IRL: Indy500: Firestone preview

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 6, 2001) -- The beginning was fortuitous. A group of men and machines gathered in what then wasn't much more than an elaborate pasture on the outskirts of a quiet Midwestern city for what was a previously unheard-of...

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 6, 2001) -- The beginning was fortuitous. A group of men and machines gathered in what then wasn't much more than an elaborate pasture on the outskirts of a quiet Midwestern city for what was a previously unheard-of "500-Mile Race Sweepstakes."

The idea was to utilize the monstrous oval track as a proving ground for the cars and equipment of the automobile industry beginning to mushroom at the time. That premise still holds true, 90 years later, as men, women and machines come together annually to decide technical superiority. And, just as it was in 1911, Firestone remains the tire of winners at the Indianapolis 500.

In that inaugural test of determination, technology and sheer luck, Ray Harroun drove his Marmon Wasp to victory on Firestone tires. As practice for the 85th running of the May classic gets started today, Firestone is guaranteed to be in the winner's circle yet again because it supplies tires to every entry for the 2001 race.

When the checkered flag waves May 27, Firestone will celebrate its 52nd triumph at Indianapolis.That's a total more than all other tire manufacturers combined in the illustrious history of the race, not to mention a shining example of Firestone's dedication to the sport and to constantly developing winning new technologies.

"Firestone is extremely proud of the role it has played at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the prominent role our people and tires continue to play today in the 21st century," said Al Speyer, Motorsports Director at Bridgestone/Firestone. "In many ways, the history of the Firestone brand parallels that of the speedway. Many of our greatest racing successes have come on these storied grounds. Many more technological achievements that benefit the tires driven on the roads of this country have been developed and perfected here as well.

"It's an ongoing process," Speyer added. "The winning race tires we'll provide the teams this month likely contain some technological advancements that will make the tires you and I use on our personal vehicles tomorrow even better."

Firestone benefits again this year from supplying tires to every Indy 500 competitor. The Indy Racing Northern Light Series is open to competition from any tire manufacturer, but none have answered the bell to take on Firestone Racing's ultra-successful program the past two seasons.

The reason is simple. The Firestone Firehawk racing radials possess the consistency, durability and control that today's Indy-car drivers demand. It's a formula difficult to achieve and, thus far for would-be competitors, impossible to duplicate.

"It's become an overlooked given to many that the Firestone tires continue to deliver the same consistently fast performance, lap after lap, set after set," Speyer said. "Yet it's a fact we take great pride in and a fact appreciated by all the teams and drivers we supply."

With no competition and a captive market of every Indy Racing League team, it might be easy for some suppliers to become complacent. No chance of that occurring in the Firestone Racing program, however.

"The tires the teams used at Indianapolis in 2000 performed quite satisfactorily, and we easily could have returned with the same compound/construction specifications to satisfy the teams," Speyer explained. "But there is a driving desire throughout Bridgestone/Firestone to constantly improve our products, and that desire is especially prevalent in our race tire engineering group. They have therefore developed an even better compound/construction combination for this May.

"The 2001 Firehawks for Indianapolis feature a new left-side compound with more grip, something drivers always seem to crave," Speyer added. "The right-side tires remain the same style from a year ago. As usual, Firestone will offer two stagger sizes to help teams adapt their set-ups to driver preferences."

Speyer and the Firestone engineers are quite confident in the abilities of the new Indianapolis tires.The spec has already been tried and tested, both at Indy's rookie orientation program in mid-April and in the most recent IRNLS event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, so most every competitor this month has previous experience on the tires.

No matter who prevails in the May 27 spectacle, his or her name is certain to be etched into the brilliant annals of both Firestone and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They are histories inevitably intertwined.

"Firestone and the Indianapolis 500 have been almost synonymous over the years," Speyer added. "We look forward to that close, winning relationship continuing for decades to come.

-FR

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Series IndyCar