Editorial

An interview with Bridgestone's Al Speyer

 by Paul Josephson
June 25, 2005

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Al Speyer (left) talking to Tony George

I had an opportunity to interview Al Speyer, Executive Director of Bridgestone Motorsport at the Grand Prix of Cleveland. Mark Robinson, Public Relations Consultant from MR Communications, also joined us.

Q: What was your reaction to last weekend’s events at Indy regarding the F1 race?
Al: “I wish they found a compromise to run a race. It was a poor day for the fans. I don’t know all of the facts about what happened. It was too bad that they couldn’t reach a compromise and run a race.”

Q: Do you know what the problem was with the Michelin tires?
Al: “I don’t know, other than what I heard about the tires being unsafe. I was very surprised that Michelin got into that situation. We’ve all been racing there for 5 or 6 years now, and nothing has really changed. I’m amazed that that could happen. I suppose it could have happened to us sometime, but if anything, I think we’ve been a little bit more conservative and not as aggressive because safety is really important. To have the whole race messed up like that is a pretty major problem.”

Q: Was it just a matter of Michelin just not being prepared with different sets of tires that they brought?
Al: “I have no idea. All I know is that I was surprised that that could happen, but I have no idea about their specifics or what they had there or what they didn’t have there.”

Q: Did you know anything about the kinds of problems Michelin was experiencing?
Al: “No, other than what I read – that the tires were unsafe. Then I read that they could go for 10 laps and if a chicane were installed it would be OK, but I don’t know how you’d know that without testing with a chicane. Obviously, they had a problem, but I don’t know.”

Q: Having a chicane would create more pressure on the tires because of the additional braking. Do you think having a chicane would have made that much of a difference in tire performance if the drivers had to slow for it?
Al: “It all depends about how severe their problems were which I don’t know. Only (Michelin) knows that. What I do know is that there were some reports, at least in Canada and Europe, that Firestone, through our testing for the Indy 500 had somehow made a bunch of changes because of the new track resurfacing and that they had alerted Bridgestone of all of this, and we had an unfair advantage which is totally untrue.

“We actually ran the exact same tires in this year's Indianapolis 500 that we ran last year. We did go to Indianapolis and test before the track surface was really ready, but when they finally got the track surface in ready condition for the entire month of May for the race, we used the exact same spec that we ran last year. If anything, we had better wear, and the track was as severe on our tires this year than what it was last year. So, I don’t think the track had anything to do with it.

“As another point of reference that I’m very familiar with, we also ran and tested with the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and raced with the Menards Infiniti Pro Series on the Firestone Firehawk racing radials. We ran a 100-mile race on the Saturday of the Grand Prix weekend, and we had no tire problems whatsoever. The Infiniti Pro tires were maybe 20% to 30% worn after a hundred miles. They held up great. I don’t have any specific knowledge, but I’m also aware that the Porsche Cup cars raced there that weekend and so did Formula BMW on Michelin tires, and I don’t believe they had any problems. I didn’t hear of any. So anybody who was out there saying that there was some unfair collusion in our system is just totally untrue. When we ran the Indy 500, we told our Japanese guys, they ran the same as they always have been. There was no drama. There was nothing to report. It was just the same.

“I feel a little bit bad for Tony George and his group from the standpoint of people saying that the repaving or re-grooving and all that had something to do with that, but I don’t think so, certainly not in our experience.”

Mark: “We ran 40,000 miles there.”

Al: “You’re there all month and weekends (during May after the track was re-surfaced). Our garage was one of the quietest places there. Nobody came over to say anything was wrong. They would come over and tell us if things are going wrong, but, no one was coming over at all.”

Q: Was that 40,000 miles after the track was surfaced?
Al: “Yes. We ran totally trouble-free. We had some balance issues, vibration, but not on tire durability.”

The interview then shifted to the differences between Champ Car and F1 tires.


Diamond Ground Indy Surface
Paul Josephson

Q: What are the primary differences between your F1 and Champ Car tires?
Al: “The biggest difference is that Champ Car has a 15” bead diameter and an F1 is 13. F1 has some of smallest wheels out there in use in racing today. And then there would be the obvious visual difference performance difference where we have slicks in Champ Car and grooved tires in F1.”

Q: Are there different compounds then used because of the weight difference?
Al: “Yes, because of the weight mainly. Of course, it’s closed a little bit because the F1 tires have to run so far. This year’s regulations require F1 tires to run through all of qualifying and the race, so that means harder compounds in F1 which puts them close to what we have in Champ Car, but they’re still softer than what we have here. Champ Car tires are just a little bit beefier, stiffer, stronger because of the weight of the car and certainly in the case when we run on ovals. Those are the hardest, stiffest tires we would have in our lineup. In a Champ Car race, (the teams) get from 28 and 32 tires – 7 or 8 sets. In F1, (the teams) get 4 sets total for a weekend.”

Q: So you said between 28 and 32. Is that a combination of rain and slick tires? How many rain tires does a Champ Car team get?
Al: “No, that’s just drys. It just varies based on the race and weekend schedule – whether they get 7 or 8 sets of slicks.”

Q: And how many rain tires does a team get?
Al: “We bring 4 new sets to every Champ Car race for each team, and they typically bring 2 additional sets on their own for a Champ Car group which means they would have a total of 6 sets of rain tires for a weekend. In F1 the range is still unlimited – there’s not a maximum. In fact, that’s kind of an interesting sidebar, I guess. If it had rained in Indianapolis, I think they could have all raced, but it was a beautiful day. Going back to that situation, they should have prayed for rain, or seeded the clouds, or put the sprinklers on.”

Q: Did both Michelin and Bridgestone bring rain tires to the Indy F1 race?
Al: “Yes, we had them. Ours were fine. I don’t know how theirs were. I don’t know if they would have had problems or not. I assumed not, just because of the significance of the reduced speeds in the rain compared to the dry.”

Mark: “I thought it was 7 standards and 2 alternates.”


Alternate Bridgestone tires have red sidewalls
Photo by Paul Josephson

Al: “Yes, it can go as high as 36. I guess, Mark, that points out another difference. Are you familiar with our alternate tire? At selected Champ Car events, this is one of them, we bring to this weekend here in Cleveland. Each car gets 7 sets of our standard tire and 2 sets of what we term our alternate tire. The alternate tire is a softer, higher grip compound which is a little bit faster, but, as typical in racing, the faster tire goes off a little bit quicker. It’s a trade-off in racing – you can go faster, but you normally can’t do that for as long. So, in any case, each Champ Car here this weekend gets 7 sets of standard, and 2 alternate. The only regulation on use is that they have to use one set of the alternates sometime during the race. Visually, the alternates have a very distinctive red sidewall, so the fans on TV can see when the alternate tires are on the car.”

Q: Is that an experimental type of tire?
Al: “No. We’ve tested them. It’s just a little softer. We’ve been doing this for so long now, we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary of running with what we call Champ Cars today. So, out of all the tracks we’ve been to, and all the races we’ve been in, we have a whole range of compounds that we can pick from, and being the sole tire supplier now, we obviously just primarily want to bring a safe, durable, consistent tire for everybody. But the alternate tire, the whole purpose is to try and put people on different strategies in the race and create more opportunity for passing which is one of those things we’re always trying to do. The whole group (Champ Car), not just Bridgestone is trying to create more passing opportunities. It has worked out quite well for us – certainly, from leading to different strategies. In Portland, which was the last race, a fair number of the teams used both sets of the red sidewall tires in the race.”

Q: What about the use of the push-to-pass button? Did they use that on the alternate tires?
Al: “Yes, they used that anytime they want, and there were a lot of teams using it at the start, just to make sure they didn’t lose their position. But it’s the combination of the two, particularly, I think, leads to some very interesting strategies, different strategies being developed. Part of the time, I think that everybody does the same thing. They’re always on the same strategy, fuel stop wise, pit stop wise, and all that, so this more or less dictates that somebody is going to do it one way and someone else will do it another.”

Q: Are there alternate rain tires too, or just slicks?
Al: “Just slicks. And again, comparing to F1, in F1 each individual car uses the same tire for all of qualifying and all of the race. There is no tire specification change for the whole race, qualifying, and final qualifying.”

Q: What are the rules in qualifying tires vs. race tires? Is there any limitation?
Al: “No, not that I know of except that the tires used in qualifying have to be used at the start of the race.”

Q: What is your view if Champ Car decides to go with another tire manufacturer along with Bridgestone? Does that work to Champ Car’s benefit to have competition or is it easier to have just one tire manufacturer supply all of the teams?
Al: “My understanding is that many of the sanctioning bodies – all of the top ones in the US – NASCAR, Champ Car, Indy Racing League – they all want to be on one tire so they don’t have difficulty with what happened in F1 when you have a tire war. Sooner or later, one company may try to be too fast at the risk of durability or safety. And F1 has been talking for some time now about a single tire manufacturer. I think this Indianapolis situation will probably only hasten those talks, if not their actions. So I guess partly a question for Champ Car, but we generally like competition and if, for sure, Michelin wanted to come over here or even Goodyear, that would be great. We had competition here for a long time, and we loved it. It was only because Goodyear chose to leave. I don’t know if you remember those times, but we’re here now on our own only because Goodyear chose to leave. And we’ve tried to help Champ Car by being the presenting sponsor of the series and the official tire of the Cleveland Grand Prix this weekend and for many other Champ Car races, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t welcome back tire competition.”

Q: With regards to tire pressure, what kind of strategies would a typical team use in qualifying vs. race? Can you give some perspective on that?
Al: “I don’t know if I can. I’m a little removed from that now. I’m not directly involved in the engineering side. My knowledge of that right now is that they only make small pressure adjustments during the race to modify the handling of the car, not major ones.”

Q: What is the range of tire pressure that you can put in a Champ Car tire?
Al: “It varies at each track, and I would guess it’s going to be from around mid-20s up to mid-40s. It’s much higher on ovals than it is on road courses. But some of the street and road courses are going to be typical passenger-car pressures. The ovals are going to be higher.”

At this point, Mark pulled out a tire marketing booklet that contained the following chart, showing the differences for the 2005 Bridgestone Potenza Racing Radial Specifications for Champ Car:

Oval

Left Front

Right Front

Left Rear

Right Rear

Size

10.0/25.8BR15

10.0/25.8R15

14.5/26.7R15

14.5/27.3R15

Weight

18 lbs.

18 lbs.

22 lbs.

22 lbs.

Pressure

25-35 PSI

40-50 PSI

25-35 PSI

40-50 PSI

Street

Size

10.0/25.8R15

10.0/25.8R15

14.5/28.0R15

14.5/28.0R15

Weight

18 lbs.

18 lbs.

23 lbs.

23 lbs.

Pressure

22-27 PSI

22-27 PSI

20-25 PSI

20-25 PSI

Road

Size

10.0/25.8R15

10.0/25.8R15

14.5/28.0R15

14.5/28.0R15

Weight

18 lbs.

18 lbs.

23 lbs.

23 lbs.

Pressure

24-29 PSI

24-29 PSI

20-25 PSI

20-25 PSI

Rain

Size

10.0/25.8R15

10.0/25.8R15

14.5/28.0R15

14.5/28.0R15

Weight

22 lbs.

22 lbs.

30 lbs.

30 lbs.

Pressure

22-29 PSI

22-29 PSI

20-25 PSI

20-25 PSI

Q: After a Champ Car race, what does Bridgestone do with the tires that are used during the race?
Al: “We will take a few sets back for analysis. The engineers will always mark a set here or there for wear analysis. Some will actually be dissected and look at the internal carcass strength and integrity, but all of them eventually are burned in cement kilns because we have a very extensive tracking system. Each and every tire has a bar code on it to track them from cradle to grave – track them where they all are – for which team has them. Every time, the engineers keep very detailed records about how many laps and what temperature they run at. But whether the tires are dissected or just taken back into our warehouse and shipped to the kilns, we burn them in cement kilns. We don’t give them away for two basic reasons. It’s the best way environmentally to get rid of them. There’s a lot of issues with tire scrapping these days, so it’s the best way to get rid of them so they aren’t laying around somewhere, and, also, it’s just as important, if not more important, we don’t want our tires getting into the hands of our competitors. We feel very strongly that we’ve got some technological, competitive advantage in our tires, and even though we’re the only tire here, we’re still protecting that technology because each and every one of our tires kind of contains all of our technology. Each individual unit represents, in some respects, millions of dollars worth of development and years of time to get to the stage where we are today.”

Q: How does Bridgestone make up for the lack of testing that Champ Car cars are allowed to do vs. the F1 cars?
Al: “Again, it’s just our years of experience of doing it here. I think if we were just coming in brand new, that would be very, very difficult. But having done it for 10 years, even when we go to a new track now, like Korea, for example, we’ve got a lot of build-up in a database on a wide variety of courses from street courses to super speedways. So there’s not really a track or at least there hasn’t been a track that’s cropped up that’s outside the window of performance we can operate in.”

Q: So for a new track like Korea, are you or someone from Bridgestone going to visit the track first before race weekend or is there no need for that?
Al: “No, we’re relying on engineering diagrams. If there was something we saw that was out of the ordinary, we would send somebody, but we don’t have that knowledge at this point of time, although I’m not sure if we have as much information as we’d like at this point in time on Korea. But the other point I was going to make is being a sole supplier and not in a competitive situation. If we don’t have enough information, our position is that we always default to being on the conservative side.”

Q: What kind of gas is used in your Champ Car tires?
Al: “Some teams use nitrogen and other teams use dry air. Moisture can get in oxygen and becomes a problem when it reaches 212°. There are dry air compressors, however, that are used to get out the moisture.”

Q: How warm will tires get during a race?
Al: “Temperatures get up to 180-200°, very close to the boiling point. You can get a bad burn if you touch them. The warmer the tire, the better the mechanical grip.”

Q: What do the tires cost the teams?
Al: “Priceless (laughter). They’re $650 each or $2,600 a set. However, we don’t sell them individually. We lease them to the teams. We lease them a season of tires and engineering support which are wrapped into one package. We lease them because we’re not in the business to make money. We get exposure from decals and uniforms and so on for our products.

“In racing we want to demonstrate our products and get broad exposures. Also, it’s exciting and fun for our employees. Our Akron tire center is a short distance from here. We’ll have 1,000 employees and guests here this weekend. All of the (Champ Car) tires are built in Akron, so the employees are proud of what they’ve accomplished and to get consistency (in quality).”

Thanks Al and Mark for taking the time with me for this interview.

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