AKRON—Bridgestone Americas Inc. is on track to start making race tires at its new race tire plant in Akron by year-end 2020, after breaking ground on the project recently.
The Bridgestone Advance Tire Production Center, plans for which the company disclosed in February, is being built near the company's Bridgestone Americas Technical Center, the hub for the company's innovations.
"Our plans for the facility include both new construction and a full renovation of an existing structure, and all has been moving forward smoothly," according to Cara Adams, director of Race Tire Engineering and Production for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations and Firestone Racing.
"We broke ground late this summer on the new construction portion, and walls are already going up," she said. "Everything remains on schedule at this moment for the facility to produce its first Firestone Firehawk race tires for testing in the NTT IndyCar Series by the end of 2020."
Adams said the project is a "transition process over the next four years," and that Bridgestone's team of race tire builders and manufacturers will be in the new facility by year-end 2022.
Bridgestone did not disclose its investment in the new factory.
Bridgestone is the sole tire supplier to the NTT IndyCar Series, and tire production at the new plant will be for the series. In a deal announced in February, Firestone will continue to be the race tire supplier to the open-wheel race series, which includes the Indianapolis 500, through 2025.
"We take great pride in making world-class tires for the fastest and most versatile racing series in the world, and our experiences in this racing will continue to drive innovation and advance tire technology across our entire tire portfolio for the foreseeable future," Adams said.
Bridgestone has been IndyCar's sole tire supplier since the 2000 season.
"The new Bridgestone Advance Tire Production Center will continue a legacy of tire manufacturing in Akron that began with the founding of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1900, as well as a proud tradition of success in racing that dates back to the first Indy 500 in 1911," Adams said.
The new plant will be more than 80,000 square feet and employ more than 50 race tire builders and manufacturing professionals, who work in the company's current race tire plant, located a mile or so north in the original Firestone Plant One building, Adams said.
"This new facility also will allow Bridgestone to expand its capabilities related to future innovation and manufacturing projects, which could result in additional jobs for this region at a later date," she added.
The new plant is being built on land adjacent to an existing tire testing facility, located a few blocks east of the company's 7-year-old Americas Technical Center in south Akron.
The project involves a contract extension with the city of Akron to keep the race tire unit operating in the old Firestone headquarters building. The city at one time was to raze the structure, but city and county officials said earlier this year they are evaluating a number of different options for the 750,000-sq.-ft., five-story structure.
Adams said the engineering used to create race tires is essential to creating a better tire, especially ultra-high performance offerings such as the Bridgestone Potenza and Firestone Firehawk 500 line."
"We are always in a constant, competitive battle to provide the best possible dry and wet grip, coupled with excellent wear life, which are similar developmental targets for our race tires," Adams said. "In addition to driving our future innovation, racing is a unique and valuable opportunity for our engineers to learn new skills in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. "
She said the feedback drivers and teams provide "creates a continuous learning environment that is always pushing us forward. While it might take years to truly know if a new passenger tire is a success in the marketplace, a new race tire can be judged in one race weekend."