The eve of the 99th running of the Indy 500, and there are statisticians everywhere performing last-minute scans of the record books. How many winners came from pole position (it’s been 20 so far); which has been the luckiest car number (#3 has entered Victory Lane 11 times); which has been the most successful engine manufacturer (Offenhauser, of course – 27 wins)?
But by the end of the race, there is one participant that will have a record no one can match. In fact, it already does, but by Sunday afternoon it will be a neatly memorable soundbite: Firestone will have won precisely two-thirds of the Indy 500s – 66 of the 99. From Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp taking the honors at the inaugural “500” in 1911, to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s breathtaking defeat of Helio Castroneves last year, Firestone has dominated this race.
“I’ll be happy if Firestone is IndyCar’s sole supplier for as long as I’m racing,” said reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power earlier this year. “I’m very much from the background of, ‘don’t change a product that’s proven,’ and that’s what Firestone has given us. This is such a specialized field of racing, and at the speeds we’re doing at Indy, you don’t even want to have to think about tires except from the grip point of view. No other company has that recent experience of what we do and how the tires behave. Firestone’s evolved its tires with the cars.”
And it was always that way. Perhaps the most remarkable winning run that Firestone enjoyed was between 1920 and ’66. When you consider the car evolution over that period, from front-engined ‘voiturettes’ through the ultimate roadsters to the revolutionary rear-engined cars that turned Indy 500 culture upside down and back to front, Firestone was having to keep pace with some extraordinary changes…
…And driving techniques. On their qualifying runs in the early ’60s, Jim Hurtubise and then Parnelli Jones became masters of the art of carrying so much corner entry speed flexing the sidewall of the right-rear tires exiting Turns 2 and 4, using the rebound action to spurt the car that little bit harder at the start of the long straights. Just imagine the strain that put on the tires… but did it work? Heck yes. “Herk” was was fastest qualifier in 1960 and Parnelli took pole in ’62 with the first 150mph qualifying run.
Since Juan Pablo Montoya (center) drove his Chip Ganassi Racing entry to glory in 2000, Firestone has supplied the rubber for every Indy 500 winner. Firestone is of course more than “just” the tire supplier. It is also a major contributor to Verizon IndyCar Series as a whole, and this year is title sponsor for both the St. Petersburg and the Texas Motor Speedway races. But it’s at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the Firehawk has earned its wings. Who will join defending “500” champion on the hallowed Borg-Warner Trophy? We’ll find out in a few hours.
But one winner we can guarantee is Firestone.