(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an updated version of a story run last week prior to Firestone's 11th-hour renewal of their contract with the IZOD IndyCar Series.)
Last week, Bridgestone Americas announced that they would pull out out of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights Series at the end of 2011. The departure would have left a gaping hole, not only in the role of exclusive tire provider for the series but also in the promotion thereof.
A last-gasp effort in the form of a plea from INDYCAR team owners brought Firestone back to the table and, on Friday, March 11, the company announced that they would stay in the IZOD IndyCar Series until 2013. But while the IndyCar teams breathed a collective sigh of relief, the Firestone Indy Lights Series still faces a future without the Firehawk, as the new deal does not include the development series.
So while the owners in the "big series" are wiping the sweat from their brows, the sweat is only beginning to run for the lower-level series which will undoubtedly have to deal with a new brand of rubber on their cars for 2012 and beyond. The negotiations between Randy Bernard and new tire manufacturers, therefore, are assumed to be ongoing.
Also key to remember is that Firestone may still depart INDYCAR after the 2013 season, so the fruits of Bernard's talks may end up charting the course for 2014 and beyond for the IZOD series as well.
Here are the four companies that Randy Bernard has been courting to be the heir apparent to Firestone:
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
Founded in 1898 in Akron, Ohio, it's hard to find a bigger name in American automobile tire manufacturing. The "Goodyear" name came from the guy who invented vulcanized rubber 60 years before the company was founded. Goodyear is best known to the US today for two things: its exclusive tire deal with NASCAR, and its everpresent blimp fleet.
Pros: Domestic. Most successful tire supplier in F1 history. Has built IndyCar tires before. Massive corporate marketing resources and campaigns. One of Forbes Magazine's most respected American companies. Has own blimp fleet.
Cons: 19th-largest corporate producer of air pollution in the US. Exclusive deal with NASCAR gives them leverage and INDYCAR would have to offer incentive for their participation.
Subsidiary Alternate Brands: Dunlop, Kelly Springfield
Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin (Michelin)
The largest tire manufacturer on Earth, Michelin predates Goodyear by ten years. The Michelin brothers built their company in Clermont-Ferrand, France, after one of them got sick of gluing pneumatic tires to their bicycle rims and decided to try his own design. In racing, their products are famous for Le Mans-style endurance racing, F1, and MotoGP.
Pros: One of the most innovative tire companies on the planet. Well-known domestically for their travel maps as well as their tire products. Sponsors green initiatives such as Active Wheel and sustainable mobility.
Cons: French. The 2005 United States Grand Prix debacle. Notoriously difficult working relationships with sanctions.
Subsidiary Alternate Brands: BF Goodrich, Uniroyal
Cooper Tire & Rubber Company
Another domestic brand based in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is already involved in INDYCAR via the Mazda Road to Indy's USF2000 National Championship. Smaller than both Goodyear and Michelin, Cooper is still big enough to have 60 facilities located around the world. Robin Miller reports that Randy Bernard has talked with Cooper about its Avon Tyres brand, which is based in Melksham, Wiltshire, UK.
Pros: Domestic. Second-largest US tire company after Goodyear. Existing relationship with INDYCAR through Mazda Road to Indy. Proven open-wheel-level dry and wet racing tire technology via its relationship with USF2000, A1 Grand Prix, and Champ Car Formula Atlantic. Well-known outside of open-wheel circles for involvement in Formula D and other drifting sanctions.
Cons: Proposed marketing of Avon Tyre instead of Cooper shifts focus to an overseas brand.
Subsidiary Alternate Brands: Avon
Hoosier Racing Tire
In the late 1950s, Robert "Bob" Newton was trying to build his own racing career. He and his fellow racers were getting sick of using street tires on their race cars, and so in 1957 Newton started retreading street tires with softer compounds in an abandoned horse barn in South Bend, Indiana, and a racing tire business was born. After a relationship with Mohawk Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, fell apart in 1979 when Mohawk went out of business, Newton opened his own plant in Plymouth, Indiana. In the years since, Hoosier Racing Tire has become the largest racing tire manufacturer in the world and has developed one of the best reputations in the industry, despite still being a relative small fry in the tire-manufacturing business.
Pros: One of the most respected racing tire companies in existence. Products are widely regarded by racers as the most reliable in the business. Located in Indiana, the heart of INDYCAR country, which dovetails with local initiatives inspired by 2012 INDYCAR spec change. "Hoosier" name has great symbolism and synergy with INDYCAR brand. Could be most reliable and safest option "out of the box" for 2012.
Cons: Marketing footprint severely restricted by small company size, lack of consumer-level product. Competitor costs could therefore be higher than with larger companies. Pejorative misinterpretations of 1994 NASCAR tire war could still linger. Company website dates to 2003.
Subsidiary Alternate Brands: None