Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

DEHARDE: Firestone Announcement Shows Strength of INDYCAR

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

Firestone’s extension as exclusive tire supplier to the NTT IndyCar Series through the 2025 season shows the strength of IndyCar racing with the most important part of the car settled for the next few seasons.

The only component of a racing car designed to purposefully make contact with the racing surface are the tires. That’s why they are so critical to a race car’s performance. But don’t take this author’s word for it, Mario Andretti’s opinion would be the more important one.

“There’s no element of a race car that’s more important than the tires. I think you can fix the aerodynamics, you can fix the suspension technology, so on and so forth, but you cannot afford to have issues with the tires.”

Andretti was known for years as a Firestone driver competing against Goodyear-shod drivers such as A.J. Foyt. With tire wars being a thing of the past, Firestone has had sole ownership of open wheel racing in America since 2000.

The announcement shows the strength of the Firestone-INDYCAR partnership. No other partner has committed for as long as Firestone has and it’s clear from driver reactions that there is universal praise.

“I’ve been very lucky that my whole INDYCAR career, and Indy Lights career for that matter, have been on Firestones,” said Carpenter. “It’s not anything that I’ve ever really had to think about. Like Mario said, there’s been a couple moments in time where there was a blip on the radar of someone else getting involved, but I’ve always been thankful.

“I was thankful on the last extension and even more thankful this extension, with it being as long as it is, that we don’t have to worry about it.”

Other drivers have had similar praise.

One of the biggest takeaways is how little negativity is levied toward Firestone. While in other championships some drivers have blamed the tire supplier for supplying what might be a less than ideal product, Firestone has made a product very well matched to the cars.

This is in comparison to when Continental was the primary tire supplier of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship before the DPi prototype concept went live in 2017. Continental supplied the same tires for the Daytona Prototypes that came from Grand Am and the LMP2 cars that were brought in from the American Le Mans Series as a result of the 2013 American sports car series merger to create the new Prototype class.

With two different design philosophies for those cars, the LMP2 cars struggled on tires they weren’t designed to run on, winning six of a possible 30 races. In the open-tire GTLM class, the Michelin tires supplied were amazing in the wet, so much so that a Porsche 911 RSR actually scored the overall win at the 2015 Petit Le Mans despite starting every restart behind every prototype entry.

Having a partner commit themselves to such a long term agreement also solidifies a decent-sized portion of an IndyCar team’s operating budget. They’ll know about how much a tire bill would be for a year since there won’t be new competition in that technical arena.

Between Acura announcing their Long Beach sponsorship, NBC announcing their NBC Gold package for 2019, Firestone announcing their sponsorship of the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and their supplier contract extension, REV Group announcing their sponsorship of the Race at Road America and NTT announcing their title sponsorship of the series, there’s a ton of momentum building heading into the last bit of preseason testing before St. Petersburg.

Now if only we could speed things up by a few weeks.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.