It’s no secret that the tire on a race car is one of the most important components. It is the only part of the vehicle that touches the track (or road if it’s a street course). Of course it’s not only the material the tire is made of, and the strength of the tire; but it’s also the inflation of the tire. You need to remember this year’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying where Alexander Rossi suffered from a broken tire valve (and then deflated tire) that found him qualifying on the last row. Side bar – it did not matter where Rossi qualified for the 500 and actually his last-row qualification made for an exciting race.
So what makes a good tire? It hinges upon the track and the race. A race like the Indianapolis 500 demands a tire that can withstand higher inflation pressure, high temperatures (remember 2018!), and the high speeds of the race. Contrasted with the 500 are races on street courses where the demand is for tires with higher grip on the more sweeping tracks of street courses. Each speedway, road course, or street course uses a different composition of tire that dictates how the tire wears during the race. Even amongst the tracks there are three different types of tires used by Firestone (the current sole provider of tires for the Verizon INDYCAR Season): the primary black, reds, and rain. We actually spent quite some time discussing tires last year.
Due to the importance of the tires everything is guarded like Fort Knox. You google “what makes a good INDYCAR tire” and find the results are not anything that is helpful. It’s because shit went down years ago! Sure we all know Firestone is the sole provider of tires for the INDYCAR series and Cara Adams is the greatest woman alive (I say that about everyone woman with a role in INDYCAR, but it is true for Cara). This was not always the case. Back in the 60s there were multiple tire providers fighting over being that sole provider of tires, especially when it involved the Indianapolis 500. Firestone may be the overall winner of tires for the 500, but in 1919 it was Goodyear and in 1961 it was Dunlop.
Then leading up to the 1965 Indianapolis 500 (yep going back to Black Noon because it’s such an amazing book full of so many tidbits) there was infighting amongst drivers and tire manufactures. During practice leading up to the 1963 Indianapolis 500 drivers showed up with two different types of tires. Those driving the Lotus had 15 inch Firestone which were lower and wider then the prior years’ tires. Driver Thompson showed up with tires that were 12 inches, even lower then the Lotus tires. Turns out Firestone couldn’t provide all drivers with the newer tires.
Enter A.J. Foyt. Foyt, who had done some business with NASCAR, called up Goodyear and got a delivery with tires that were lower and wider then the Firestone tires. Unfortunately as they were NASCAR tires, they were made of a heavier compound and did not handle with the open-wheel cars and they were abandoned. However Foyt’s introduction of Goodyear tires lit the fire under Firestone and they suddenly had fifteen-inch tires for everyone with a heavier compound.
After the 1964 Indianapolis 500, some corporate espionage went down between Firestone and Goodyear. Both companies made private tests and held their secrets very tightly, except A.J. Foyt played Mata Hari and gave Goodyear some details on Firestone tires.
So how important are tires? Corporate espionage important. We haven’t had such espionage in a while, but if I were a competing tire band I would think very carefully about my moves. Cara Adams is a certified badass, and I do not trust the Firehawk.
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