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uploaded 4/24/99

updated 5/3/99

Is Goodyear Done?

Back toLong Beach start page

Everyone has always assumed that the competition between Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. is an even battle that might swing one way or the other but would never yield a clear winner. Maybe we were wrong. It looks to me like Firestone has won.

Gil De Ferran, the only Goodyear driver in a competitive car, was in the hunt at Long Beach but only just. He qualified seventh and finished sixth. But how can Goodyear develop tires with one driver?

The difference between the two tires seems to boil down to this: Goodyear tires have more grip the first few laps and then performance deteriorates. The tires loose a few tenths of a second after one to three laps and then a half second more at 10 to 20 laps. What's worse is the balance can change also, but the team has some control of this with their setup.

The Firestone tires are initially slower than the Goodyears by a tenth of a second or two, but they do not "go off" as badly. You hear drivers/engineers say, "They're more consistent." If the grip doesn't deteriorate the balance can't change much either.

Off the record people from both companies say, "It's always been that way. Goodyears are grippier but go off. Firestones are more consistent." It seems neither company knows exactly why.

They can steal each other's tires and dissect them, so why doesn't Goodyear just make a tire the same as a Firestone? [Added 5/3/99: The Firestone guys told me at Nazareth that they have a policy of never looking at Goodyear tires.] It's not that simple. A chemical analysis of a rubber compound will tell you what's there and how much but cannot reveal the temperature, pressure, processing history the material experienced during manufacturing. Goodyear would certainly fix the problem if they knew how.

Added 11/7/99:
The sentence in bold type above is the key. Somehow Firestone is able to make a tire with more grip and the tensile strength to transmit the higher forces that result. Their tires retain that grip even after 50 to 70 laps. Good year tires kept getting softer but the rubber would shear off and roll up into gooey gobs that littered the track and degraded traction off the racing line. After a couple of laps the tires "go off" a half second and continue todeteriorate until they are seconds a lap slower. The Goodyear NASCAR tires continue to behave like this.

At Long Beach a Firestone guy told me it's been their policy for years to avoid even touching a Goodyear tire.

During Long Beach week I heard huge amounts of Goodyear radio promotions for the NASCAR event at Fontana the following week but nothing on the CART race. Goodyear used to buy advertising during CART TV programs, but not anymore. Goodyear simply can't justify spending millions on development while losing.

I think Goodyear management decided to cut back on racing several years ago. Leo Mehl, now Executive Director of the Indy Racing League, got tired of fighting for enough budget and quit his job as Worldwide Director of Racing for Goodyear. They get great PR for their involvement in NASCAR racing and they will stay in the IRL as long as they win some races. Scott Goodyear won on Goodyear tires recently at the IRL event at Phoenix. Money not spent on racing goes right to the bottom line and becomes profit as long as sales don't suffer.

They were getting beat badly in Formula 1 and were making no headway so they quit. I think the same thing will happen in CART this year.

Too bad, the competition added a lot of flavor to the race weekends. The teams won't mind, though. They will have an easier job dialing in the cars if they see fewer changes in the tires. Firestone will bring more conservative tires to races ending problems they've had that led to failures like the one that caused Greg Moore to spin late in the Motegi race.


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