NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 31, 2008) — 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.