Continental has expressed interest in taking over as the official tire supplier for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
According to multiple sources who’ve spoken with RACER, the long-time endurance racing supplier, whose spec tires outfit the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, has asked about replacing Firestone once its IMSA contract is completed at the end of 2018.
“We’re looking at a bunch of different opportunities, but don’t have anything we can discuss at this time,” Continental Tire marketing director Travis Roffler told RACER.
IndyCar, which has relied solely on Firestone for its tires since Goodyear withdrew from the series at the end of 1999, signed an exclusive, multi-year extension with the brand at the beginning of 2017, and is known to be pleased with the relationship.
This marks the second known contact with Continental and IndyCar. Under the leadership of former CEO Randy Bernard, reports of a lucrative deal being developed with Continental surfaced in 2012. Based on the swift backlash from team owners and drivers who did not want to lose Firestone, Bernard’s private negotiations with Continental were later portrayed as one of the factors that led to his firing.
The most interesting angle to the inquiry is related to Andretti Autosport, which also competes in the Continental-shod Global Rallycross series.
As part of the inquiry process, it’s understood an IndyCar tire development partnership has been discussed with Andretti’s Honda-powered open-wheel outfit, akin to the private testing contract between Firestone and Patrick Racing in the early 1990s that saw the team lead an intensive program for Firestone as it prepared to re-enter Indy car competition in 1995.
At the time, the Patrick team was not competing in IndyCar, but used the testing relationship with Firestone to relaunch its open-wheel operation as a full-time CART entrant with Firestone.
With its four-car IndyCar team in place, Andretti Autosport COO Rob Edwards says it would be a challenge to race with one brand while developing tires for another in the background.
“It would be very difficult to have the relationship with Firestone and racing with their tires [and working with a second manufacturer] because they have a long-term contract locked up with the series,” he said. “Firestone have obviously done a good job and it’s pretty hard to be sharing knowledge with them or vice versa.”
If a change in IndyCar tire suppliers were to take place at some point with Continental, the defending Indy 500 winners would be among the leading candidates to spearhead the testing efforts. On the immediate horizon, Continental will introduce a new tire for the upcoming Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which follows an unflattering Rolex 24 at Daytona where numerous tire issues plagued IMSA’s Prototype class throughout its season opener.
Once Continental’s time in the WeatherTech Championship concludes in October, French tire manufacturer Michelin will become IMSA’s primary tire supplier.