Firestone comes back; double-file restarts on for all venues this season
In what can be considered the ending of a very strange week in the IZOD IndyCar Series, the INDYCAR sanctioning body and Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations announced today that Firestone would stay in open-wheel racing after all.
Firestone will remain the series' tire supplier through the 2013 campaign, ensuring that they will provide a critical piece of continuity in next year's transition to the new Dallara chassis. Last week, INDYCAR and BATO announced that Firestone would leave after the end of this season.
But earlier this week, the team owners came together and voted to keep Firestone, money be damned. For them and series CEO Randy Bernard, keeping Firestone in the fold was all about retaining a safe product for the all-important 2012 campaign.
"This is one of those decisions that it is imperative that you have the team owners 100 percent behind you," said Bernard in a league statement. "Early this 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."
"When we learned of this, we encouraged INDYCAR to check with Firestone to see if there might be any chance to continue," said Dreyer and Reinbold Racing's Dennis Reinbold in the same statement. "We feel that it is important to maintain continuity with their excellent tires as we transition to the new car for 2012. 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."
According to multiple reports, the price tag of Firestone tires are sure to increase for IndyCar teams as part of this new two-year deal (SPEED Channel's Robin Miller is saying that the price will likely double). In addition, the deal does not cover the Firestone Indy Lights developmental series outside of supplying tires and sponsorship for this season.
But for the most part, it's a huge save for INDYCAR. With this deal, they now have time to improve enough to give Firestone a better return on their investment so that they'll stay past 2013. If that idea won't fly (and hopefully, they'll get an answer to this sooner rather than later), they've got enough time to conduct a proper search for a new supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series.
As for the Lights series, I've heard rumblings of Hoosier Tire possibly going there in 2012 but I wouldn't be surprised to see Cooper get the nod there as well considering their work in other open-wheel feeder series.
It's an understatement to say that this would have been a major headache for INDYCAR if Firestone walked away. Instead, the series will have peace of mind on this matter -- or as much peace of mind as you can get with this series.
"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," said Firestone Racing's Al Speyer in a company statement. "While we've reached the pinnacle of success in IndyCar racing, we're happy to extend our relationship with the IZOD IndyCar Series through 2013, and to continue our winning partnership."
In other IZOD IndyCar Series news, the previously ovals-only rule of double-file restarts will now be expanded to road and street courses this season. According to a league release, INDYCAR is also still mulling over the implementation of the much-maligned "lucky dog" rule.
Lead-lap cars will pit first during a caution period once pit road opens, with all remaining cars coming in on the next lap. Those lapped cars will be placed behind the lead-lap cars and once the cars are grouped together again and a leader has been determined, the cars between the Pace Car and the leader will be waved around to the rear of the field -- allowing drivers that did not pit to gain one lap back.
After all of that, the race leader will get the choice of restarting in the left or right lane, with the second-place car on the opposite lane.
Throughout this week, fans have been voicing their thoughts on the new restart rules through polls at IndyCar.com and contacting league management directly. INDYCAR president of competition Brian Barnhart welcomes their continuing opinions.
"After seeking input following our initial restart announcement, we felt it was best to be consistent with the [double-file] rule and use it at every track," Barnhart said in a league release. "Whether on short ovals, superspeedways, temporary circuits or road courses, side-by-side restarts will certainly be entertaining and further intensify our on-track action.
"We are still contemplating adding a 'free pass' element, often referred to as 'Lucky Dog' by TV commentators, to the restart procedure but we want to hear from the fans."