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Goodyear aims for exclusive tyre deal

The Indy Racing League has received a proposal from Goodyear requesting that the tyre manufacturer become the exclusive tyre supplier of the IRL

Rival Firestone has been supplying tyres to the IRL since Goodyear dropped out of the sport in 1999. Goodyear has a similar arrangement with NASCAR Winston Cup.

Should the IRL grant Goodyear exclusive rights to supply tyres in the series, it would seem to be turning its back on Firestone, which stepped up production to meet demand after Goodyear left both CART and the IRL.

Stu Grant, Goodyear's general manager of Global Race Tyres, spent several days with Tony George last week trying to sell the IMS president and IRL chief executive officer on his plan. Sources indicate Firestone has also made a proposal to the IRL where it would remain the sole tyre supplier.

"Yes, it was a NASCAR-type proposal because that's what makes the most sense from a business standpoint," Grant said. "We're not interested in a competition situation because of the uncontained research and development costs plus the inability to plan marketing and advertising activities.

"We're able to control our costs in NASCAR with a monopoly situation and that's what we would like to do at Indy."

According to an ESPN report, Grant said he initiated talks with George this summer and received encouragement.

"I started discussions with Tony in late June and he expressed some interest so last Monday I gave him our proposal," Grant said. "He said he'd look at it, think about it and get back to us.

"Our desire would be to supply tyres for the IRL support series next year and then be full bore with Indy tyres in 2003. By IRL rules, we would have had to announce our intentions of returning by April 1 and, obviously, that didn't happen.

"We couldn't compete in Indy cars in 2002 unless Firestone threw up its hands and quit. NASCAR is about value and exposure and it's been great for us. And the Indianapolis 500 is still a very important race with a lot of value."

Scott Sharp and Robbie Buhl each turned laps of 221 mph during a Firestone tyre test September 5 at Michigan International Speedway, the first laps turned by an Indy Racing League car on the 2-mile oval.

The Indy Racing Northern Light Series will compete at MIS for the first time on July 28, 2002.

Sharp, the 1996 Indy Racing co-champion, was the first driver on the MIS oval and needed just four laps to produce a 220-mph speed in his Dallara-Oldsmobile. Both Sharp and Buhl, driving a G Force-Infiniti, consistently turned laps in the 218- to 220-mph range.

"The Indy Racing League has been really strong at meshing speed and raceability in their cars," Sharp said. "We've gone to other places where other series can't do very well as far as putting on a good show, and we're two- and three-abreast and putting on the best show around.

"Here, obviously, the speeds are going to be pretty high. It will be probably the second-fastest track to Indianapolis. So with that, even though you're going to be up above 220 in average lap speeds, you still want to have a car that can run two-, three- maybe four-abreast at times."

Indy Racing League Vice President of Operations Brian Barnhart and Technical Director Phil Casey worked with Sharp and Buhl on different aerodynamic packages, including a superspeedway set-up with a 4-degree rear wing and a 1-inch wicker.

"Firestone had some work it wanted to do here, so we used the day as a compatibility day for the series to decide what kind of wing package to use," Barnhart said. "Right now, Scott and Robbie have been very comfortable with 4 degrees in the rear wing with a 1-inch wicker bill.

"Everyone involved in the series, from the mechanics to the officials, are looking forward to racing here in 2002. It will be a great place for Indy Racing."

Buhl, who grew up in the Detroit suburbs, agrees.

"I still have a lot of family in the Detroit area, but more than that, you have to look at Michigan International Speedway as a track with history and tradition," Buhl said. "This is one of the tracks you want to be at. When you think back as a kid and watching Indy cars when you're growing up, this is one of the tracks where you remember what happens.

"So, I think it's exciting for the IRL to be here. It's a great facility to have on the Indy Racing League schedule."

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