Cooper to replace Firestone as new Indy Lights tire from 2014

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Cooper Tires will replace Firestone as Official Tire of the Indy Lights Series from 2014, for a five-year contract that runs through 2018. It’s a two-pronged effect as Firestone has had more than two decades worth of history with Indy Lights, including 13 years as series title sponsor in two different Indy Lights iterations (1991-’97, 2008-’13). Cooper could potentially be in line for a presenting or title sponsor role of Indy Lights for 2014 given this announcement, but nothing to that degree was indicated in the official series release.

Still, this move puts all Andersen Promotions-promoted series under one tire umbrella. Cooper is the presenting sponsor and tire partner of the USF2000 National Championship and replaced Goodyear as tire partner to the renamed Pro Mazda Championship this year.

“I couldn’t be more pleased and proud to announce that Cooper Tires will be the Official Tire of Indy Lights,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Cooper has been a terrific partner of both USF2000 and Pro Mazda and to carry that relationship into Indy Lights gives us a fantastic foundation to build upon. It is rare in today’s motorsports climate to have the luxury of a long-term partnership, and for Cooper Tires to step up its commitment across all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy is just phenomenal. I can’t thank Chris Pantani and everyone at Cooper Tires enough. Their commitment to the future talent in our sport is unprecedented.

“Tony Cotman, our project manager, and I reviewed numerous proposals from other tire manufacturers and were delighted to see so much interest, but Cooper Tires ticked all the boxes. We wanted a partner that would provide a great product with substantial cost savings for teams and, while the final cost is yet to be determined, the Cooper Tires Indy Lights tires will cost the teams significantly less than their current tire prices. Equally important, we wanted a partner that would actively promote and support the series, and our partnership comes with substantial support from Cooper Tires in event activation, series media and promotional efforts.”

Tire testing will begin in September with road course tires available to teams in October.

For Firestone, the news is bittersweet but not entirely unexpected. Firestone continued – somewhat reluctantly according to some sources, given reported higher tire bills – as presenting sponsor and tire partner to Indy Lights over the last two years since Roger Bailey, former series director, stepped aside at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

“Today is a bittersweet day for everyone at Firestone Racing,” Lisa Boggs, Director, Firestone Racing said in a statement. “The Firestone brand has been synonymous with Indy Lights for more than two decades. We believe in the importance of a strong ladder system to develop the next generation of open-wheel stars as well as mechanics, engineers, team managers and other key personnel. We are proud to have been part of developing the careers of many Indy Lights series graduates.

“We are glad to see Andersen Promotions bring its expertise and passion to reinvigorating the Indy Lights series,” she added. “The change in tire supplier will not impact Firestone Racing’s commitment to continuing to deliver the highest quality product to the teams and drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series through 2018. We look forward to welcoming future Indy Lights drivers as they make the move to the IndyCar Series.”

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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