Rossi can secure Michelin's 23rd premier-class crown at Motegi on Sunday
With four races to go, Michelin riders monopolise top ten places in MotoGP
MotoGP king Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) has an outside chance of retaining his MotoGP crown at Motegi on Sunday and thereby securing Michelin's 23rd premier-class World Championship. To wrap up the title with three races remaining R ossi must win, with closest-challenger Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) finishing 15th or worse. Realistically, Rossi is more likely to win the title at one of the two following GPs, but whatever happens Michelin will once again be MotoGP champions, proving the company's continuing dominance of the world's most demanding bike racing series.
Michelin has reigned supreme in the premier-class since 1992, the company currently enjoying an unbeaten run of 11 World Championships and more than 80 consecutive race wins. This year Michelin has scored race victory and pole position at all 12 championsh ip rounds, filling all but one of the 36 podium-finishing positions so far, despite determined opposition from two rival tyre brands. And Michelin has amazing strength in depth - Michelin riders currently occupy the top ten positions in the 2003 MotoGP poi nts chase. Not only that, Neil Hodgson (Fila Ducati 999-Michelin) recently underlined the French company's continuing domination of top-level roadracing by winning its tenth consecutive World Superbike crown.
MICHELIN RIDER SHINYA NAKANO AND MOTEGI
Shinya Nakano (D'Antin Yamaha YZR-M1-Michelin) hopes to be back to full fitness for his second home-country race of the year this weekend. The former Motegi 250 GP winner has spent the last month or so recovering from injuries sustained during a big crash during qualifying for August's Czech GP. "I'm hoping to be 100 per cent fit for Motegi," says the former All-Japan 250 champ, currently tenth in the MotoGP points standings. "I'd say I was only 80 per cent fit at Rio, I was still getting a lot of pain from my right shoulder every time I braked. But at least I'm now 100 per cent at home on the four-stroke, which I started racing this time last year. I wouldn't say it's necessarily easier to ride than the 500, but I prefer it because it offers better traction and more stability during braking."
Although Motegi isn't the most popular of circuits with some riders, it will always have a place in Nakano's heart because it was here that he won his very first GP victory, the Japanese 250 GP in April 1999. "I like Motegi but it's a very stop-and-go circ uit - all hard braking and heavy acceleration," he adds. "I think it's quite a tough track for tyres, with no real camber in any of the corners. I normally go for medium compounds, because its grip isn't so bad. But it's not easy to choose the right tyres at Motegi - finding a tyre to do one lap is easy enough, but the stresses from low-gear acceleration require you to think carefully about your rear race tyre."
The circuit is dominated by fairly straightforward corners, which give riders little opportunity to make a difference over rivals. But there's one part of the track where Nakano thinks that he can gain time over other riders. "I'd say the most important se ction of the circuit is the succession of esses from turns four to seven, and those are the corners I really enjoy because like most riders I like faster corners," he explains. "I'm not so keen on the first part of the track, however, turns one and two are n't so much fun, and it's hard to overtake through these corners."
Nakano has run Michelin tyres ever since he graduated to the premier class in 2001, initially on 500 two-strokes. The smooth-riding Japanese star used to have a very individual taste in front-tyre design, but following recent development work, Michelin has created a new front tyre that works as well for Nakano as it does for the company's other riders.
"I'm very happy with the work Michelin have done since I started using their tyres, especially what they've done this season," reveals Nakano. "Their latest tyres are like a new generation, the rear offering better grip and longer life; and to improve thes e opposing factors at the same time is impressive. Michelin improved the rear first, but for me the biggest improvement has come from the front tyre. In the past I sometimes struggled with front-end confidence, so I would use a soft-construction front for maximum feel, because I wanted more contact feeling, more feedback from the tyre. But for various reasons this isn't always the ideal tyre. Michelin has been working hard on their fronts recently and their latest fronts are amazing, now I can use the same front as other riders and get all the feel I need."
MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF MOTEGI
Twin Ring Motegi is dominated by in-and-out corners, many of them 90 degrees, which place the emphasis on how riders enter and exit corners, rather on how they get through them. It's not a complex circuit, but its character makes for complex issues in tyre design. And by the same token, although Motegi isn't a fast circuit, engine performance is primordial.
"Motegi is a very specific kind of racetrack - braking and acceleration are by far the most important factors," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's Japanese-speaking motorcycling competitions chief who fronted the company's Japanese car and bike racing operat ion from 1993 to '97. "So you need good braking performance and good corner-exit performance. It's not like flowing circuits like Phillip Island where riders can make up for a lack of horsepower by maintaining momentum. Maybe peak horsepower isn't so cruci al at Motegi, but you need very strong second- and third-gear acceleration.
"Tyre-wise, all that braking and acceleration puts a lot of strain on the centre sections of the front and rear tyres. Also, you need very grippy tyres because most of the corners are very short, so the tyres have little opportunity to generate any heat b ecause the bikes aren't on their sides for very long. These two requirements make Motegi quite a challenging circuit for us because it's not easy to come up with a tyre that will handle the straight-line demands while also working well in the corners. Also , we never really test there.
Nonetheless, Michelin has always come up with the goods at Motegi. The French tyre giant has dominated all four premier-class races at the circuit, taking pole position, race victory and fastest lap on each occasion.
"We tend to use medium-soft compound tyres with a medium construction at Motegi, because the grip level isn't that high and the weather conditions aren't usually that hot," Goubert reveals. "When the track was new it was very grippy, then the grip level dr opped quite quickly, as is normal once a circuit gets 'run in', but since then the grip level has stabilised. Overall the circuit is in good condition - it's quite new and it doesn't get used for F1 testing, so it's not bumpy."