CHAMPCAR/CART: Firestone Laguna Seca preview

Firestone Set to Claim 100th CART Win at Laguna Seca MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 12, 2001) - Six years ago, five drivers were buckled in their racecars, awaiting the "Gentlemen, start your engines" command to begin the Grand Prix of Miami. It was the...

Firestone Set to Claim 100th CART Win at Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 12, 2001) - Six years ago, five drivers were buckled in their racecars, awaiting the "Gentlemen, start your engines" command to begin the Grand Prix of Miami. It was the first event of the 1995 CART season, and the sunny March day was perfect for the competition at Bicentennial Park.

In the field of 27 drivers on the starting grid, these five men stood out from the rest. None had won a CART championship; none had been predicted to win the PPG Cup that year. But they were as talked-about a group as any team that ever set tire on a racetrack.

They were the first drivers to compete on Firestone tires in an Indy car competition in more than 20 years. Scott Pruett, Andre Ribeiro, Eric Bachelart, Alessandro Zampredi and Hiro Matsushita were about to send a signal that the Firestone brand - a legend in motorsports history - was out to recapture its once undisputed dominance in racing.

For one hour and fifty-nine minutes, the five Firestone-equipped drivers dodged, weaved and raced with their Goodyear-shod counterparts. When the checkered flag waved, Pruett missed giving the Firestone program its first modern-era podium appearance by .001 second. While there were no silver trophies to take home that day, the men and women involved with the successful return celebrated into the wee hours. With good reason: They had proved Firestone racing tires were going to be a threat in CART competition.

At Michigan International Speedway, in the 13th event of the '95 season, Parker Johnstone gave the Firestone Racing program its first modern-era pole (July 29). The following day, Scott Pruett edged past Al Unser Jr. on the race's final lap to produce the first modern-era Firestone win - the first of 100 to be earned in just 127 events when the checkered flag waves this weekend at Laguna Seca.

That win and that race started an amazing comeback and strongly emphasized the company's advertising theme that year: "The Legend Returns." Besides earning the pole at Michigan, Johnstone had set the contest's fastest race lap (231.659 mph - lap 84) while Firestone drivers led 178 of the 250 laps. And from that point through today, Firestone drivers would win every 500-mile CART race.

The return began May 14, 1993, in a tent just outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A small group of Bridgestone/Firestone executives met with a group of reporters to announce the plan to return to the top forms of competition. They described some technical aspects of the tires, where they would be produced and early team members involved with shaping the program.

At the time none imagined how quickly the Firestone program would dominate the top forms of open-wheel racing. None had any idea that toward the end of the 2001 season, drivers on Firestone tires would have won 100 races.

A few months after the announcement at Indianapolis, Bridgestone/Firestone Motorsports Director Al Speyer outlined the plan to use Pat Patrick Racing and driver Scott Pruett in a full year of testing. The Patrick/Pruett plan was announced at Laguna Seca Raceway, a site that would in upcoming years give the Firestone program an excellent showcase to demonstrate the capabilities of the Firehawk racing radials.

After more than 12,000 miles of testing on a variety of ovals and road courses in 1994, the Firestone CART program went into competition in 1995. Its small stable of five drivers collected two wins and earned the attention of the rest of the field. The Indianapolis 500 race, still a part of the CART schedule in 1995, saw Firestone put 13 cars in the starting line-up, and two - Scott Goodyear and Scott Pruett - were running in first and second in the closing laps until an accident and a passing violation removed them from contention. Even though Firestone had barely missed the win, the strong running at Indy was unquestionably impressive.

That inaugural season also allowed the Firestone engineers to gather real-world racing data, setting the stage for upcoming domination of the series. And it followed quickly.

In 1996 CART competition, Firestone-equipped drivers won 10 of 16 races, earned 12 poles, led 1,077 of 2,005 laps, swept the podium three times and won the season championship -- Jimmy Vasser.

In 1997 CART competition, Firestone-equipped drivers won 13 of 17 races, earned 11 poles, led 1,321 of 2,259 laps, swept the podium three times and won the season championship -- Alex Zanardi.

In 1998 CART competition, Firestone-equipped drivers won 18 of 19 races, earned 18 poles, led 1,837 of 2,549 laps, swept the podium nine times and won the season championship --Zanardi.

In 1999 CART competition, Firestone-equipped drivers won 19 of 20 races, earned 18 poles, led 2,669 of 2,769 race laps, swept the winner's podium 16 times, and won the season championship -- Juan Montoya.

The 2000 and 2001 CART competition saw only Firestone-equipped cars on the series' courses. After earning only two wins in two years, Goodyear pulled the plug on its participation in CART. The announcement, made in late fall 1999, created a tremendous challenge for the Firestone program - then faced with the formidable task of supplying tires to every team in CART (and the Indy Racing League). Team members rose to that challenge, and have performed admirably to meet the needs and expectations of the racing community.

The modern-era success story is a continuation of previous accomplishments started more than nine decades ago. Between June 12, 1909 and Oct. 12, 2001, the motorsports history books record a total 1,279 major open-wheel racing events as being completed. Those events include races sanctioned by the AAA, USAC, CART and IRL.

Drivers on Firestone tires have won at least 621 of these competitions, or 49 percent. The number of Firestone wins is the highest of any of the 21 identified tire brands known to have competed in the sport over the last nine decades.

The Firestone Racing program enjoyed several win streaks. Drivers on Firestone tires won every contest between Feb. 27, 1921 and Sept. 15, 1936 - a string of 152 consecutive victories. Drivers on Firestone tires also owned victory circle between Sept. 12, 1937 and Aug. 17, 1963 - a string of 225 consecutive wins.

The Firestone Racing program has won 100 percent of a season's races 39 times, including a streak of 21 consecutive perfect seasons, 1938-1941 and 1946-1962 (with no races 1942-1945 due to WWII).

The Firestone Racing program began 2001 with a total of 55 major open-wheel driver's championships under its belt - the most of any tire manufacturer. The program had also won five consecutive CART driver's championships.

-Firestone-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Goodyear , Jimmy Vasser , Alex Zanardi , Scott Pruett , Andre Ribeiro