A major crisis loomed today for IndyCar, as tyre provider Firestone confirmed that it is to end its involvement in US open-wheel racing at the end of this season.
Fears that the American subsidiary of Japanese tyre manufacturer Bridgestone was about to walk out of US motorsports competition were originally reported in CRASH at the start of the year
and were confirmed today. The move has been rumoured ever since parent company Bridgestone itself decided to pull out of F1 at the end of last season after 14 years, leaving Pirelli as the sole Grand Prix tyre provider from this season onwards.
Now IndyCar and Indy Lights face the same battle to find a suitable replacement tyre partner within 12 months, after Firestone confirmed that they were not going to renew the contracts with either series when they lapse at the end of the year.
Firestone has been sole tyre provider to IndyCar since 2000, when Goodyear quit the series after conceding a five-year on-track battle between the two companies, and Firestone's 21-year safety record in IndyCar, CART and Champ Car has been astonishing: "We've never had an accident based on tire failure,” said Al Speyer, the executive director of motorsports for Bridgestone/Firestone. "We've had some punctures, but no failures, and you can't do better than zero."
It's been well known that IndyCar organisers have been negotiating hard over the last two months to try and broker a deal to persuade Firestone to stay in the series until at least the end of 2012, to allow a new tyre supplier to be appointed and also to see in IndyCar's new-formula chassis, engine and rules package next season - but today's announcement confirms what everyone feared, and that a deal has proven impossible to reach.
"We evaluated all sorts of options, some worked for us and didn't for [IndyCar organisers] and vice versa, but we just couldn't find a sweet spot," Speyer told Speed.com
. "At the end of the day we're simply going in different directions.
"During our long history in racing we have met or exceeded all of our motorsports goals," he continued. "So now it's time to set new goals — for ourselves and our brands." However, neither Bridgestone nor Firestone would comment on possible future ventures or whether this was the end for the manufacturer in North American motorsports for the time being at least. Firestone previously took a 21-year hiatus from US open-wheel racing before returning to competition in 1995.
Speyer confirmed that Firestone was still committed to the series for 2011 and would still maintain the quality and durability of their product for their final season in open wheel: "I want to assure our drivers, teams and fans that Firestone Racing is committed to maintaining the highest standards of performance and support through the 2011 season."
The season will also mark the last chance that Firestone have to add to their tally of 61 Indianapolis 500 wins, and clearly want to claim victory in the 100th anniversary of the event as their final, crowning achievement in the sport.