Bridgestone Introduced me to Guayule Tires, Firestone’s Racing Tires Made from Desert Shrubs.

Bridgestone Guayule Tires In Action On The Track.
Find out what sustainable farming and auto racing have in common. Photo: Mike Hartzell

In the race to sustainable tires, Bridgestone has a special teammate.

This partner is the guayule plant (pronounced WHY-YOO-LEE), and Bridgestone is featuring it in Firestone’s Firehawk racing tires. That’s right, a sustainable tire is competing in INDYCAR (and will be in your local tire shop soon, too).

Sustainability is more than something that’s on-trend for people out racing cars on the weekends. Living greener is becoming a priority and a way of life for many. We think about what happened to our food before it became food, or  the manufacturing process behind clothing and other goods; more and more this influences our decision to purchase or consume something. But, have you ever thought about how tires are made? The Bridgestone guayule tires have a cool backstory that had me interested in topics I’ve never given much thought to.

Related: The 10 Best Run-Flat Tires for Your Next Vehicle Upgrade

Tractor On Bridgestone'S Guayule Farm In Eloy Az

Guayule plants being harvested on Bridgestone’s farm in Eloy Arizona. Photo: Bridgestone.

Meet the Bridgestone Guayule racing tires

If you’ve never invested a lot of brain cells into thinking about how tires are made or tires in general, you’re probably not alone. Tires are, of course, important if you’re going to drive a car. But you might not think about tires often unless you’re replacing them or have the misfortune to get a flat or a blowout.

Here’s the basics. A combination of natural and synthetic rubber is used to make tires. Most of the world’s natural rubber comes from Southeast Asia. Tapping rubber from the Hevea tree is labor and time intensive. There’s also the time and cost to import it to the United States. The Hevea is also a somewhat fragile plant. You can see why cultivating another source of natural rubber is a good thing for a company that manufactures tires.

Bridgestone is doing just that: diversifying the world’s natural rubber supply by growing guayule. If you’ve never heard of a guayule plant (again, pronounced WHY-YOO-LEE), you’re not alone. I visited Bridgestone’s farm in Eloy, Arizona and their Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa. These operations are moving the industry forward to the commercialization of products made from guayule rubber.

Related: So you think you need new tires. Here’s how to know and what to do.

Firestone Firehawk Guayule Tires

The Firestone Firehawk Guayule tires have a distinctive green sidewall. Photo: Bridgestone.

Everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about the guayule plant

Guayule is a heat and drought-resistant shrub native to the Chihuahua Desert. The bark, branches, and roots are a source of natural rubber. Guayule is appealing to Arizona farmers because it requires about half the amount of water that cotton and alfalfa  (other crops commonly grown in arid environments) do.

Up Close View Of Guayule Plant

Rubber can be extracted from the woody bark of the guayule plant. Photo: Bridgestone.

There are no commercial guayule farms – yet. Bridgestone’s farm in Eloy has been growing guayule since 2012 but the project is still in the research and development phase. The plants are being studied in labs on the farm to develop best practices for growing guayule, understand and improve the genetics of guayule, and build relationships with the Arizona farming community.

Related: Oh, the Joy of New Tires. Seriously. All Season Continental Tire Review 

Guayule Field In Eloy Az

Sun loving + heat tolerant = perfect for Arizona farming. Photo: Bridgestone.

Post Harvest: Bridgestone’s Other Processing Facilities

The Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa opened in 2014. Guayule has a two-year growing cycle so the opening of this facility lined up with when the first crop of guayule was ready to be processed into rubber. The facility uses a proprietary solvent process to extract rubber from the plant. The rubber is processed into tires at the Bridgestone Americas Technology Center in Akron.

Remember when I said you probably hadn’t thought much about how tires were made? Me either. It’s pretty mind-blowing.

Related: Off-Roading Reveals Cosmo Tire’s True Character

Biorubber Facility In Mesa

Biorubber Processing Facility in Mesa Arizona. Photo: Bridgestone

From Guayule to Firestone Firehawk Racing Tires. And It’s No Stretch

Experimental farming that is meeting the needs of a changing growing environment is cool. Technology that turns plants into rubber is cool, too, there’s no doubt about that. But the coolest part of learning about what Bridgestone is doing with alternate sources for natural rubber is getting to see the guayule tires in action.

If you’re an INDYCAR fan, you might already know that Firestone is INDYCAR’s sole tire supplier. Bridgestone acquired Firestone in 1988, so that’s how the two companies are connected.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of auto racing. My first INDYCAR experience was last week at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville. A couple of my fellow journalists gave me a crash course (no pun intended) in INDYCAR 101 while we watched the race. Motorsport is an absolute rush to watch live. I’m sort of hooked.

A Girls Guide To Cars | Bridgestone Introduced Me To Guayule Tires, Firestone'S Racing Tires Made From Desert Shrubs. - Bridgestone Guayjule Tires A Girls Guide To Cars 8

It was really cool to see the process for growing and studying the guayule plants and then seeing them in action. It gave the phrase “where the rubber meets the road” a new significance. Photo: Mike Hartzell.

Big Machine Music City Grand Prix – Race Day!

The drivers at the Music City Grand Prix were issued Firestone Firehawk tires made with guayule rubber. The guayule tires are visually distinctive with green sidewalls that can be seen on the track. It was a really cool experience to see them in action after seeing the raw material on the farm.

(By the way, if you’re a first-time INDYCAR spectator, here’s my advice: pick somebody to root for. You don’t have to put a lot of thought behind who. Pick based on the color of the car or because the driver’s name matches someone you had a crush on in high school. Targeting someone’s race progress will make it more meaningful for you as a spectator and keep you engaged in the outcome.)

How is the guayule rubber a good option for the Firestone Firehawk racing tires? Its elastic tendencies distribute heat and energy well, and they are lightweight and pliable. It’s important for a tire on a street course circuit to be compliant and able to move quickly. There’s a ton of engineering behind prepping these cars for race day.

Related: What drives her: Women are making waves and changing the face of IndyCar

What’s Next for Bridgestone’s Guayule Tires?

Bridgestone has publicly stated their commitment to ecology and sustainability, and the technology being developed is definitely moving toward those goals. The company is currently exploring opportunities to expand the use of guayule natural rubber in both racing and passenger tires in 2023.  For example, the guayule processing also produces a by-product that can serve as a latex alternative. Gloves and other medical equipment can be made from guayule. This is good news for people with latex allergies or sensitivities.

Whether it’s continuing to make fast tires for fast cars or expanding their company scope with the knowledge and new tech being gained at their Arizona research and development locations, Bridgestone is leading the charge on building sustainable tires.

A Girls Guide To Cars | Bridgestone Introduced Me To Guayule Tires, Firestone'S Racing Tires Made From Desert Shrubs. - Bridgestone Guayjule Tires A Girls Guide To Cars 1

If you’ve never seen a pit crew change racing tires, it’s pretty cool to watch but don’t blink because you’ll miss it. Photo: Mike Hartzell

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Jill is the oldest mom with the youngest kids pretty much everywhere she goes. She has a 29-year-old daughter... More about Jill Robbins