Firestone chief engineer takes checkered flag at Sonoma

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After concluding his 22nd season in the program when the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign concluded last weekend at Sonoma Raceway, one of Firestone Racing’s key leaders has worked his final race.

Dale Harrigle, chief engineer at Bridgestone America Motorsports who has worked under the Bridgestone/Firestone racing banner since 1994, is leaving the motorsports program for a position in the consumer tire division. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18 was his last race overseeing the tire development operations of INDYCAR’s official supplier. To commemorate the occasion, Harrigle's teammates at Firestone presented him a photo of a race tire with the framing matte signed by all of the current drivers.

Harrigle began his tenure with Firestone’s motorsports group in 1994, when the brand was conducting a test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course ahead of its re-entry into Indy car competition in 1995.

“We didn’t have any idea what the program would become,” Harrigle said, “what it would turn into for me, we just had no idea.”

After a 20-year hiatus from the sport from 1975-94, Firestone made its return to the Indy car grid, fitting five full-time entries in 1995. Patrick Racing’s Scott Pruett would set the fastest lap in Firestone’s return race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and later captured Firestone’s first win in its current open-wheel era, winning at Michigan International Speedway on a last-lap pass of Al Unser Jr. in July ‘95.

The following year, Firestone would shoe cars in both CART and the newly founded Verizon IndyCar Series. That May, Buddy Lazier brought the company its first Indianapolis 500 win since 1971, when Al Unser Sr. scored his second Indy 500 win.

“Certainly, that first Indianapolis win in ‘96 with Buddy Lazier was one of the biggest highlights,” reflected Harrigle. “Also, Andre Ribeiro winning at Loudon (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) in ’95 on Akron-produced tires was pretty spectacular, that was a big highlight.

Using both the Bridgestone and Firestone brands along the way, the company developed and supplied tires for the Verizon IndyCar Series and CART/Champ Car beginning in 1995 – supplying every car in both series from 2000-07 until the unification of Indy car racing in 2008. Since then, Firestone has continued as exclusive supplier for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Firestone and sister Dayton brands also enjoyed a run of more than two decades as the exclusive tire supplier to Indy Lights, the top rung of the American open-wheel developmental ladder.

Aside from the on-track achievements, many of Harrigle’s favorite moments came away from the smell of burnt rubber.

“I grew up in a small town (in Pennsylvania) with two stoplights,” he said. “And to have been to Japan, to be to Brazil, Europe, to have gone to Australia with the IndyCar Series was pretty fantastic for me, and to represent Firestone in this manner was fantastic. I’ve gotten to work with some tremendous people. I love not only our team at Firestone, but the INDYCAR team, the other teams in the paddock, just tremendous people in the world of motorsports, and that’s been a great highlight over the years.”

Next up for Harrigle, who will still be working for Firestone, will be a different kind of challenge. He is leading a group in the consumer tire field, focusing on tires for larger vehicles, such as light trucks, SUVs, CUVs and even snow tires.

“(I’m) going to get an exposure to an entirely different way of thinking about tires,” he said with a grin, “but I’m excited about it. Really excited about taking some of the lessons learned in motorsports and transitioning them into the company as a whole.”

Harrigle said another factor in the decision was to be able to spend more time with his family and watch his two sons -- both nearing high school age -- play baseball. Longtime Firestone engineer Cara Adams steps in to fill Harrigle’s role as chief engineer.

“Cara’s going to do a fantastic job,” Harrigle said. “She’s ready to lead this team and this is just a fantastic team we have at Firestone. I don’t expect any issue at all, they’re going to do a tremendous job. I intend to come back to the track and just hang out as a fan occasionally, a couple of weekends a year, but they’re going to be great.”

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