|Tyre maker Bridgestone has reminisced on its 25-year involvement in South African Production Car racing as the series came to an end with its final race at Zwartkops on November 2. “Bridgestone has a long association with Production Car racing, from sponsoring a single car, to becoming the series control tyre and enjoying the naming rights to the series for eight years,” said Bridgestone Promotions & Advertising manager, Jan Maritz. “The demise of Production Cars is the end of an era, both for ourselves and motor racing as a whole.”
1990 saw Bridgestone join forces with fast man, Robby Smith, who campaigned the Firestone Firehawk-branded BMW 325iS in what was then the Stannic Group N Championship. It was an era when many competitors fielded road-legal cars, and it was commonplace to see competitors’ vehicles arriving at a circuit under their own steam instead of on the back of a trailer. The huge fields covered classes A to F, and it was in the latter class that some of today’s multiple champions cut their teeth, particularly in the Opel Kadett Cubs which provided an inexpensive entry to motorsport.
At the sharp end of the grid, the Class A Opel Kadett Superboss was the main foil to the mighty BMWs, with the two manufacturers rushing specially-homologated versions to market in a tit-for-tat battle over track supremacy. Patience paid off for Bridgestone and Smith, and he lifted the Group N Class A crown in 1993.
Firestone-sponsored cars continued to rake in the championships, with Silvio Scribante winning Class E in 1996 and Shaun Watson-Smith winning Class B and the overall Championship in 1997, a year which also saw Grant Fletcher win Class E. Watson-Smith repeated his double championship feat in 1998, with Stephen Taylor taking the Class E laurels.
In 1999, Firestone became the control tyre for Group N circuit racing, a partnership that lasted until 2004 when Bridgestone’s Potenza was designated as the control tyre. Bridgestone cemented its involvement in the series in 2007 by taking the naming rights, an agreement which ran until the end of 2014 when Bridgestone reverted to providing the series control tyre.
“We are proud that our involvement with the series included the modern heyday of production car racing in South Africa,” Maritz commented. “In the early 1990s, few of South Africa’s sporting codes had re-established themselves on the world stage. Domestic motor racing was therefore one of South Africa’s biggest sporting drawcards and enjoyed national television coverage, with massive crowds and an electric atmosphere at the circuits,” he added.
Maritz said Bridgestone was sad to see the curtain fall on Production Cars, but that the company remained committed to local motorsport. “South African motorsport is alive and well, with strong participation at the grassroots club and regional levels where we provide control tyres to Class C of the Volkswagen Challenge and the Kawasaki ZX-10 Masters Cup. In other series, numerous sizes of our racing tyres are available for use by competitors,” he said. “Bridgestone will continue to support local motorsport, but we will always have fond memories of the Production Cars era,” he concluded.