(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
Though all indications are that it won’t happen any time soon, Firestone Racing Motorsports Manager Joe Barbieri says that Bridgestone Firestone would welcome competition from other tire manufactures in the IZOD IndyCar Series. However, just like with engines and chassis, competition between tire manufacturers comes at a cost. “We would love to compete against another manufacturer, but when we split the field, the costs go up,” says Barbieri.
When Firestone returned to American open-wheel racing in 1995 following their 1974 departure, their success was quick with Scott Pruett capturing victory at Michigan in only the 13th race back. By the end of 1995, Target Chip Ganassi Racing announced they would be using Firestone tires starting in 1996. TCGR won the CART PPG IndyCar World Series in 1996 and followed up that championship with 3 more championships in consecutive years. By 1999, only three full-time CART teams (Penske, Walker, and Dun Gurney’s All-American Racers) were using Goodyear tires, and a year later, Firestone became the exclusive tire supplier of both the CART FedEx Championship Series and the Indy Racing League (now the IZOD IndyCar Series).
Though many see competing tire manufactures – tire wars – as a safety concern and a competition that should be avoided, Barbieri says that Firestone never had a failure leading to a major safety issue as a result of their competition with Goodyear. During the five years that Goodyear and Firestone competed for open-wheel supremacy, the competition often led to tires that were extremely fast when new, but durability issues meant that their “sweet spot” only lasted 4-5 laps. The current Firestone Firehawk racing slicks are much better – too good some people say. As much as the teams like consistency in their tires, sometimes a little tire degradation goes a long way to helping the racing.
One of the new wrinkles in the IZOD IndyCar Series over the past couple years has been the introduction of alternate tire strategies on the road and street courses. The alternate tires, or “red” tires, are designed to be quicker when new but have less durability, meaning that they should typically get slower the longer they are on the car. Unfortunately, there has been little actual performance variation during the life span of the alternate tires and the strategy has reached its full potential. Lap times at the end of a run are often within a few tenths of a second of when the tires are new.
To truly make the alternative tire strategy effective, significantly more fall-off is required throughout the life of the tire. On the issue, Barbieri says, “Firestone can make any kind of tire the League wants. We can make a tire that is extremely fast and only last 5 laps if that’s what we’re told to do. However, we will not do it until we have the full support and backing of the League and the teams. We do not want to be looked upon has producing a bad product when in fact the product is performing exactly as desired.” His concern is certainly understandable given the high-dollar arena in which Firestone completes and the influence that can be exerted by a frustrated driver or team member.
The other issue Barbieri discussed was the possibility of Firestone making a foray into NASCAR. Barbieri says that as a company that thrives on competition, Bridgestone Firestone would love to be part of the world of NASCAR and that people within the company are taking seriously the possibility. However, the current tire contract in place with Goodyear precludes NASCAR from discussing the possibility with Firestone at this time. To become a supplier, NASCAR would have to issue a Request for Proposals and allow other manufacturers to compete. Barbieri says he hopes that NASCAR will open at least one of their three national touring series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, or Camping World Truck Series) to another tire manufacturer as a way to cover all their bases in case further performance issues with Goodyear arise.
With the history that Firestone has and the support they bring the IZOD IndyCar Series, it is imperative that their future involvement is secured. Even if Firestone may soon venture into the land of NASCAR, they have no desire to withdraw any support from the IndyCar Series so it seems that the Indy Racing League and the IZOD IndyCar Series are in safe hands for years to come.