IndyCar Series spans globe for Japan race

By land, sea and air, the IndyCar Series is en route to Japan for the Sept. 19 Indy Japan 300.

The 13,000-mile round-trip adventure has been a topic on Bill van de Sandt's day planner since he joined the Indy Racing League as director of operations in January.

In sync has been Firestone Racing, which began the multi-point preparations for manufacturing and transport of Firestone Firehawks and support equipment for the 23-car entrant list to Twin Ring Motegi more than five months ago.

From Firestone Racing engineers in Akron, Ohio, finalizing the tire specification and submitting the production order to the 1,116 Firehawks being loaded on a boat to Tokyo, the process has been one of logistical cooperation.

"A great deal of logistics goes into making sure over 1,100 Firestone Firehawk race tires make it to and from Japan safely," said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing. "The Indy Japan 300 is a big race for us as our parent company, Bridgestone Corporation, is headquartered in Tokyo. So we really appreciate all of the hard work that our engineers and tire builders in Akron, as well as our partners at Performance Tire in Indianapolis, put into making sure the entire operation goes off without a hitch."

Tires designated for the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval were delivered through the first week of July to Performance Tire Service Co., where they were stored in its 56,000-square-foot warehouse. The tires and machinery (changers, balancers, basically everything needed to do the majority of service) were loaded into three shipping containers on Aug. 12 and sent by truck to the Port of Long Beach (Calif).

The Pacific Ocean crossing took 13 days, and then the containers were trucked the 90 miles to Twin Ring Motegi. All the tires will make a round trip — either to Indianapolis for recycling or first to Akron for analysis prior to being sent to Performance Tire Service Co. for recycling.

Performance Tire Service Co. also shipped seven boxes of firesuits, radios and other items needed at the Aug. 29 Chicagoland Speedway race by air. In addition, Honda Performance Development shipped 10 spare Honda Indy V-8 engines by air to the track from its Santa Clarita, Calif., base.

Back on terra firma, four operators swarmed around metal pallets Sept. 9 in a choreographed forklift ballet to transfer more than 350,000 pounds of race cars and equipment from a parking lot at Indianapolis International Airport to the staging area, where it will be swallowed in short order by two behemoth Nippon Cargo Air 747-400B airplanes.

The IndyCar Series' shipment isn't the heaviest (both planes can total up to 450,000 takeoff weight) that Nippon Cargo Air deals with, but is among the highest in volume. Forty-six race cars (two per entrant), pit and garage equipment and consumables are meticulously packaged, arranged on a pallet and wrapped in plastic by teams for the trip. The three Delphi Safety Team trucks and the Honda Accord Safety Car were delivered for a separate scheduled flight following the Chicagoland Speedway event.

"There's certainly a flow and organization that needs to be in place, and the people who have been doing it for a number of years and are very experienced at it just make it all happen," said van de Sandt, who oversees the project on both ends of the globe.

Upon arrival at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, the freight is transferred to trucks to continue the journey to Twin Ring Motegi. Manifests are checked and spot customs inspections are conducted at the track in time for team personnel to unpack Sept. 17 and begin preparations for the race weekend.

Before the champagne is uncorked in Victory Circle, packing is underway for the return trip.

"It's a difficult process, but it's very well-organized," van de Sandt said. "The cooperation of the governments, the freight forwarder and the airlines works very well. It's a process that is very effective and efficient."

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