Their eyes always fixated on the future, neither the NTT IndyCar Series nor Bridgestone Americas, Inc., saw the need to wait on extending a proud and productive legacy of relying upon Firestone tires in racing.
That’s why they announced on Feb. 6 a five-year partnership extension through 2025 for Firestone being the exclusive and official tire of the series – two years before the end of the previous agreement. That’s also why the provider is upping its game with the construction of a new Bridgestone Advanced Tire Production Center (ATPC) in Akron, Ohio.
“We always talk about at Firestone that racing is in our DNA,” said Lisa Boggs, Bridgestone Americas director of motorsports. “You hear a lot of people talk about that, but in our case, it truly dates back to Harvey Firestone in the early 1900s, and you’ve got Firestone tires on your first Indy 500 winner.
“So, for Firestone as a brand, it means a tremendous amount. It’s how everything started. It’s how we showed what the tires are capable of doing. It showed how to market them. It goes back to Harvey Firestone. Much of what he did and why he did it still stands today. We call it the ultimate proof point.”
Harvey Firestone founded the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron in 1900. He knew early on that he had to show to potential customers that they could rely on their Firestone tires to stand up to the rigors of the patchwork of public roads that back then were mostly dirt, mud and treacherous.
What better way to test the demands of the tire than in automobile racing. Starting with Ray Harroun in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, 69 Indy 500 winners have used Firestones. This year marks the 20th consecutive season with Firestone as the sole tire provider to the NTT IndyCar Series, with more than 26,000 Firehawk race tires developed for use this season.
INDYCAR President Jay Frye and Boggs both spoke of INDYCAR’s gaining momentum as a reason to extend the deal now. Other recent announcements included NTT as the series’ title sponsor and NBC Sports Group becoming the exclusive home of the series in the United States. It was imperative that Firestone tires continue to be a part of that.
“Why wait?” Frye said. “There’s a shared DNA. They come to the track, they do their business, they take care of everything they do. Just think, when they’re talking about 26,000 tires, that’s a huge undertaking. They do it seamlessly. The teams have great confidence in them. We have great confidence in them. We collaborate on everything. It’s a true partnership.
“At the end of the day, you have to have tires to race. We’re very fortunate to have the very best tires.”
The challenge of producing tires that can handle the diverse racing on the NTT IndyCar Series’ high-speed and short ovals as well as road and street courses means never standing pat. That need to continually evolve and improve led to the decision to build the new ATPC, about a mile from Bridgestone Americas’ current facility.
“When you look at that ability to really develop technology, and you think about dependability, durability and tire performance, this (INDYCAR racing) is the perfect place for us to be,” Boggs said. “Additionally for Firestone, it’s a great way to tell our story. We engage with fans and we engage with customers.
“Our commitment both to our brand and to be able to make plans as we move forward, particularly looking at the manufacturing commitment, we just wanted to say, ‘Let’s do this.’ This series has a lot of momentum. Let’s get the plans underway. That process will take some time. We wanted to make sure we had it.”
The new center, she added, is another reminder of her company’s commitment to racing. More than 60 unique race tire specifications are produced annually for the series, and all race tire manufacturing will move to the new facility in the next four years. The plan is to begin testing Firestone Firehawks from the new facility by the end of 2020.
“We strongly believe in INDYCAR and what it does for the brand,” Boggs said. “There’s really almost nothing more that shows that and demonstrates our commitment, our pride, the honor we feel in doing this, the importance we feel for the Akron community, the tire builders, the engineers and all the people involved, to say we want to continue to go racing. And to do that the way that we know we want it to be done and needs to be done, we want to commit in a new manufacturing facility.”
Solidifying the tire manufacturer now, Boggs added, helps INDYCAR as it projects to its next generation of chassis and engines. Firestone remains the constant.
“From INDYCAR’s standpoint, it’s really helpful and important for them to know that they’ve got a consistent in this variable,” Boggs said. “Once you know that, they can make a lot of decisions around the cars, aero, engines, and not have to worry about this, and we can partner with them in that process.
“For us, it made sense in every way. It’s just something where we felt strongly enough, that we wanted to go out now and say, ‘We’re good to go.’”
Firestone is also serving as title sponsor at two NTT IndyCar Series events this season, the opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10 and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey to close the schedule on Sept. 22.