Michelin Portuguese GP preview

MotoGP SAYS AU REVOIR TO EUROPE Can Rossi win again at final European round before four flyaway MotoGP events? Why slowest MotoGP track presents a real challenge to riders and tyre designers This weekend at Estoril MotoGP racing says au...

MotoGP SAYS AU REVOIR TO EUROPE

Can Rossi win again at final European round before four flyaway MotoGP events?

Why slowest MotoGP track presents a real challenge to riders and tyre designers

This weekend at Estoril MotoGP racing says au revoir to Europe. Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix ends a run of nine Continental GPs that have captivated motorsport fans around the world. Although many people expected reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi ( Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) to dominate in 2003, the racing has been anything but predictable with four different winners from the last five races. Rossi does lead the series but Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin), Loris Capir ossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) and Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin) have all proved themselves capable of victory in biking's fastest, most competitive race series. And former World Superbike champ Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) is also very much on the winning pace -- at Brno three weeks ago he finished just 0.6 seconds down on winner Rossi!

But while it's difficult to predict who will win the next race, it's not so difficult to predict which tyres will prove victorious. Michelin, winners of the past 11 premier-class World Championships, has continued to dominate in 2003, winning every race so far and filling the top 11 places in the current World Championships standings. Michelin also has an unbeaten record in premier-class Portuguese GPs, with five wins at three different tracks and in two different countries. The first two Portuguese GPs wer e run in Spain -- the 1987 event at Jarama, the 1988 race at Jerez -- because the track didn't make the GP grade until modifications were carried out in the late nineties.

On Sunday evening the MotoGP circus prepares for its four-race overseas odyssey -- in Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Australia -- before returning to Europe for the season-ending Valencia GP in Spain on November 2.

MICHELIN RIDER CARLOS CHECA AND ESTORIL

Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) knows how to cut a fast lap around Estoril better than most. Last September at the tortuous, bumpy Portuguese venue Checa scored his first MotoGP pole position. This season, the most competitive in the spo rt's history, the Catalan rider is fighting to get back to the front of the pack; he's had some good rides but has yet to score a 2003 podium.

"For me Estoril is like every track, I need a good balance between front and rear, good stability on the brakes and good turning," says Checa who finished fourth in last month's Czech GP, just five seconds down on winner Rossi. "Once you have that basis, y ou can adapt the bike to suit the track. Estoril has a fast main straight, heavy braking into turn one and several other turns, it's also got a few fast corners but 70 per cent of them are slow. And it's bumpy too. I like the track, though I don't like the bumps, especially at turn one and turn two. Also, the complex of corners before the final turn is way too slow for a MotoGP bike, I think you could get through there quicker on a scooter!

"The uphill chicane is probably the slowest corner in MotoGP. You need a bike that's easy to handle through there and you need good throttle-to-tyre connection at low throttle openings, because you're only using maybe 10 per cent throttle.

"The last turn is probably the most important corner at Estoril. Fast corners are always important because you can make a lot of time through them, so the right-hander onto the back straight is also crucial; it's not flat-out, no way, but you want to get t hrough there as quick as possible to carry that extra speed down the back straight. It's not so easy to gain time through slow corners, but it's very easy to lose time through them! MotoGP is so competitive now, with just a few tenths separating many rider s, so you can't afford to lose time anywhere."

MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF ESTORIL

Weather permitting, the Estoril lap record is almost certain to go this weekend. Drastic improvements in bike and tyre performance over the past few years have resulted in major improvements in lap and race times. The only reason that the Estoril lap recor d is two years is that last year's Portuguese GP was run in soaking conditions.

Although it's the slowest MotoGP circuit, Estoril isn't easy for riders or their technicians who must make compromises in bike set-up to suit the track's contrasting characteristics. "It's quite an unusual track because it's got some very, very slow turns like the chicane and some quite long, fast corners like the final corner," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "It's also a difficult race to predict since Estoril can be subject to very unpredictable weather because it's so close to the Atlantic. It can be pretty hot or quite cool and it's often very windy. The track itself is pretty bumpy but the grip isn't that bad, especially in the wet.

"The contrasts within the track layout are a consideration, but they involve bike set-up more than tyre choice. Our biggest job is to come up with the best compounds to offer our riders the best possible grip, and that grip comes regardless of whether the corner is fast or slow. I'd say that we use medium-compound and medium-construction tyres at Estoril -- this gives riders the best compromise for the circuit's various demands.

"The track is also pretty bumpy, but less so than Brno or Rio. The bumps are a consideration, but once again they occupy the minds of people working on set-up more than us. Bumps can always start chatter. A few years ago, when everyone was going from our 1 7in rear to our 16.5 rear a few riders did have problems with chatter, but we've fixed that, last year none of our guys had chatter at Estoril."

-michelin-

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