The change harkens back to the 11 seasons that BFNT served as title sponsor and exclusive tire supplier to one of the most successful driver development series in American history. Firestone and Dayton brands headlined the Indy Lights Championships from 1991-2001. Many of today’s top open-wheel competitors cut their racing teeth on its diverse array of tracks.
Current IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell are all past Indy Lights champions, not to mention current team owners Eric Bachelart and Robbie Buhl. In addition, Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon used Indy Lights as a seasoning steppingstone on their way to capturing Indianapolis 500 victory glory.
When the Indy Lights series disbanded after 2001, Firestone continued its strong support of young open-wheel talent by becoming the Official Tire for the Indy Pro Series which debuted in 2002. Aspiring drivers such as A.J. Foyt IV, Ed Carpenter, Jay Howard, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh have parlayed that experience into IndyCar Series rides and successes.
“This is a fresh start driven by tradition," said Al Speyer, Executive Director of Motorsports, BFNT. “Our company has a long history of supporting the development of talent in the open-wheel ranks; this will be our 18th consecutive year doing so. With the unification of open-wheel racing, we thought it the perfect time to merge the excitement of the IRL’s growing support series with the rich history of Firestone Indy Lights."
The multiyear agreement officially renames what has previously been the Indy Pro Series to Firestone Indy Lights, effective immediately. Drivers will continue to compete for the Firehawk Cup awarded annually to the season champion. Firestone also maintains its status as Official Tire for Firestone Indy Lights, as well as the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. In addition, the Firestone Indy Lights event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23 becomes the Firestone Freedom 100.
“In light of the unification process, Tony George and the IRL asked Firestone to step up and support the sport even more than we have done in the past," Speyer said. “We believe that this agreement further exemplifies Firestone’s continued support and belief in the future of open-wheel racing. One of the most noticeable results of this agreement is that participants will see an increase in prize money of more than $250,000 throughout the season."
George, the Indy Racing League’s founder and CEO, is an avid believer in the driver development system, having once driven in the American Racing Series that was predecessor to Firestone Indy Lights.
“Firestone has been one of the most consistent and loyal suppliers to open-wheel racing; its involvement dates back to even before the very first Indianapolis 500 in 1911," George said. “One association Firestone has supported through the years has been the development series in both CART and the Indy Racing League, which demonstrates its vision and commitment to be part of its future. I am pleased Firestone so strongly supports bringing back the Firestone Indy Lights brand."
Roger Bailey directed Indy Lights before becoming executive director of the Indy Pro Series when it debuted in ’02. Bailey, who retains the executive director’s position, is delighted to resurrect the Firestone Indy Lights name and tradition.
“Though Firestone has supported the Indy Pro Series since its inception in 2002, this is an expansion of a personal relationship that began nearly 20 years ago," Bailey said. “It's a tremendous feeling to rekindle a program that began in 1991. Firestone has been a great part of my life for many years, and I hope it will continue to be so for many years to come."