It’s been rumoured for several months that Bridgestone will pull its Firestone brand out of the IZOD IndyCar Series at the end of this year, and the formal announcement came at the end of last week. Over the past few years Bridgestone’s bookkeepers have been telling the company’s racing division that its IndyCar programme wasn’t delivering the promotional value to justify the cost, and inevitably the bean counters have won the battle.
“During our long history in racing we have met or exceeded all of our motor sport goals,” said Bridgestone/Firestone’s American racing boss Al Speyer. “So now it’s time to set new goals – for ourselves and for our brands. Companies that strive to achieve the highest levels of brand loyalty and recognition must continue to find ever more effective ways to communicate their brand message.”
Speyer added a compliment for IndyCar’s CEO Randy Bernard and his efforts to recreate the series. “We want to commend IndyCar on the recent positive momentum with new engine manufacturers and other corporate partners coming on board and wish the series continuing success,” said Speyer.
Firestone founder Harvey Firestone was a big supporter of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its early days, and his tyres were on Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp when he won the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911. The company will celebrate its 62nd win in this year’s 100th anniversary running of America’s greatest race (it will be the 96th 500) and is by far the most successful tyre builder in Indycar history.
Firestone pulled out of Indycar racing in 1976 but returned in ’95 after Bridgestone bought the venerable but struggling American tyre giant. Racing as Bridgestone in CART and Firestone in the newly introduced IRL series, Bridgestone/Firestone out-engineered and outperformed Goodyear, forcing the latter to throw in the towel by the turn of the new century. Since then Firestone has been IndyCar’s sole tyre supplier and the company has done a superb job, producing excellent tyres for a wide range of tracks from rough, slow street circuits to high-speed superspeedways.
Of course, Bridgestone is the world’s largest tyre company and has spent plenty of money in recent years in both Formula 1 and IndyCar. Its resources and technical capabilities are second to none and the company will be hard to replace, particularly in the short time available. Bridgestone/Firestone prepared for its 1995 return to Indycar racing by first building Indy Lights tyres starting in 1991, before undergoing some 15,000 miles of Indycar testing in ’94 with Scott Pruett driving a test car for Pat Patrick’s team. Whoever replaces Bridgestone/Firestone next year will not enjoy a development programme anything like it and will also have the added challenge of working with a brand-new car also in need of development. It will be a tough job.