Friday, March 4, 2011
Firestone Confirms Open-Wheel Exodus
(by Robin Miller speedtv.com 3-4-11)
It’s hard to imagine the IZOD INDYCAR series without Firestone but the manufacturer synonymous with amazing dependability and success will be gone following this season.
SPEED.com has learned Firestone will make an official announcement later this afternoon.
Following weeks of negotiations to try and keep Firestone through 2012, the tire giant that has captured 61 Indianapolis 500s is departing after a 21-year run of safety and performance that may never be matched.
“We evaluated all sorts of options, some worked for us and didn’t for them (INDYCAR) and vice versa, but we just couldn’t find a sweet spot,” said Al Speyer, the executive director of motorsports for Bridgestone/Firestone.
“We tried, we really did, to get this resolved and we have the utmost respect for INDYCAR and we know it’s on the uptick and we commend them. But the world has changed immensely in the last 20 years and we’re looking for new ways to promote the Firestone brand.
“And at the end of the day we’re simply going in different directions.”
After dropping out in 1974, Firestone came back in 1995 and immediately challenged Goodyear. By the end of that decade, Firestone was the dominant tire and Goodyear left open wheel in 2000.
But, as durable as the tires were, it’s the safety of Firestone/Bridgestone in IRL/CART/Champ Car/INDYCAR that’s unmatched and almost unbelievable considering the speeds and G loads on an oval track.
“We’ve never had an accident based on tire failure,” said Speyer, a 37-year-man with Firestone. “We’ve had some punctures, but no failures, and you can’t do better than zero.
“It’s a credit to our worldwide technology, a combined effort between Akron (Ohio) and Japan.”
Firestone damn near captured it’s return to Indy in ’95 when Scott Goodyear and Scott Pruett were running 1-2 late in the race before Pruett crashed and Goodyear passed the pace car and lost a sure victory.
“We didn’t win Indy that year but it wasn’t because of the tire and getting that first win when Scott Pruett passed Al Unser Jr. on the last lap at Michigan was Nirvana,” continued Speyer.
“I don’t think we could have written a better script. It was good for our teams, our morale and our customers.”
Speyer said nothing will change about the product or promotion or execution in 2011.
“We’re committed to 2011, just like always. We’re not backing down, we’re committed to quality and durability. We’re looking forward to the centennial stuff at Indianapolis, being the title sponsor at the twin races at Texas and it will be business as the INDYCAR paddock is used to.”
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard and Terry Angstadt, president of commercial division Terry Angstadt, have traveled to Nashville several times in the past two months to try and reach some kind of common ground so Firestone would be around for the debut of the new cars in 2012.
Bernard, in Italy and unavailable for comment, has been talking with Goodyear, Hoosier, Michelin and Avon about replacing Firestone in 2012.