AKRON—The Goodyear era in Indy-car racing, which started 36 years ago, ended Halloween weekend after the company decided it will not supply tires to the Championship Auto Racing Teams and Indy Racing League circuits in 2000. The Akron tire maker is leaving both circuits because it no longer can justify the rising capital investments it devotes to CART and IRL, said Stu Grant, Goodyear general manager for global race tires.
The company also cited the ongoing split between the two racing organizations as a reason for its exit.
Goodyear's decision leaves Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. as the sole tire supplier to the series, which together encompass 30 races a season and upwards of 60 cars.
``Like many suppliers, we are certainly disappointed that no reconciliation between the two groups is in sight and, therefore, believe it is in the best interests of our shareholders, customers and the racing division to take a sabbatical from the CART and IRL series,'' Mr. Grant said.
The company plans to meet with each CART and IRL team with which it holds long-term contracts and negotiate a ``mutually acceptable termination'' of those agreements, he said.
Goodyear declined to say how much it will save by withdrawing from open-wheel racing, but it plans to use the savings to step up its research and development efforts for the popular NASCAR series, Mr. Grant said.
When Goodyear announced its withdrawal from Formula 1 competition before the 1998 season, it established a reserve of $63.4 million to cover costs associated with that exit. Through the first six months of 1999, Goodyear incurred $43.2 million in actual costs, according to recent financial filings by the company.
NASCAR, which Goodyear will supply exclusively until 2002, is a more ``manageable expense,'' compared with CART and IRL, he said, adding that the company will continue to advance its tire technology through and pour additional resources into NASCAR.
However, Mr. Grant admitted walking away from the Indianapolis 500 is a tremendous letdown for a company that has prided itself on its race-tire prowess. ``But at the end of the day, it isn't the emotion that drives the business.''
Although the racing circuits bring exposure for the Goodyear name, he also acknowledged the company's losses to BFS in CART have been frustrating.
Drivers of Firestone-shod CART cars won 19 of 20 races in 1999—and 60 of 72 over the past four seasons—to claim four straight CART championships.
Goodyear's customer list in CART was down to five cars out of 27 this season.
BFS expressed both disappointment and jubilation over Goodyear's announcement.
``While we certainly didn't want Goodyear to leave, we can understand their dilemma,'' said BFS Motorsports Director Al Speyer. ``For most of the last five years, they've been playing catch-up with our racing technology....We know it was frustrating for them to give it their best and still lose races.''
He went on to question Goodyear's claim to being ``No. 1 in racing,'' now that it has left all racing circuits in which it faced competition.
Goodyear left Formula 1 racing in Europe after the 1998 season, a circuit in which Bridgestone Corp., parent to BFS, also competed. At the time, Goodyear cited Formula 1 rule changes that would have escalated its production costs.
In addition to NASCAR, Goodyear presently supplies race tires to venues such as the World of Outlaws sprint cars, NHRA and IHRA drag racing, the IROC invitational, SCCA, USRRC, and ALMS sports car road racing, as well as other forms of auto racing.
The company affirmed the importance of those events for the transfer of its racing technology to its high-performance passenger tires.
``We have historically used racing to drive technology and transfer it to other tire lines, particularly our high-performance auto tires,'' Mr. Grant said.
``We still need to do that even without CART and IRL now.''
In terms of exposure, NASCAR Winston Cup events drew an average of 190,490 fans per race in 1998, vs. 133,157 for CART and 117,423 for IRL. Due to NASCAR's more crowded race schedule, however, the total figure was 6.3 million spectators for NASCAR to 2.5 million for CART and 1.3 million for IRL (with close to 500,000 of IRL's attendance at one race, the Indy 500).
Goodyear also isn't ruling out returning to CART, IRL or Formula 1 in the future, Mr. Grant said. If CART and IRL reconcile, Goodyear would consider a re-entry, but that scenario doesn't guarantee the tire maker will make a comeback.
The company also is discussing the possibility of developing a Dunlop tire for racing, but Mr. Grant would only say ``that is something we have not resolved.''
The withdrawal also will cause the elimination of some race-tire manufacturing jobs in Akron. Eighteen engineering associates will transfer to other positions within Goodyear's Akron Technical Center.
But the company will continue to make tires for NASCAR in the Akron facility, Mr. Grant said.