Michelin all set for milestone 300th victory in premier-class motorcycle racing
Michelin world champ Colin Edwards explains why Assen is so unique.
Michelin's domination of premier-class motorcycle racing is set to reach a landmark 300 Grand Prix victories at Assen this weekend. The renowned French tyre manufacturer has been winning GPs for three decades, its riders lifting 22 of the last 26 500/MotoGP World Championships.
Ever since the company first got involved in bike racing during the early seventies, Michelin technology has grown with the sport, offering riders the three necessities: grip, feel and consistency. In recent seasons the company's tyres have been in more demand than ever - Michelin-equipped riders winning every one of the last 76 premier-class World Championship GPs.
Michelin's record at Assen speaks volumes for the company's expertise - Michelin riders have won 17 out of the last 19 Dutch TTs in all kinds of conditions, from pouring rain to burning sunshine and with plenty of mixed wet and dry races in between.
MICHELIN RIDER COLIN EDWARDS AND ASSEN
Colin Edwards (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin) contests his first Assen MotoGP race this weekend, though he's had plenty of Superbike experiences at the unique Dutch venue - last year he won both races at the track on his way to winning the World championship. Like most riders, the Texan Tornado loves Assen, though he appreciates it's a unique and complex circuit that can catch out the unwary.
There are three main factors that make Assen so different to other GP tracks: speed, camber and grip. The circuit is the fastest in GP racing, with a 180kmh/111mph lap record, not because the track is dominated by fast straights but because it consists largely of super-fast curves. Unlike other circuits, which are generally flat, Assen is cambered like a public road with a crowned centre that drops away to left and right. This complicates riding, since riders must contend with several camber changes as they turn in from the outside of the track to the apex, and then drift back out to the outside. The Assen surface is also massively grippy.
CORNER SPEED IS EVERYTHING: All these factors require riders to adjust their riding technique - corner speed is everything at Assen, and riders don't use wheelspin to complete corners as much as they do at other circuits.
"Assen is a special track for sure, it's got its own character, definitely unlike any other track in the world," says Edwards. "Man, it's so fast, every time you go there you've got to adjust your eyes because everything's going by so quick. It's one of those places where every single corner is important - you have to link it all - every corner leads to the next which leads to the next, so you screw up one corner and you screw up three, or you lose a lot of time tryin' to get back on line.
"I like pretty much the whole track - the last chicane is the only little quirk, it doesn't really fit in. You're running all nice and smooth, then you're on the brakes and going real slow. The whole place is really hard work though - it's push, pull, push, pull on the 'bars all the time, so your triceps hurt by the end of the weekend."
ASSEN CAN BE EVIL: "Assen can be an evil place when it wants to be. The camber can bite you, it's bitten some of the best riders in the world. It makes you feel so comfortable, so nice, then you get to mid-corner and the track rises and drops away from you, so if you're not careful it's 'Sayonara!', you're out of there!
"The grip level is just unbelievable, especially in the rain - you can throw the bike onto on your knee with Michelin rain tyres. I remember the first time I went there in '95, Troy Corser came around the outside of me in the rain, he was just motoring, with the thing on his knee, I thought he was crazy."
HARDER CONSTRUCTION REQUIRED: The unusually high speeds and loads caused by Assen's unique features require tyres of a rather hard construction. "As far as construction goes you don't want anything too soft," adds Edwards. "You want a firmer Michelin, just to carry the load, because when you're banging it from apex to apex, you don't want the thing folding up on you. You don't spin the rear so much at Assen, but you do put a lot of load into it which builds up temperature. I think the most important thing is getting the right construction, so you don't build up too much temperature."
Although Edwards is still adjusting to the wild world of MotoGP, he's stayed faithful to the front tyre he used in World Superbike. Michelin's 17in front slick is the front of choice in MotoGP, while the company's 16.5in front is favoured in Superbikes. Edwards is currently the only MotoGP rider who prefers the 16.5 to the 17.
WHY EDWARDS RUNS A 16.5in FRONT: "I've run the 16.5 since 2000 when I got on the Honda twin. I've been backward and forward but the 16 and a half is always better for me and my style. I've learned how to use its advantages. You want a front tyre that's going to grip and hold its shape, and the seventeen is the epitome of holding its shape, it doesn't really move much, which is the big reason I like the 16.5. It's got a little bit of movement, so you know where the edge is, it taps you on the shoulder before it says 'See ya later!'.
"The 16.5 is there for the others to try but it's just unconventional - I think everyone looks at Rossi and sees he's riding the 17, so they think it's got to be the best thing out there. I often try the 17 in practice if we have some instability or chatter, but I've yet to race it."
MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF ASSEN
Unpredictable weather is never unexpected at Assen, which is why Michelin bring more rain and intermediate tyres to the Dutch round of the World Championship than most other GPs.
READY, WHATEVER THE WEATHER: "We take more rain tyres to Assen than we do to places like Catalunya, because it's always possible that we'll get three days of rain," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "We would prefer the weather to go one way or the other - wet or dry - rather than somewhere in the middle - although the recent French GP proved that our rain tyres offer very good performance in mixed wet and dry conditions.
"Assen is an unusual circuit but it's not hard on tyres because riders never spend much time on the same part of the tyre - the track is all about constant changes of direction and lean angle - and there's not much hard braking. The grip is good, which is one reason why you need tyres of a harder than average construction. Compound-wise, I'd say Assen is medium compound. The weather isn't usually that warm and we don't expect it to be nearly as hot as it was at Mugello and Catalunya."
RIDERS NEED BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: While grip and tyre endurance aren't major issues at Assen, there's plenty of set-up work required as riders and their crews try to get the best of both worlds out of their machinery - good manoeuvrability and good stability - for all the high-speed sections. "You don't want a heavy-steering bike at Assen, because switching the bike back and forth through all the sweepers is one of the keys to fast lap times," adds Goubert. "But we wouldn't come up with a special sharper profile for one track because riders like to keep their set-up as similar as possible from one place to the other, so they completely understand the way their bike behaves. It's the same with rim sizes - maybe they could run narrower rims to quicken the steering, but a different rim would change tyre wear rate, which is just another thing for them to worry about."
Lap record: Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 2m 00.973s, 179.356kmh/111.447mph (2002)
Pole position 2002: Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 2m 01.691s
Recent winners of the Dutch GP
2002 Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 38m 49.425s (new race distance, 19 laps)
2001 Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), 30m 56.346s (rain stopped race after 15 laps)
2000 Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin), 42m 46.142s (two-part wet/dry race)
1999 Tadayuki Okada (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 41m 12.732s
1998 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 41m 17.788s
1997 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 43m 37.954
1996 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 41m 29.912s
Colin Edwards (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin)
Noriyuki Haga (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin)
Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin)
Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin)
Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin)
Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin)
Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin)
Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin)
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin)
Tohru Ukawa (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin)
John Hopkins (Suzuki Grand Prix Team GSV-R-Michelin)
Kenny Roberts Junior (Suzuki Grand Prix Team GSV-R-Michelin)
Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Shinya Nakano (D'Antin Yamaha YZR-M1-Michelin)