Michelin-equipped Aussie hero aims for podium at unique Phillip Island
Michelin aims to continue unbeaten run of eight premier-class Island victories
Hugely popular MotoGP king Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) may have retained his MotoGP crown in Malaysia last Sunday, but there's no need to guess who'll be the crowd favourite at Phillip Island this weekend: home-grown hero Troy Bayli ss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin).
The Italian and the Aussie are sure to be two of the top men when the world's fastest bike racers compete on one of the world's most exciting circuits on Sunday. Phillip Island is also one of the most challenging venues for tyres, indeed Michelin's enginee rs reckon it's a one-off. But that hasn't stopped Michelin from winning the past 11 premier-class Australian GPs, including six back-to-back victories at Phillip Island.
Rossi's latest title was Michelin's 12th consecutive success in biking's premier World Championship and comes four months after Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) scored the French tyre brand's 300th premier-class GP victory. Micheli n also dominate MotoGP in depth, its riders currently occupying the top ten positions in the 2003 points standings.
MICHELIN RIDER TROY BAYLISS AND PHILLIP ISLAND
Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) has been one of the sensations of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship. Currently fifth overall and top-placed rookie, the former World Superbike champ rode his first MotoGP event at Suzuka in April, q uickly establishing a reputation for quick and aggressive riding. So far he has scored three podium finishes, and he's up for another top-three performance at Phillip Island.
And there's every reason to believe that Bayliss can climb the podium on Sunday, for the Island holds some great memories for the Aussie. It was here in 1997 that his career took off with impressive rides in the Australian 250 GP and the Australian World S uperbike round. And in last year's Island Supers event Bayliss scored a superb double victory. "Phillip Island is a place I do well at," says the self-styled 'Baylisstic'. "I like the atmosphere and I like the track because I always like places that make f or good racing. The thing that really works for a good lap time at the Island is getting the section through Hayshed, up through Lukey Heights and onto the main straight flowing."
Bayliss knows that the Island's high-speed curves are a real challenge for riders, engineers and tyre technicians alike. "It's pretty well known to be hard on tyres," he adds. "There are so many fast lefts where you're hard on the gas, so the tyre generate s so much heat during a lap, then you've got the really fast double last lefthander.
"But Michelin are pretty clever, they've overcome the horsepower problem of the MotoGP bikes. Obviously the rider has to keep the tyres in mind, but if you choose the right tyre and you've got a good set up, you can ride the bike as hard as you want. Then again, you can wreck the tyre if you really want - if you go and spin it out of every corner you'll wreck it in no time at all. The front gets an easier life, but you can scuff it out at Phillip Island unless you've got the front of the bike working really well because you roll into a lot of turns pretty fast."
As well as adapting from his 190 horsepower Superbike to his 240 horsepower MotoGP machine this year, Bayliss has also had to change from Michelin's 16.5in front, the company's World Superbike tyre, to the 17in front which is used by all Michelin's MotoGP teams apart from the Alice Aprilia squad. "The 17 is more stable and precise on the brakes but you need to work on the fork to get a nice feeling when you're on the side of the tyre," he says. "The 16.5 flexes more, so we've ended up using a bit more strok e in the fork to get me comfortable with the 17. It took a little bit of working out but it feels pretty good now."
MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF PHILLIP ISLAND
Phillip Island places massive stresses on tyres because of its high-speed layout which has machines pulling high lean angles and large throttle openings for long periods of time. Michelin therefore creates special tyres for this venue, and these tyres have ruled the Island, winning all eight premier-class GPs held at the track (1989/1990/1997/1998/1999/2000/2001/2002).
"Tyre-wise Phillip Island is one of the most interesting circuits," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "It's a challenge, especially since we've had to cope with the enormous horsepower of the four-strokes. It's one of the most testing tracks for tyres, and it's even more challenging than Welkom because the weather is usually very unpredictable on the Island, whereas it's usually predictable at Welkom. We also enjoy this race because the track produces great racing - you ra rely see a rider break away from his rivals here.
"It's a real rider's track, where a talented rider can make up for a lack of horsepower because the layout is so flowing. Many modern tracks are stop-and-go in character, with lots of braking and acceleration, but Phillip Island is a go-go-go track, it's a ll about maintaining momentum.
"Phillip Island is technically interesting for us, but it's so different from other racetracks that it's a one-off, with little relevance to anywhere else. It's unusual because of the amount of time bikes stay on their left sides, generating a lot of heat in the tyres. Depending on the weather, this track generates more heat than any other. We build completely different rear tyres for Phillip Island. These tyres are one-offs, with a lot more resistance to the stresses and strains of wear. We produce a choic e of five rears for this race, all of them at the harder end of the compound range. The track isn't that tough on fronts, so we offer two or three fronts to our riders, all of them of a fairly standard compound and construction."
Cool weather and threatening rain are the norm on the Island at this time of year but the only real concern is high winds blowing off the Bass Strait, just a few 100 metres from Southern Loop. "High winds can be a real problem," add Goubert. "In fact stron g winds may be the biggest problem, especially for smaller, lighter riders who are worse affected by them."