IRL, Champ Car agree to merger
By Bruce Davis
NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) will continue to support the newly unified IndyCar Series open-wheel racing both as a race tire supplier and promotional partner, but the parties still haven't decided whether the revamped series will use Firestone- or Bridgestone-brand tires, or perhaps both.
``We are looking for a unified American open-wheel racing series to maximize fan interest, as well as bring in additional teams, drivers and sponsors-all of which will contribute to the health and growth of that series,'' said Al Speyer, executive director, Bridgestone Firestone Motorsports, in a prepared statement. ``We are eager to work with everyone involved in the transition and look forward to an even more promising future.''
The Indy Racing League (IRL) and Champ Car World Series, the pre-eminent open-wheel racing series in North America, agreed Feb. 22 to unify the two series into one after running competing series for a dozen years. Champ Car since has filed for bankruptcy.
The IRL will use Firestone tires for its first three races, and Champ Car will use Bridgestone tires for its one and only race this year, the April 20 Long Beach Grand Prix.
BFS has supplied tires to both the IRL and Champ Car series since 1996. It has been the sole tire supplier to both since 2000 and has added marketing leverage as a strong promotional partner with each organization, the company said. From 1996 through 2001, BFS supplied both series with Firestone-brand tires before the more internationally active Champ Car started using Bridgestone-brand tires in 2002.
Moving forward, BFS said no decision has been made which brand-Bridgestone, Firestone or a combination-will be used in the unified series this season, which will feature at least 19 races, starting with a March 29 event at St. Petersburg, Fla.
The brand choice will be determined after a careful evaluation of options by BFS officials, the company said.
First and foremost, though, is resolving how most effectively to continue garnering positive exposure for its tire brands, BFS said.
The company makes all the IRL and Champ Car race tires at its technical center in Akron. It's not clear yet what impact the merger might have on the manufacturing operation, other than to say demand will be cut because of fewer races.
The IRL intends to carry out three of Champ Car's 14 scheduled races under the unified banner and has offered Champ Car's teams free IRL chassis and reasonable terms for engine leases. At presstime five Champ Car teams representing eight cars have committed to running the IndyCar series. Prior to the unification agreement, there were 10 Champ Car teams with 16 cars lined up for 2008 season.
BFS' involvement in the two series includes Bridgestone as the official tire of Champ Car and Firestone as the official tire of the IndyCar Series, the Indy Pro Series and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
General brand inks sponsorships
CHARLOTTE, N.C.-Continental Tire North America (CTNA) Inc. is banking on several new off-road motorsports deals to generate exposure for its General brand.
General was the title sponsor of the General Tire Mint 400 Race-a rebirth of a classic desert competition that ran through the Nevada desert March 29-and the General Grabber competition tire will be the official tire of the KMC Wheels Trophylite Championship Series.
The Mint race started in 1969 as the Del Webb Mint 400 Desert Rally and ran 400 miles between the Mint Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Sahara Tahoe. It ended in 1988 when the Mint Hotel was sold.
``Coincidentally, 1988 was also the last year General Tire competed in off-road until today,'' said Travis Roffler, director of marketing for CTNA. ``With this sponsorship, General Tire has come full circle.''
The KMC Wheels Trophylite Championship Series will feature five races in desert and short course settings, starting May 16-18 with the Best in the Desert Blue Water Gran Prix.
``We are very pleased to team with Matt Scaroni (Trophylite founder and CEO) and Trophylite,'' Mr. Roffler said. ``This is an all-new class of vehicles and racing series for the off-road community, and we're excited to be a part of its beginning.''
In addition to the series sponsorships, Conti's new General Grabber competition tires will be the spec tire for the Ivan ``Ironman'' Stewart ProTruck Racing Organization's 2008 off-road season, debuting at the Baja 500 May 30-June 1 in Mexico.
The Grabber features a three-ply steel-cord- and fiber-reinforced body and a newly developed tread compound for competition. CTNA said it is designed in size 37/12.50R17 for classes 1, 7S, 7 unlimited, 8 and trophy truck.
In addition, the General brand will sponsor the Scott Steinberger/PCI Racing No. 7 Trophy Truck, Kent Kroeker's KORE Racing Stock Full class race truck and Eric Place's Team 71 trophy truck for their respective 2008 off-road seasons. All three will compete on the Grabber competition tire.
Mr. Kroeker, a former Marine Corps pilot, has competed in multiple off-road events, earning five wins in SCORE racing. Mr. Steinberger is a five-time Baja 1000 winner, and also won the Baja 2000, SCORE's longest race ever.
Discount Tire back at NASCAR
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.-Discount Tire Co. (DTC) will be visible at NASCAR racing venues again this year, returning as team sponsor in the Nationwide Series for the fourth straight year and adding associate sponsorship on three Sprint Cup cars as well.
Discount Tire returns this year as the primary sponsor of David Ragan in the Nationwide Series and as associate sponsor on the Sprint Cup cars of Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Mr. Ragan, who races in both series. Fenway Roush Racing fields the cars, Ford Fusions, in both series.
Mr. Ragan earned Rookie of the Year honors last year in NASCAR's primary support series driving the No. 6 Discount Tire Ford Fusion.
In addition, DTC continues to support two drivers, Hiro Sumida and Kazunari Hayashida, in the Formula Drift series, which this year has eight events scheduled.
Hoosier takes over SCCA series
PLYMOUTH, Ind.-Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. has taken over as the supplier of race tires to and presenting sponsor of the Sports Car Club of America's (SCCA) F2000 Championship Series for the next three seasons.
Hoosier takes over the role of tire supplier from Hankook Tire America Corp., which was the series' provider for the 2006-2007 seasons. Hankook continues, however, to supply and sponsor for a third straight year the Pacific F2000 Championship, a separate West Coast series for the same type cars.
Both F2000 Championships are based on single-seat, mid-engine, open-wheel vehicles powered by fuel-injected 2-liter Ford engines developing approximately 150 hp and running on 13-inch diameter tires.
The 14-race SCCA F2000 season opens April 20 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va., and finishes Sept. 21 at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J. Each weekend comprises two races of approximately 50 miles each.
Five of the weekend events will be held as support races for other racing series, including two with the National Auto Sport Association and one each with the American Le Mans Series, Formula Drift and Historic Sportscar Racing.