2001 Moto GP 500 World Championship, round 14 Australian Grand Prix, Phillip Island - October 12/13/14 2001 PHILLIP ISLAND - THE ULTIMATE TEST FOR TYRES This weekend's Australian GP provides the toughest challenge of the year for Michelin's...
2001 Moto GP 500 World Championship, round 14
Australian Grand Prix, Phillip Island - October 12/13/14 2001
PHILLIP ISLAND - THE ULTIMATE TEST FOR TYRES
This weekend's Australian GP provides the toughest challenge of the year for Michelin's crew of Grand Prix technicians. The high-speed circuit, renowned for producing some of the best GP racing ever seen, works tyres harder than any other racetrack.
It's perhaps no surprise therefore that Michelin has totally dominated since GP racing first came to the Island in 1989. The French tyre brand has won every one of the six 500 races at the circuit; indeed Michelin has won all but one of Australia's 12 500cc GPs, suffering just a single defeat from the six races held at Sydney venue Eastern Creek.
To underline the company's total domination of bike racing's most demanding class, Michelin is currently heading towards its tenth consecutive 500 World Championship. And if Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) manages to secure the title this Sunday, he will give Michelin its 21st 500 title in 26 years. The company first won the championship in 1976 with Briton Barry Sheene (Texaco Heron Suzuki-Michelin), just one year after entering the 500 arena. Of course, Michelin's success isn't restricted to 500s. Last month the company secured its eighth consecutive World Superbike title, Troy Bayliss (Infostrada Ducati-Michelin) beating rival riders, bikes and tyres in the streetbike-based series.
Round 14 of this year's 16-race World Championship, the Australian GP is also the middle event of a gruelling run of three back-to-back GPs. Riders and teams were racing in Japan last weekend and will compete in Malaysia next weekend. There is then one week's break before the 2001 season concludes at Rio de Janeiro on Saturday November 3.
THE RIDERS AND PHILLIP ISLAND
Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) may not be crowned 500 World Champion this year but the little Aussie can take a large amount of credit for the dramatic increase in race pace this season. The 2001 500 series is the fastest ever, by some margin, with lap times often a second or more faster than last year.
McCoy was the first of the modern generation of riders to fully realise the capabilities of Michelin's 16.5in rear tyre, which has grown to dominate 500 GPs over the last two seasons. By offering a larger contact patch at maximum lean, the 16.5 offers more grip, cooler running and therefore improved longevity, thus improving both one-off lap times and race-distance times. That explains why so many of this year's races have been wildly faster than before - Welkom was 35 seconds quicker than last year, Suzuka 15 seconds, Jerez 23, Le Mans 16, Brno 32 and Estoril 42.
It was McCoy's first 500 win at South Africa in March 2000 that turned his rivals on to the 16.5. By the end of last season everyone was racing the tyre, in fact last October's Australian GP was the first race in which all the major riders concurred, choosing the 16.5 over the formerly more popular 17in.
McCoy is proud to have played his part in the 16.5 revolution, but is also somewhat regretful that his rivals now share what was once his secret! "It was definitely better when it was just me and a couple of other guys on the tyre!" smiles the man from Camden who originally chose the tyre because it suits his wild, sideway styles developed on the speedway oval. "The 16.5 has more edge grip mid-corner, which is where I like to get on the power. The 17 is a lot flatter on the top of the tyre, so there's not so much rubber on the ground when I'm cranked right over. The 16.5 has really changed things this year, now that everyone's got their bikes set up to work with the tyre. And because everyone is really going for it using the 16.5, the races have got a lot faster."
Phillip Island is expected to follow the trend of faster race times, but the improvement may not be as extreme as that experienced at other venues because last year everyone was already using the 16.5 at the Island. The awesome high-speed venue is tougher on tyres than any other GP track, so the 16.5's characteristics made it a must have at the circuit.
"The Island is very tough on rubber because you're really on the gas, especially through the last run of lefts before the start-finish straight, they really give the tyres a hard time," adds McCoy. "I'd say it's a real bravery track because you're so flat out and on the gas. You try to use a lot of corner speed, then hold it flat stick, then just button it back if things get a bit dicey. After I got hurt at Le Mans in May I'd been keeping in mind that I don't want to crash, I don't want another injury, but I feel better on the bike now.
"It's not my favourite track but I wouldn't say I don't like it. I think my last year's result was my best result at the place, so I guess I've had some bad luck there. Because it's so fast it's not the most sideways of tracks, but the rear can get a bit out there through a few of the corners. The places where you get it really sideways are out of the final turn, on the exit from Southern Loop, and through Lukey Heights."
MICHELIN AND PHILLIP ISLAND
Phillip Island may only be the second fastest of this year's 16 Grand Prix tracks after Dutch circuit Assen, but there's no track tougher on tyres than the high-speed Australian venue. The Island's succession of long and super-quick turns creates huge stresses on tyres, especially the rear, and it's Michelin's job to create tyres able to handle these demands.
"Phillip Island is the hardest GP track on tyres, by a long way," explains Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "You only need to look at the guys going around the track to understand why. There are a lot of fast corners, through which riders use a lot of lean angle and a lot of throttle, so they're using a lot of wheelspin and that puts so much heat into the tyre.
"Phillip Island was always a bit of a concern with the 17 that everyone used to use, riders had to really think about saving the tyre to go the distance. But the 16.5 is a much stronger tyre, so it doesn't have any problems going the distance. Last year's Phillip Island race was the first time all the front runners chose the 16.5. They had been moving in that direction for much of the season, but everyone knew the 16.5 would be a must at this track."
The 16.5's greater longevity and its resistance to wear doesn't only mean that riders can enjoy lap- record-breaking grip all the way to the very end of races. It also means that they can choose softer rubber than they could previously have chosen, which gives them yet more grip. As always Michelin are doing a huge amount of work on compounds, improving their rubber mixes and tailoring them to suit specific tracks.
"We have worked hard this year to develop the 16.5 to improve its good points still further and fix any shortcomings," adds Jacques Morelli. "Initially some riders had chatter problems with the 16.5, which wasn't a big surprise to us because more grip generally means more chatter. For some months we focused on solving the chatter problem and we made a big breakthrough during August with a new version of the tyre. Without going into too many details, this tyre has a slightly softer construction. We probably won't use that tyre this weekend because this is a very fast track, the kind of place where you need a stronger construction tyre to give stability through all the fast corners. However, we do have a new 16.5 for the weekend - similar to last year's Phillip Island tyre but with a modified compound.
"As far as the front goes, we have to make sure that riders have a very grippy front tyre. The weather conditions are usually quite cold at Phillip Island and it can also be very windy, plus there are many fast corners through which riders need to maintain a very high corner speed if they're to achieve good lap times, so riders need a lot of grip from the front tyre." <pre> PHILLIP ISLAND DATA Lap record Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) 1m 32.743s 172.658kmh/107.285mph (1999)
Pole position 2000 Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia Grand Prix Team-Michelin) 1m 32.552s
Previous winners of the Australian Grand Prix 2000 Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin), 42m 29.792s 1999 Tadayuki Okada (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 42m 09.271s 1998 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 42m 42.511s 1997 Alex CrivillÈ (Repsol Honda-Michelin) 42m 53.362s 1996 Loris Capirossi (Marlboro Yamaha Team Rainey) race held at Eastern Creek
Michelinís Partners - 500cc class (provisional list)
No. Rider Nation Bike Team 1 Kenny Roberts USA Suzuki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 3 Max Biaggi ITA Yamaha Marlboro Yamaha Team 4 Alex Barros BRA Honda West Honda Pons 5 Garry McCoy AUS Yamaha Red Bull Yamaha WCM 6 Norick Abe JPN Yamaha Antena Tre Yamaha díAntin 7 Carlos Checa SPA Yamaha Marlboro Yamaha Team 8 Chris Walker GBR Honda Shell Advance Honda 9 Leon Haslam GBR Honda Shell Advance Honda 10 Jose Luis Cardoso SPA Yamaha Antena Tre Yamaha díAntin 11 Tohru Ukawa JPN Honda Repsol-YPF Honda Team 12 Haruchika Aoki JPN Honda Arie Molenaar Racing 14 Anthony West AUS Honda Dee Cee Jeans Racing Team 15 Sete Gibernau SPA Suzuki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 16 Johan Stigefelt SWE Sabre V4 Sabre Sport 17 J¸rgen vd Goorbergh NED Proton KR3 Proton Team KR 18 Brendan Clarke AUS Honda Shell Advance Honda 19 Olivier Jacque FRA Yamaha Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 21 Barry Veneman NED Honda Dee Cee Jeans Racing Team 24 Jason Vincent GBR Pulse Pulse GP 26 Vladimir Catska SVK Paton Paton 28 Alex Criville SPA Honda Repsol-YPF Honda Team 41 Noriyuki Haga JPN Yamaha Red Bull Yamaha WCM 46 Valentino Rossi ITA Honda Nastro Azzurro Honda 56 Shinya Nakano JPN Yamaha Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 65 Loris Capirossi ITA Honda West Honda Pons