UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX AT INDIANAPOLIS NOTEBOOK Michelin to supply F1 tires in 2001; Toyota accelerating return

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 1999 -- Michelin will compete in Formula One beginning with the 2001 season, as it will supply tires to the Williams-BMW and Toyota teams.

"This decision is part of our worldwide strategy," said Edouard Michelin, chief executive of the Michelin Group. "Racing, and F1 in particular, present a very strong potential in terms of communicating our technological leadership. Our entry in F1 will help us reinforce our position in Europe, and gain recognition and improve our presence in Asia and South America. It will increase our racing presence in North America."

The Formula One World Championship 2001 schedule will include two North American races: the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis and the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal.

Bridgestone, parent company of Firestone, which supplies tires to the Indy Racing League and the CART series, entered F1 in 1997 and was the sole supplier to the F1 series in 1999 after Goodyear withdrew at the end of the 1998 season.

"In response to the announcement by Michelin that they will participate in the F1 competition from 2001, we welcome the challenge," said Bridgestone president Yoichiro Kaizaki.

Michelin has a solid heritage as a winner in racing. Competing in F1 from 1978 through 1984, Michelin won three Drivers World Championships, two Constructors Championships and 59 Grands Prix. Included in the latter are nine United States Grand Prix victories.

Michelin has been successful in other series, as well. Its resume includes eight victories in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, 14 World Rally Drivers Championships, 19 500cc Grand Prix Motorcycle Championships and eight World Superbike Championships.

Despite its past success, Michelin considers F1 the start of a new adventure.

"This sport has evolved considerably in the past 16 years," Edouard Michelin said. "That is why we say we are entering, not re-entering. Automotive technology has changed, and tires have changed, too. It's going to be a challenge."

Michelin F1 Facts: 1978-1984 Victories: 59. Poles: 57 World Driving Championships: (Jody Scheckter, 1979; Nelson Piquet, 1983; Niki Lauda, 1984) World Constructors Championships: (Ferrari, 1979; McLaren, 1984)

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Toyota speeds up F1 return: Toyota, which had announced that it will enter the Formula One World Championship in 2003, could be competing in F1 and the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis as early as 2001.

A statement released by Toyota said that the company is withdrawing its factory teams from the World Rally Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours to concentrate on F1 and CART.

The statement said Toyota plans to "accelerate their research and development to participate at least in 2002, instead of 2003 as they announced at the beginning of this year."

Akihiko Saito, Toyota's executive managing director of technology and motorsport, said, "As for the possibility on participating in 2001, we would take it if we find the possibility during our R&D preparations."

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Benetton sets debut date: One of the F1 cars fans will see compete at the Brickyard on Sept. 24, 2000, will be unveiled Jan. 17. The Mild Seven Benetton Playlife B200 will make its official debut at the Catalunya National Museum of Art in Barcelona.

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Irvine pleasantly surprised: Eddie Irvine has tried out the Stewart-Ford for the first time. He joined the team, to be renamed Jaguar in 2000, after four seasons at Ferrari.

"I thought we were going to start from a far lower base than Ferrari in every department," Irvine said after driving the car at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain on Dec. 14, "and today I was actually pleasantly surprised. Although the team has been around for only three years, they are certainly ahead in some areas.

"I can see now why Johnny (Herbert) and Rubens (Barrichello) got the results that they did this year. The main thing is to start making improvements for next year ahead of the new car, and we have a really good platform to work from.

"It was also great to be back in a British team, particularly with the information flow because I'm known for using a lot of slang."

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Irvine's expertise welcomed: Jackie Stewart, chairman and chief executive officer of Stewart Racing/Jaguar, said new driver Eddie Irvine will be an asset to the team.

"Eddie has already shown in the short time he has spent with the car, through the feedback he has provided for his engineers, that he will bring a lot of technical know-how and expertise to the team," said Stewart, three-time World Champion and 1966 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. "He is going to be a big asset."

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Villeneuve's first impression: After shaking down the new Honda-powered Lucky Strike British American Racing 02 chassis at Silverstone in England, Jacques Villeneuve and the BAR team headed to Spain's Jerez circuit for four days of testing.

Villeneuve and his teammate Ricardo Zonta completed 628 miles (1010 km) of trouble-free running, which included a simulated Grand Prix distance.

"We've done some good work with lots of laps," said Villeneuve, winner of the 1995 Indianapolis 500. "It felt like a real test should. There have been no problems with the car or engine -- it all seems to work well.

"We haven't worked on any special setups but just concentrated on running a lot and doing some good mileage. We obviously need to have more speed, but that will come very shortly. It's a good first impression and a good sign for the season."

Honda's R&D Managing Director Takefumi Hosaka said: "We have achieved many good things and gathered a great deal of important data. There are a few technical problems that must be solved, but the drivers and team are extremely pleased."

Craig Pollock, managing director at British American Racing, said team morale was up thanks to the increase in the car's reliability.

"Taking into account the shakedown run at Silverstone and this week's Jerez test," Pollock said, "it appears the mechanical reliability we lacked during the 1999 season has improved tremendously. Team morale is notably good as a result, and also because of the great chemistry that is developing with the Honda personnel with whom we are working closely.

"Everyone on the team has been really heartened and impressed by the reaction time of the on-site Honda technical staff any time an issue arises. We are more than aware, however, that even with improved reliability, there is still a long and difficult road to travel before we get to where we want to be.

"Significantly, virtually the whole of the British American Racing team from 1999 has stayed together. After what we have been through, everyone realizes that we face an uphill battle and cannot take anything for granted. I think the positive outcome of these first two tests has provided some good momentum."

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Arrows retains sponsor and driver: Arrows has extended its sponsorship agreement with the Spanish oil company Repsol and re-signed driver Pedro de la Rosa for the 2000 season.

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Jordan's new sponsor: The B&H Jordan-Mugen-Honda team has signed a major new three-year sponsorship deal with German post and transport logistics company Deutsche Post.

"This is most significant commercial step since Benson and Hedges joined us as a title sponsor in 1996," said team owner Eddie Jordan. "For the first time in the company's history, we have our entire technical and commercial program secure before Christmas and mapped out for the foreseeable future." Dr. Klaus Zumwinkel, Deutsche Post's CEO, said, "Deutsche Post is an international company dealing in high speed logistics solutions, and F1 is an ideal platform for us."

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Teams test: A total of 19 different drivers took part in a four-day test at Spain's Jerez circuit. Ferrari, Stewart-Ford, West McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull Sauber Petronas, Lucky Strike BAR-Honda, Williams BMW and Minardi-Ford were all on hand for the test, which ran from Dec. 13-16.

Minardi and Williams took the opportunity to assess young drivers. 1999 Williams driver Alex Zanardi was not present at the team's test. Gauloises Prost-Peugeot and Arrows tested at Barcelona.

-IMS-