Michelin's Thoughts on Changing MotoGP

Motorcycle.com Staff
by Motorcycle.com Staff
Here's what Michelin is saying about their tires and the changing GP. It's also the World's longest press release. --MO

The 2007 MotoGP season begins a new era in the development of the world'smost prestigious motorcycle racing series. Following MotoGP's hugelysuccessful first five seasons, during which Michelin won all five WorldChampionships, major changes to the technical regulations will ensure that2007 is a whole new challenge for factories, tire manufacturers, teams andriders. And, as always, this crucial development work will filter throughfrom Michelin's MotoGP project to its streetbike development department toimprove the tires bought by Michelin's road-riding customers.

There are three major revisions to this year's MotoGP technical regulations- a reduction in engine capacity from 990 to 800cc, a limit in the number oftires available to riders at MotoGP events and new restrictions in theamount of testing that can be undertaken by MotoGP participants. All threeof these changes represent a significant change in the way Michelin and itsMotoGP rivals go racing, but Michelin is determined that it will continue todominate bike racing's premier class, just as it has done despite otherrules changes.

Michelin has largely dominated the last three decades of premier-classracing, ruling much of the two-stroke 500cc era from the company's first 500GP win in 1973, then maintaining that supremacy when the sport switched tohugely powerful 990cc four-strokes in 2002. It commences the 2007 seasonhaving won a total of 351 premier-class GP victories as well as 26 of thepast 31 titles, including a clean sweep of the last 15 crowns. An unrivalledrecord of genius performance at the highest level!

"This year is going to be a really challenging year for everyone," saysJean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's new director of motorcycle racing. "Thebikes have changed a lot, so that's important for the teams, the riders andfor us. The new tire rules give us an exciting new opportunity to moveforward in MotoGP, creating tailor-made tires for each of our riders."

Not only has Michelin developed new tires to suit the new 800s, it has alsodeveloped new ways of working with its riders to get the best out of the newtire regulations. Each rider is now restricted to 31 tires per GP weekend(14 fronts, 17 rears), whereas before there were no restrictions in thenumber of tires used. This change demands a shift in approach from the tiremanufacturers. Michelin's new policy is to offer tailor-made tires to eachof its riders, according to individual riding style, machine performance andthe character of each racetrack.

Michelin's nine MotoGP riders have every confidence in the French company'sability to continue offering race-winning tires. "Michelin doesn't enjoy allthis success by being lucky, they put in the work and listen to what usriders have to say," reveals 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden (RepsolHonda RC212V-Michelin). "Like in 2005 they gave us a wider-profile fronttire, which gave me the confidence and the grip to start winning races. Myresults really improved thanks to that tire. It's the same with the 800s -they listen to what we've got to say, like we say these bikes have morecorner speed, so we need more edge grip, so they give us more edge grip."

Former World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Michelin)has similar faith in Michelin's efforts. "Michelin always works step bystep, and this is the clever way to work in MotoGP," says the Italian, whowon the previous five premier-class crowns from 2001 to 2005. "They give usmore edge grip from the rear, then more traction, then they give us a betterfront, so it's always step by step, improving the lap times, improving therace times."

Last year's MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin) isalso enjoying working with Michelin to produce a new range of tires for the800s. "It is a special experience working with Michelin's technicians; itmakes you realize how much work and development goes into these tires," saysthe Spaniard. "I'm very much enjoying working on the 800 project, it's greatto be involved in something from the beginning."

Hayden, Rossi and Pedrosa are joined by six other riders on Michelin in thisyear's MotoGP series. Between them the nine riders have won a total of 15World Championships!

_____________________________________________________________INSIDE MICHELIN'S NEW 16-inch MotoGP FRONT TIRE

Michelin's MotoGP stars will contest this year's World Championship with anall-new 16-inch front tire. The tire is another step forward in thenever-ending process of progress which has helped Michelin win the last 15premier-class crowns.

The new 16-inch front tire delivers several advantages over the 16.5, withwhich Michelin dominated the last few seasons of MotoGP. It offers lighterhandling, more grip and improved confidence - crucial benefits to the newbreed of nimble 800cc MotoGP bikes.

Work began on the tire early last year. "The aspect of performance that weparticularly wanted to improve was the speed at which the rider can get thebike to maximum lean because this is a very important factor in producinggood lap times," reveals Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director ofmotorcycle racing. "The new tire gives a slightly bigger contact patchbetween 40 degrees of lean and maximum lean which creates more grip, soriders have more confidence to flick the bike onto its side as they attackthe corners.

"Also, the tire is slightly smaller and lighter so it creates less inertia,which allows faster changes of direction. But we believe that the bettercorner-entry and mid-corner speeds we are now seeing aren't only due to ournew front, because the 800s themselves are faster through the corners."

Michelin riders were able to test the tire during the early stages of lastseason. Initial feedback suggested that Michelin engineers needed to do somefurther work on construction and it wasn't until the end of the season thatMichelin were ready to continue testing the 16.

"The 16's profile is quite similar to the 16.5's but we had to make some bigchanges to the construction and we did this using different computer models.Once we understood what we needed to do we produced new 16s for thepost-season tests and our riders immediately gave us very positive feedback.They said the tire was a big step forward from what they were used to."

Michelin continued to develop and improve the 16 as winter testingprogressed, encouraging riders to carry out back-to-back tests between the16 and 16.5 at a variety of circuits - Valencia, Jerez, Sepang, PhillipIsland and Losail. "We have been to some very different circuits butalthough our riders switched back and forth between the two tires theyalways said the 16 was better, so there's no reason to go back to the 16.5,"adds Weber.

Of course, work isn't finished on the 16 - tire development is neverfinished. "Our first major job was to get the profile and the constructionright," explains Weber. "Now we are working on our range of compounds forthe 2007 MotoGP tracks, and this is work which will continue throughout theseason."

This isn't the first time that Michelin has used a 16-inch front tire forGrand Prix motorcycle racing. Marco Lucchinelli (Nava Olio Fiat SuzukiRG500-Michelin) and Franco Uncini (Gallina Suzuki RG500-Michelin) won the1981 and 1982 500 World Championships riding on 16-inch front Michelins,while Freddie Spencer won the 1983 (Honda NS500-Michelin and Rothmans HondaNSR500-Michelin) and 1985 crowns with a 16-inch front. His 1983 bike alsofeatured a 16-inch rear tire.

"But this is another world from 1982 - the stresses and temperatures aremuch greater now because the bikes are so much better and the riding so muchmore aggressive," says Weber. "Yes, we are using a 16-inch front again buteverything is different from last time - the design, the construction,everything, and although we still mix rubbers, carbon black and variouschemicals for the compound, the recipe is completely different."

_____________________________________________________________HOW DO THE NEW RULES CHANGE MotoGP FOR MICHELIN?

Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's recently appointed director of motorcycleracing, considers the effect that MotoGP's new regulations will have uponthe task of tire choice

Does the 31-tire limit change the way you work with riders at GPs?

Yes, it changes a lot. In the past our policy was always to make sure thatthe same tires were available to all our riders, rather than makingindividual tires available to individual riders. From this season we have adifferent approach. Because of the limitation in the number of tires we cansupply to riders we have to provide the best specification tires to each ofour riders to make sure they all have the package that best suits each ofthem. So we will take advantage of the flexibility of our production plantto make tailor-made tires for each rider. Each rider will have his owndevelopment program with us; we will work in whatever direction necessary togive them the tires they need to get the best results. Of course, thisdoesn't always mean that all our riders will use different tires. At sometracks maybe all of our riders or most of them will use the same front orrear tire.

What will be the major differences in the tires assigned to each rider?

Usually the difference will be only compound and construction. During 2007we aim to have two different front profiles and two different rear profiles,as we did last year, because having more profiles only complicates the taskof bike set-up for the teams.

How big will the differences be between the tires made for each rider?

That will depend on the racetrack. We may have some tracks where thedifference between all riders' tires is only 15 percent, but at othercircuits the difference might be 40 percent.With fewer tires available, will you have to work more carefully thanbefore?

Over the last few years we sometimes had new tires delivered to the trackduring a GP weekend, so now we have to plan everything much earlier. We willhave to create a weekend strategy to get the best out of each rider'sallocation of tires. We must also work carefully to ensure no confusion withthe new tire markings. All tires are marked with barcodes when they arehanded over to the MotoGP technical director before the start of the GPweekend, so we must make sure that our own markings and the organization'smarkings correlate with each other, because if there is a mistake, riderscan be penalized and sent to the back of the grid.

How many of the 31 tires will be qualifiers?

My recommendation is that each rider has two qualifying tires per weekend,but, like everything else, that will depend on the rider. If a rider is veryhappy with his rear tire, he might tell us before the next race that he'svery fast and very confident with that tire, so he won't need a big choiceof different rears, so he might ask for five qualifiers instead. But myrecommendation is two qualifiers.

What do you make of the new 800s?

They have been quite a surprise because even last November they were almostas fast as the 990s, and sometimes faster! And because we are at the veryearly stages of development we can expect some rapid improvements, so we maysoon see some major increases in horsepower, just as we experienced at thestart of the 990 era.

From where do the 800s get their speed?

They seem to handle better and have more corner speed than the 990s. Thebikes seem very compact and maybe the factories have changed weightdistribution, center of gravity and so on to improve their handling and makethem faster through the corners. In fact the rear tires we used last yearworked very well with the 800s when we started testing with them but we'veneeded to work hard to give the riders more edge grip so they can exploitthe superior corner speed.

So how different are your 2007 tires from your 2006 tires?

The rear isn't so different; we will probably retain the same size and workmore on construction and compound. With less horsepower from the 800s we cancurrently use softer rears than we used with the 990s, though the differenceisn't huge because the higher corner speeds deliver another kind of stressinto the tire. The biggest difference for 2007 is our 16-inch front tire,which we have introduced for better handling and better grip. But the fronttire compound will be only slightly softer than we used in 2006 because thebraking forces are very high with the 800s.

What can you tell us about your new front profile?

During last November we began testing a new 16-inch front tire. All theriders who tried this tire immediately told us that they preferred this tireto the two 16.5in fronts we used last season. The 16 offers bettermaneuverability, better grip and delivers improved confidence, so riders canflick quicker into turns from brake to full lean, and they have more grip sothey can hold a tighter line through corners. They all seem to have moretrust in this tire.

How will the change in testing regulations affect your work?

We have to work very hard during winter testing to gather as much data aspossible. There is still quite a bit of testing during the season but mostof it is after races, which is very different because the riders have beenstressed all weekend, then they only get a few hours rest after the racebefore they begin testing on Monday. They are only human! During wintertests riders are fresher and in a testing mood, so they can test a lot ofstuff, but after races they are physically and mentally tired, so we can'tput so much pressure on them. Also, we will have to work hard on ourcomputer models so we can make better use of our data, extrapolating what welearn at one circuit to help us at other circuits. With less testingavailable there will definitely be more theoretical work to be done

Michelin's 2007 MotoGP riders

Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V-Michelin)Colin Edwards (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Michelin)Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin)Jeremy McWilliams (Ilmor SRT X3-Michelin)Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda-Michelin)Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin)Andrew Pitt (Ilmor SRT X3-Michelin)Kenny Roberts (Team Roberts KR212V-Michelin)Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Miche

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