Twenty-six NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars will roll through Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday for the GMR Grand Prix, with 35 entries scheduled to begin practice next week for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The teams won’t be the only ones prepared.
Firestone and its staff are working through a unique month, having prepared Firestone Firehawks for two high-speed oval-track races at Texas Motor Speedway – held on May 1-2 – to kick-start what is always a hectic two-race Month of May at IMS.
More than 1,300 tires went to Forth Worth for the recent Texas doubleheader, and another 5,000 tires are being delivered to IMS to be mounted and balanced for 10 days of on-track action that begins Friday with practice and qualifying for the GMR Grand Prix.
Using tire lingo, that’s a staggering number of Firestone Firehawks for INDYCAR’s exclusive tire supplier and its support team at Indianapolis-based Performance Tire Service Company. Yet, Firestone Racing’s reputation has been built on consistency and reliability, which bodes well for all of the May activity building up to and culminating with “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
This is Firestone’s 22nd consecutive year supplying all of INDYCAR’s racing tires. About 70 people work on the company’s racing activities at its Akron, Ohio, campus, and they are supported by a staff of 40 at Performance Tire Service Company. The combination of the two companies, plus officials from Bridgestone Americas’ headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, will have about 30 people at IMS throughout May.
INDYCAR condensed the early part of its 2021 schedule due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating three race weekends in succession before coming to Indy. Advanced notice and the later mid-April start benefited suppliers like Firestone, but the logistics to execute the plan remain vast.
“This certainly has been quite challenging because in (recent years) we’ve had our big oval races after the Month of May,” said Firestone’s Cara Adams, Director, Race Tire Engineering and Manufacturing. “Texas always takes a lot of prep work, but this year we had not just one Texas race but two Texas races, and normally we’re (starting the season) with road courses and street circuits and then we ease into Indy.
“So, it’s definitely an unusual season for us.”
That’s not to say tire preparation for road courses and street circuits is easy, but oval events present unique tire construction challenges. For one, the force – or loads -- applied to right-side tires is significantly higher on ovals, and then there is the issue of staggering tire circumference to assist with high-speed cornering. Measuring those tires is a particularly important aspect of oval-track preparation.
As it has for more than a decade, Firestone provides two tire compounds for INDYCAR road races, the primary “black” tire and the softer alternate “red” tire. Each GMR Grand Prix team will receive six sets of blacks, four sets of reds, with rookies receiving an additional set of blacks, and five sets of rain tires.
Only one Firestone compound is utilized for INDYCAR oval races, and with a few exceptions each “500” entry will receive 34 sets for the month, part of the 28,000 racing tires Firestone will manufacture for the 2021 season. In both Indy races this month, Adams said Firestone will utilize the same compounds as last year, which simplified the manufacturing process.
Even though this season’s early races have come fast and furiously, Adams said Firestone actually faced a more significant challenge last year when INDYCAR implemented the cockpit-protecting Aeroscreen, which added and redistributed a large amount of weight to the cars. Studying the effect of increased downforce on the right front tires is one of the things that holds Adams’ attention when cars are at speed.
Adams wears a heart monitor during events and while she is an avid runner and competes in triathlons, the responsibility she feels to the competitors is immense.
“It’s really interesting to track my stress level,” she said. “From the green flag of a race like Texas or Indy to the checkered flag, my heart rate is usually in the 90 to 100 beats per minute range -- even when I’m sitting down!”
Hundreds of hours of testing and simulation in various conditions, plus Firestone’s experience of producing quality racing tires year after year since returning to INDYCAR in 1995, gives Adams the confidence that this will be another outstanding “500” for Firestone, which has won the race a record 71 times, more than double the total of all other tire manufacturers combined.
“We do so much testing and research that it keeps my heart rate under control,” Adams said. “There are some last-minute details to finish up, as always, but we know we’re ready.”
The 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is Sunday, May 30. NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network will have the coverage.