bring a smile to the face of even the oldest boy.

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For the media invited to play on Copper Tire & Rubber Co.’s new off-road test facilities, it was ear-to-ear grins all day long as the writers took turns blasting through silt traps, crawling along boulders, slinging mud, splashing water and generally testing the limits of Cooper Discoverer SSTs and ATRs.

Located at Cooper’s Tire & Vehicle Test Center (TVTC) in Pearsall, Texas, southeast of San Antonio, the multi-section off-road test course is the first of its kind in North America, said Cooper. The May media event was not the facility’s formal opening – the off-road course has been operating since last fall – but it was its first public event.

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And not only were the invited off-road enthusiast and tire media there to play, but Cooper chairman, president and CEO Tom Dattilo was right there, too, taking his turn at slamming the SUVs through the test sections. Of course, he didn’t have to worry about breaking a truck.

“Our goal at Cooper is to serve the customer like nobody else,” said Dattilo at the pre-drive meeting. “This facility is part of that. Light truck tires are a critical part of the market, and we intend to advance our products, thanks to test facilities like this.”

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Even without the new dedicated off-road test section, the 1,000-acre TVTC, opened in 1999, is a well-appointed test facility. The addition of a full off-road test segment, constructed on the existing TVTC grounds, gives Cooper the ability to test everything from standard passenger tires on through medium truck products.

Carson Miller, TVTC operations manager, explained that the new off-road test facilities were built into the existing terrain, including creeks and washes. The silt test area, for example, required little more than a deep agricultural tiller to turn up the powdery earth; no additional materials were needed.

Other areas – like a spot for rock crawling and a 30-degree, multi-surface incline – did require construction. Still, Miller said, the off-road course was completely built in five weeks.

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Planning the facility was another matter, though. Working with colleagues from other tire companies, Cooper tire engineers and TVTC staff spent more than a year planning out the multi-section course, said Miller. Then, they brought in 4×4 enthusiasts and professional off-road drivers to get their take. The goal was to create a highly effective, real-world layout that would allow Cooper to test tires scientifically under unusual, often extreme conditions.

Specially outfitted Jeep and Ford SUVs carried test instruments and plenty of safety gear as they put Cooper light truck/SUV tires through separate testing on rocks and boulders (dry and wet), mud, soft earth, and up and down a variety of hill surfaces. Plus, there’s even a long off-road trail that throws all of nature’s elements at the tires. And the drivers.

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Miller said the TVTC off-road course allows Cooper to do scientific benchmarking tests to support the tiremaker’s sales and marketing efforts, not to mention the obvious tire design benefits.

While science is the facility’s main focus, fun is its main attraction. Now that the media has broken it in, Cooper plans to use the TVTC off-road course for dealer events. Dattilo said even the company’s board of directors will take to the trails come November.

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