March 14, 2011: In what has become a 180-degree business turn, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations and IndyCar said they have signed a new deal enabling Firestone to continue to serve as the exclusive tire supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series through the 2013 race season.
The deal comes about a week after the companies said that the Firestone sponsorship and supply contract would expire at the end of the 2011 season. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The new agreement does not include Firestone Indy Lights, the developmental series for drivers and teams striving to reach the top level of open-wheel racing in North America. Firestone will remain as title sponsor and tire supplier of the development series through 2011.
Firestone has supplied tires to the IZOD IndyCar Series since 1996 and has been associated with the signature Indianapolis 500 race since 1911.
"[On March 4], we had reached the deadline where both organizations had to make a decision regarding the future to prepare our individual operations for the long term," Randy Bernard, CEO, IndyCar, said in a statement. "This is one of those decisions that it is imperative that you have the team owners 100%behind you. Early [last] week we called a meeting to walk the team owners through the process and hear their input. I'm happy to say we walk as one with Firestone."
At the time the ending of the deal was revealed, Nashville-based Bridgestone said the decision was "in line with the company's goal of ensuring the long-term growth of its business and its brands," including Firestone.
Bernard said that IndyCar was "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." Potential companies included Goodyear (which is the official tire of Nascar), Michelin, Pirelli, Hoosier and Avon, according to industry analysts.
Now, according to Bernard, "We feel that this new supply agreement will benefit everyone. It provides a proven safe and reliable Firestone product for the transition to the all-new cars for 2012. We have to thank everyone at Firestone for working with us to help ensure the best for the long-term growth of our sport."
The deal comes shortly after a report from IEG, a Chicago-based marketing and research firm, said that companies would spend about $3.5 billion in 2011 to sponsor race teams, tracks and sanctioning bodies, up 4.2% from 2010.
According to Al Speyer, executive director for Firestone Racing, "We are pleased that we were able to reach this agreement with IndyCar. As we prepare to celebrate our involvement in the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, we are also focused on the future and the great opportunities that lie ahead. While we've reached the pinnacle of success in the IndyCar racing, we're happy to extend our relationship with the IZOD IndyCar Series through 2013, and to continue our winning partnership."
Speyer stressed that the company would continue evaluate all options for promoting the Firestone brand "inside and outside of motorsports, as the Firestone Brand is a very important part of our business."
Dennis Reinbold, team owner for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, said that IndyCar had called a meeting to inform the team owners of Firestone's departure. "When we learned of this, we encouraged IndyCar to check with Firestone to see if there might be any chance to continue. We feel that it is important to maintain continuity with their excellent tires as we transition to the new car for 2012.
"We have to thank everyone at Firestone for working with us to help ensure the best for the long-term growth of our sport."
According to Reinbold, "The team owners are collectively very relieved that Firestone had an open mind and that they were able to reach this agreement with IndyCar. Firestone racing tires are not only important from a safety and reliability standpoint, but they contribute greatly to the wheel-to-wheel competition for which our sport is famous."
Firestone is also the official tire of Major League Baseball via a multi-year deal signed in 2009. Sibling Bridgestone is the official tire of both the NFL and the NHL.