IRL: Firestone 2002 preview

Firestone Racing Ready For Challenges of 2002 IRL Competition ONTARIO, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2002) - With a record 15 events - including three new venues for the series and a trio of contests on superspeedways - the 2002 Indy Racing League season is...

Firestone Racing Ready For Challenges of 2002 IRL Competition

ONTARIO, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2002) - With a record 15 events - including three new venues for the series and a trio of contests on superspeedways - the 2002 Indy Racing League season is going to demand much from the Firestone Racing program.

From the cool temperatures of early March through the blazing heat of July and on into September, the Firestone team will supply tires to every car in every event. The Firestone program also has the challenge of having the right compounds and constructions at each venue, ensuring the Firehawk racing radials perform reliably and consistently lap after lap. According to Al Speyer, Executive Director of Bridgestone/Firestone Motorsports, nothing is taken for granted when so much is at stake in every competition.

"With updated chassis/engine packages this year, the dynamics of the cars evolve, requiring fine-tuning in our tires," Speyer said. "Even at those tracks where we have raced before, we have to evaluate differences in the cars between this year and last, and then provide tires that will give drivers the durability and performance characteristics they need on race day. When you combine that with the logistics of having the right tires in the right places for 15 events plus additional practice and testing sessions, you have a major challenge. It's a task we embrace because it allows us to show the strength of our tires and our people."

The Firestone Firehawks take on a grueling regimen every race weekend. To start with, at race speeds the downforce created by the IRL cars' wings and chassis can quadruple the weight the tires must carry. As cars speed up to and past 200 mph, the centrifugal force of the components, combined with lateral forces in the curves, requires enormous strength in the sidewalls. And on some courses, the track temperature and friction generated where rubber meets the road can cause tread to become hotter than the temperature of boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

"The Firehawks have to be thin enough to allow heat build-up to dissipate, but thick enough to shoulder the enormous stress placed on them during practice, qualifying and race sessions," Speyer said. "It's a balancing act, really, with the Firestone race tire development engineers and chemists constantly looking at new technologies, new materials and new methods of construction. We're proud of our performance record in the Indy Racing League, providing tires that have allowed the series to offer such impressive racing since its inception in 1996."

In the course of those six seasons, Firestone tires have competed in every IRL event, continuing a legacy of performance that started in 1909 when company founder Harvey Firestone saw the value of motorsports and went auto racing for the first time. More than nine decades later, in the 2001 IRL competition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Firestone Racing program earned its 52nd Indy 500 victory - a record of wins unmatched by all other tire companies competing at the Brickyard combined.

The Indianapolis 500 is one of three IRL events this year on superspeedway tracks ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 miles. The shortest track encountered by Firestone-equipped IRL drivers in 2002 is Richmond, measuring approximately three-quarters of a mile. Track banking varies from none (straightaway at Indy) to 24 degrees (curves at Texas Motor Speedway). Ambient temperatures are expected to range from the low 50s to over 100 degrees, while track temperatures may range from the 50-degree mark to over the 120-degree mark. Track surfaces include a variety of types of asphalt and concrete.

"We look at all these variables when we make a determination about the best compound and construction Firehawk tire to bring to an event," Speyer said. "While we can't control the weather, we are involved with how a team may set up its car for a race weekend. Our engineers work closely with teams on tire management issues, monitoring pressure levels and tread temperatures during practice, qualifying and race sessions. For safety reasons, there are minimum and maximum hot inflation levels for the tires, and the IRL can penalize a team should it fail to be within recommended guidelines."

For races 200 miles or less, each car is provided seven sets of Firestone Firehawks; for longer competitions the IRL determines how many sets of tires a car may receive. The tires are approved and given an external code by IRL officials at the track. Each tire also caries a computer barcode assigned to it by Firestone Racing, so engineers can track its performance. The tires are carefully mounted and balanced by Performance Tire Service Company, with each team supplying its own wheels. Since the tires are leased, not purchased by the teams, they are returned to Firestone at the end of every competition.

In all competitions, each car must start the race on the tires used in qualifying. After that run - usually the length determined by how long a tank of fuel lasts - a team may switch to any of its other sets of tires. Many teams will "scrub" in all sets - that is, put a few laps on each set in practice to give each a heat cycle. Others, however, prefer to have one or more sets of "sticker" tires in their pit, tires that have not been used in practice or qualifying, which may have a slightly stronger grip for a brief distance.

"From the first IRL competition in 1996, we've worked very hard to give drivers tires that are very consistent from set to set and from start to finish on every run," Speyer said. "That's an invaluable asset in setting up a car and in making critical wing adjustments during racing conditions. For the 2002 season, we expect IRL drivers will again see our trademark consistency and durability as important factors in their success. We'll also continue work on reducing marbles, which has allowed many IRL events to feature two- and three-abreast racing for most of the competition."

Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC is a subsidiary of Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holding, Inc., whose parent company, Bridgestone Corporation, is the world's largest tire and rubber company. BFNT develops, manufactures and markets Bridgestone, Firestone, Dayton and associate and private brand tires. The company is focused on wholesale and original equipment markets, supplying passenger, light truck, commercial vehicle, off-road, agriculture and other tires to its customers in North America.

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Series IndyCar