So what do you do all winter?
I believe that, for nearly everyone, the new year is a time of resolutions, contemplation and reflection on what happened during the previous year and the opportunities afforded by the year to come.
This is certainly true for us at Firestone Racing. As I sit in my office at the Bridgestone Americas Technical Center in Akron, Ohio, staring outside at this winter day, I find myself daydreaming of being outside in the warm weather at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and the realization hits that Indy cars will be back in action in a month. That realization is both exciting and a little nerve-racking because so much work has been done and still needs to be done before we drop the green flag on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Throughout my 20-year career in open-wheel racing, I commonly get asked what our Race Tire Development group does all winter. After all, there are no race events to contend with and team testing has been limited over the last few years in the offseason. I like to say that, whether it’s Team Penske, KVSH Racing, INDYCAR or Firestone Racing, no one in the Verizon IndyCar Series really has an “offseason.” We like to call it “preseason” and our preseason is filled with conversations, meetings and analysis, all to ensure that the Firestone Firehawk race tires are the best they can be when they hit the track in 2016.
By far, the biggest topic of conversation around the office this winter has been about the upcoming 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. This will be an amazing event for Firestone, as we are one of a handful of companies that were involved in the first Indianapolis 500, we’ve won more Indy 500s than all other tire manufacturers combined and we will be there for the 100th running – it’s pretty incredible stuff, if you ask me.
From a race tire perspective, we conducted a test to develop the 2016 Indy 500 tire back in August. After a thorough period of analyzing data, talking to teams and extracting as much information from that test as possible, we decided on a specification for Indianapolis.
Keeping in line with the overall theme of celebrating the 100th running, Firestone Racing’s Race Tire Development team had a role in developing a special enhancement for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 tires, which I believe fans will really enjoy. We’ll share more about those enhancements in the coming weeks. Without giving too much away, we are excited to celebrate Firestone’s rich history at the Indy 500 and we’re going to display that excitement in a way that only Firestone, with our 100-year history at Indianapolis, can.
Another key preseason meeting took place a few days after the 2016 schedule was announced. This year, we hosted representatives from INDYCAR at our office. We met to discuss tire performance from 2015 and the tire changes planned for 2016. One of the great aspects of this meeting was that INDYCAR and Firestone jointly decided tire quantities for the events, to ensure teams have the right number of sets for every test and race event throughout 2016.
Our last focus area this preseason involves the analysis of a significant amount of tire data from last year’s races and tests. We collect a huge volume of data over the season, including basic items like tire temperatures, inflation pressures and lap times from almost every car on every outing all season long. This data is used to assess not only the past performance of the tires, but to also identify specific focus areas for future development.
We also have the ability to request specific vehicle data from teams when we need to investigate tire performance on a more fundamental level. All of this data needs to be analyzed and turned into information, to guide our tire development activities for the next race season.
While it sounds like all of us at Firestone Racing are very busy during the preseason, we also make time for our families and for vacation as well. So whether it was a ski trip, visiting the grandkids or just relaxing at home with family, every member of Firestone Racing had a chance to recharge and get ready for the season ahead.
On behalf of everyone involved in the Firestone Racing program, I would like to say that we are engaged, excited and we look forward to putting the Firehawks to the test all season long in 2016.