AKRON-Both IndyCar tire manufacturers, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear, aren't too concerned about the recent fracturing of the racing circuit. BFS and Goodyear said they'll still be involved in the racing despite the fact IndyCar appears to be splintering into two groups.
Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has announced plans for the Indy Racing League, which will be run exclusively on ovals.
IndyCar, the older of the two organizations, has taken exception to that-and the fact that Mr. George will use the IRL to determine 25 of the 33 spots in the Indianapolis 500.
The result will be two races May 26-the Indianapolis 500 and the U.S. 500 in Brooklyn, Mich. The majority of the most popular drivers will race in the U.S. 500.
The argument won't change the tire companies' plans, however.
``It's one more complicated factor in the equation,'' said Leo Mehl, Goodyear's director of racing. ``I would anticipate quite a bit of confusion this season because of this situation, but we're steadfastly refusing to get into the issues involving the two sides. Tires are our business, and we'll stick with that.''
``All it means is we've got to go to a few more races,'' said Al Speyer, BFS motor sports manager. ``We would much rather not have conflicts on the same days, but I would stress that we'll be at any race there is.''
Bridgestone/Firestone got into the IndyCar business last year with its Firestone brand tires, made in Akron and Tokyo. Goodyear uses its Eagle-brand tire.
Because the new IRL is trying to reduce down-force by nearly 30 percent, those tires will have to be modified slightly, Mr. Speyer said.
That might add a bit more competition-and incentive-for the companies, both spokesmen said.
``The internal competition between engineers is a key asset in our program,'' Mr. Speyer said. ``Neither one of us could have achieved as much alone.
``Tire engineers are really competitive,'' he said. ``A divided series is not as strong as a united one, but it will bring out the competitive spirit among the two tire companies.''
The sanctioning body of each race in 1996 isn't a major concern to the companies. The bottom line is the number of fans watching-because that's where the companies' customers come from.
``The competition we've enjoyed has yielded better tires for everyone,'' Mr. Speyer said. ``Everyone can relate to tires. Everyone thinks about buying tires at some point in their lives and the more consumers we can reach through racing, the better.''
BFS expects to have several more cars riding on Firestones than the five it had last year.
``We'll still have the majority,'' Mr. Mehl said. ``But they've made great strides adding teams.''
``All five that ran our tires last year are back with us,'' Mr. Speyer said. ``Our goal is to run 10 cars in every IndyCar race this year and at least five in every IRL race.
``The bottom line is that the split will give each tire company the opportunity for more victories,'' he added. ``If there are two races on one day, we have a chance to win two races in one day.''