Michelin comes to Germany this weekend aiming to maintain its MotoGP dominance before the sport's four-week midseason recess. The French tyre brand has won all nine GPs so far this year, with its riders currently occupying the top seven positions in the World Championship standings.
Man of the moment is, of course, reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) who has won seven of the nine races, in both wet and dry conditions. With eight races remaining the Italian is an amazing 104 points ahead of nearest rival Marco Melandri (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin), who is just one point in front of Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin). But perhaps Rossi's old rival Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) is ready for a renaissance at the Sachsenring. Currently fourth in the points chased, the Roman Emperor is a master of the 'Ring, having won last year's race and taken pole position at the last two German GPs.
MICHELIN RIDER MAX BIAGGI AND THE SACHSENRING Max Biaggi has an impressive record in recent German GPs. He won the event in 2001 and 2004, finished second in 2002 and could have won in 2003 when he established a new lap record before falling. This year he joined HRC's official MotoGP team after two years in a satellite HRC outfit.
"Changing teams is never easy," he says. "We lost some time learning earlier in the year but now we are ready, so I hope I can repeat what I did last year in Germany. The Sachsenring is quite an unusual track - very up and down, narrow in some places, wide in others, so it's got a few tricks within it. Like any track, it's fun when you're going well. Last year was great, my approach to the event was just right - I got pole position and my Michelin tyres worked well to the end of the race, so it was a perfect weekend.
"It's a very hard race for the tyres, especially on the left side. The left is critical, not just because of the number of left-handers, but also because some of the corners are fast and because you're using a lot of lean angle through them, so that places a lot of stress on the tyres.
"Turn 12 could be a worry, because it's the first right-hander for a long time, so maybe the edge of the tyre has cooled down a bit, but we still get good grip on the right. Michelin pretty much always manages to give us what we need. But turn 12 is tricky because it's so fast and it's also blind, so you think it's wide but it's not so wide on the exit and then the track drops away from you, so you have negative camber.
"The last two turns are the only real places to overtake. Even turn one is tricky for overtaking because the braking zone is over the brow of a hill, so the back wheel always kicks up in the air and tries to come around on you.
My favourite part is once you have left the slow right horseshoe (turns three and four) and entered the long series of lefts, up the hill and over the brow, because it's blind, so you need to know exactly where to put your front wheel. The really slow part before this section isn't so great, but it isn't my job to enjoy tracks, my job is only to be fast.
"Michelin has made another big step forward with the rear tyre this year. We tested the 2005 rear construction in the winter, and when we compared it to the old one there was no doubt that it was very superior in the second half of the race. Maybe it isn't faster over a one-off lap, but it has much- improved stability and consistency. Michelin always work very deeply, they always keep making good forward steps."
MICHELIN AND THE CHALLENGE OF THE SACHSENRING
Michelin has enjoyed unprecedented success at the German Grand Prix. Since reunification, the French tyre brand has won 13 of the country's 14 premier-class GPs, beaten only at the first German GP in 1991. These victories have been achieved at three different circuits - Hockenheim, Nurburgring and Sachsenring.
The modern Sachsenring hosted its first GP in 1998 but has since undergone major revisions. The current circuit layout was first used in 2001, the last year of the 500s. Since then the super-quick four- strokes have slashed one minute and ten seconds from the race record!
"It's one of the slowest circuits and the first section is so slow that it's not really meant for a MotoGP bike," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "A few years ago (in 2000), before the track was enlarged, the 250 lap record was actually faster than the 500 record. So power is not crucial at this track, it's all about agility and corner speed. And our 2005 rear construction, which has really improved race times this season, should help at the Sachsenring, because there are so many long corners, with riders on the edge of the tyres for a long time. Edge grip is therefore the most crucial aspect of tyre performance at this track, acceleration traction isn't so important. Our 2005 construction offers better stability and greater endurance on the edge of the tyre. But we still have to improve here - riders always ask for more edge grip, because they always want to go fast. It's a permanent request!
"We run dual compound tyres here, really quite asymmetric, because there are ten left-handers and only four rights. Although endurance can be quite crucial on the left side of the tyre we would like to get another lap record at the end of the race but I think it will be very difficult, just because all the lefts work both the tyres so hard. The rear definitely gets the biggest workout, because there's not a lot of heavy braking or trail-braking into corners, so the front isn't a real concern.
"After this race our MotoGP crew takes a well-earned holiday, and we think it's important that MotoGP has a compulsory break in the middle of the season. We will plan our tyres for Brno immediately after Sunday's racing, then our people at the factory will work at making them while we go on holiday!"