By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
March 6, 2011: After spending 100 years on the tires of some of the world's fastest drivers, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations said that it has "mutually agreed" with IndyCar to allow its Firestone brand sponsorship and supply contract to expire at the end of the 2011 season.
The decision would affect Firestone's official tire status with the sanctioning body's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights, Indianapolis 500 and related marketing. Firestone's lead advertising agency is The Richards Group, Dallas.
IndyCar executives did not indicate what company might replace Firestone except to say that doing so was a top priority. Potential companies include Goodyear (which is the official tire of Nascar), Michelin, Pirelli, Hoosier and Avon, according to industry analysts.
“It’s unfortunate to lose a great partner and ambassador for the sport like Firestone,” Randy Bernard, CEO for IndyCar, said in a statement. “We are actively engaged in discussions with other tire manufacturers on opportunities to get involved in our sport as we prepare to debut our new car in 2012."
The Firestone brand's connection to the circuit began with the Indianapolis 500 Race in 1911. The Firestone brand's current open-wheel era began in 1991 with title sponsorship of the Indy Lights series.
Nashville-based Bridgestone said the decision is "in line with the company's goal of ensuring the long-term growth of its business and its brands," including Firestone.
"During our long history in racing we have met or exceeded all of our motorsports goals," Al Speyer, executive director for Firestone Racing, said in a statement. "So now it's time to set new goals — for ourselves and our brands."
Speyer stressed that the Firestone brand has been and would continue to be an important part of the global company's business. "Companies that strive to achieve the highest levels of brand loyalty and recognition must continue to find ever more effective ways to communicate their brand messages," said Speyer. "This is part of our process to ensure that we are doing the best we can to support and further strengthen our brands. We're very excited about our future prospects to grow the Firestone brand."
Despite the tire company's lame duck situation this season, Speyer stated that Firestone Racing is "committed to maintaining the highest standards of performance and support through the 2011 season for drivers, teams and fans. He also said that company would continue to develop activation to commemorate this May the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.
Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500 running on Firestone tires. Including the 2011 event, Firestone tires will have equipped 62 of 95 Indy 500 winners, per the company. After leaving open-wheel racing in 1974, Firestone returned in 1991 with the title sponsorship of Indy Lights. Firestone Racing returned to Indy 500 competition in 1995, and the Firestone brand was on the winning car of the first IndyCar-sanctioned race in 1996.
"This is part of our process to ensure that we are doing the best we can to support and further strengthen our brands."
According to Bernard, "As the fastest, most versatile racing series in the world, IndyCar provides an ideal platform for companies looking to showcase both performance and brand on the track. In fact, Firestone credits its association with our sport in doubling the sales of its street tires in the U.S. during our first five years of partnership.”
"I would like to express our deep appreciation for the support we have received from IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the participants in the sport and our passionate fans," said Spyer. "We want to commend IndyCar on the recent positive momentum with new engine manufacturers and other corporate partners coming on board and wish the series continuing success."