Michelin goes into the Italian Grand Prix determined to strengthen its position in the 2007 MotoGP World Championship. Currently Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC212V-Michelin) lie second and...
Michelin goes into the Italian Grand Prix determined to strengthen its position in the 2007 MotoGP World Championship. Currently Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC212V-Michelin) lie second and third in the points chase and both riders love the Mugello racetrack -- last year Michelin man Rossi won his fifth successive premier-class race there while Pedrosa finished fourth, just two seconds behind the winner. Both riders were also very strong in the dry stage of the French GP at Le Mans two weeks ago.
Mugello is arguably the most glorious venue on the MotoGP calendar -- a technically demanding racetrack surrounded by breathtaking scenery and a massive and enthusiastic crowd.
MICHELIN AND THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE OF MUGELLO
"This is a very busy period for Michelin, with seven MotoGP races over ten weekends and also the Le Mans 24 hour car race," says Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "Manufacturing processes and logistics become very important at this time, from mid-May to mid-July everyone's on the go, our production plant is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "At Mugello the front tyre is extra important, so it should be good for our new 16 inch front that allows our riders to be very aggressive into the turns. We are confident the tyre will work well at Mugello because there are a lot of downhill corner entries where riders need confidence and grip to attack the turns. We designed this tyre to deliver confidence and grip by maintaining the same contact patch all the way to maximum lean, so even when a rider is being very aggressive, going into corners very late on the brakes, the contact patch stays the same, so he is more confident because he always knows what he's dealing with.
"The other advantage of the 16 is that it allows faster changes of direction, which is very important at Mugello because there are a lot of high-speed direction changes. The 16 is five per cent lighter than the 16.5 when it's on the rim, so there's less inertia which makes the bike more nimble.
"Mugello is also quite demanding on the rear tyre. There are a lot of corners, so riders spend a lot of time on the edge of the tyres. Corner speed is very important at this track. Riders need good edge grip and stability on the edge to maintain high corner speeds, and the more stability they have through corners, the better they can prepare the exit to get maximum speed out of the corners.
"The track's undulating nature means extra stress for the tyres. The front gets a lot of load into the downhill corners, like Materassi, Casanova, Savelli, Scarperia, Correntaio and the final turn, so we use hard fronts for this track, similar to what we use at Shanghai. Mugello and Shanghai are very different but they both stress the front -- at Shanghai it's the long periods of very heavy braking, at Mugello it's the downhill corner entries, with so much load on the side of the tyres.
"There are also a few uphill corner exits, like the first turn, Arrabbiata 1 and Arrabbiata 2, which put extra load on the rear, especially because the positive camber gives the riders more confidence and grip, so they can open the throttle harder. We use medium rears at Mugello, and we are still working on the new rear casings we introduced in China, so the data we got from Shanghai and from Le Mans will be very important for Mugello.
"So far this year our riders have had a very good front/rear balance and that's particularly important at Mugello because the uphill and downhill sections make mass transfer very important, the difference in front/rear transfers is much bigger than at most tracks."
MICHELIN IN ITALY
Michelin employs about 5 500 people in Italy and has been present in the country since the turn of the last century. Michelin's first Italian production facility, the Torino Dora in Turin, began producing tyres in 1907 and was the first plants to manufacture tyres for scooters after WW2. Motorcycles have always been popular in the country, 750cc and 1000cc naked bikes currently selling very well.
Three questions to Jean-Philippe Weber
What can you tell us about the start of the 2007 MotoGP season?
"Quite frankly, the results so far aren't up to our expectations. The last race at Le Mans is the best example. We chose relatively hard compounds for the wet part of the French Grand Prix which didn't pay off. To be quite clear, we gambled with our partners that the rain would gradually stop. We opted for a hard compound rain tyre for the majority of our riders. It turned out that the rain increased drastically, so Valentino (Rossi) was unable to fight with his opponents. However, Dani (Pedrosa) chose a softer tyre that proved more competitive in the closing stages of the race, so he was able to climb back to fourth position. Given our initial hypothesis and the change of weather, we now know that our riders could have raced with at least one notch softer compound. However, this disappointment shouldn't hide all the good work we have done since the beginning of the season, notably with the new 16 inch front, which gets praise from all our riders. We will pursue our development to increase rear tyre performance."
The early stages of this season have also shown a redistribution of roles amongst the premier class role-players. Is it possible to say that Michelin has been destabilised?
"Not destabilised, but things have changed. For sure the 800cc hierarchy is totally different today compared to the 990cc era. From a machine performance point of view, one can say that the Japanese manufacturers are all on a similar level after the first five races. At the moment only Ducati seems to have a distinct advantage. Also, the seven riders equipped by Michelin haven't been spared by race turmoil. The Turkish Grand Prix is the best example. We had the three fastest qualifying times at Istanbul but the first lap collision seriously hurt us, taking out Dani and Colin (Edwards). One can say that so far circumstances have not been favourable to us. However, our global performance is quite competitive. You need only look at Valentino's performances, especially in Qatar or China. Despite his top speed deficit he kept contact with Casey Stoner's Ducati at Shanghai and did everything he could to put pressure on Casey. At Jerez we achieved a hat trick both in practice and in the race. At Le Mans we had three riders in the first four on the starting grid, including Colin on pole position."
How do you approach the rest of the season?
"With a calm and focused attitude. There are still 13 Grands Prix to go. Our goal at Michelin is clear: we must concentrate on our mission to give each of our riders the best possible product. This championship is extremely competitive in every way -- for the riders, for the bike manufacturers and for the tyre manufacturers -- which in my opinion shows the excellence of MotoGP. In racing as elsewhere, hard work always pays off..."