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New Best Friends- Ford And Bridgestone Join To Sponsor CART

DEARBORN, Mich. November 22, 2002; Bill Koenig writing for Bloomberg reported that Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Corp., the automaker and tire producer that clashed over which was to blame for 271 highway deaths, are co-sponsoring a racing series.

Ford will say today that it's underwriting Championship Auto Racing Teams Inc.'s races, known as CART. Banners for the event will read: "Bridgestone presents the Champ Car World Series powered by Ford," said Dan Davis, who's in charge of Ford's racing programs in North America.

The companies will work together as they try to patch up their dispute over crashes involving Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles mounted with Bridgestone's Firestone tires. William Clay Ford Jr., chief executive of the world's second-biggest automaker, said in March that discussions to restore ties with Bridgestone "aren't very far along." Ford paid $2.1 billion last year to replace tires on the Explorers.

"This is like an invitation for a remarriage," said Mike Flynn, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

Tokyo-based Bridgestone, Asia's biggest tiremaker, said Nov. 2 that it would help sponsor CART after FedEx Corp. withdrew support for the Indianapolis-based company.

Ford and Bridgestone "backed into the situation," Ford's Davis said in an interview. "You now have two professional organizations that have a common interest" in trying to increase interest in CART, he said. He declined to discuss financial terms of the two-year sponsorship.

Ford Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Scheele declined Monday to comment about the discussions with Bridgestone.

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford said in June that its Cosworth Racing unit will produce race engines for all CART teams in 2003 and 2004. That agreement didn't include a Ford pledge of marketing support.

The sponsorships come as CART tries to rebound from the defections of teams, drivers and automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. to the rival Indy Racing League, operated by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Former Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser last year ordered all Firestone tires replaced on Ford vehicles, resulting in a second-quarter loss. Ford reported an overall 2001 loss of $5.45 billion.