MICHELIN EMBRACES CHALLENGE OF NEW MotoGP ERA The 2007 MotoGP season begins a new era in the development of the world's most prestigious motorcycle racing series. Following MotoGP's hugely successful first five seasons, during which the ...
MICHELIN EMBRACES CHALLENGE OF NEW MotoGP ERA
The 2007 MotoGP season begins a new era in the development of the world's most prestigious motorcycle racing series. Following MotoGP's hugely successful first five seasons, during which the company won all five World Championships, major changes to the technical regulations will ensure that 2007 is a whole new challenge for factories, tyre manufacturers, teams and riders. And, as always, this crucial development work will filter through from Michelin's MotoGP project to its streetbike development department to improve the tyres bought by Michelin's road-riding customers.
There are three major revisions to this year's MotoGP technical regulations a reduction in engine capacity from 990 to 800cc, a limit in the number of tyres available to riders at MotoGP events and new restrictions in the amount of testing that can be undertaken by MotoGP participants. All three of these changes represent a significant change in the way Michelin and its MotoGP rivals go racing, but Michelin is determined that it will continue to dominate bike racing's premier class, just as it has done despite other rules changes.
Michelin has largely dominated the last three decades of premier-class racing, ruling much of the two-stroke 500cc era from the company's first 500 GP win in 1973, then maintaining that supremacy when the sport switched to hugely powerful 990cc four-strokes in 2002. It commences the 2007 season having won a total of 351 premier-class GP victories as well as 26 of the past 31 titles, including a clean sweep of the last 15 crowns. An unrivalled record of genius performance at the highest level!
"This year is going to be a really challenging year for everyone," says Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's new director of motorcycle racing. "The bikes have changed a lot, so that's important for the teams, the riders and for us. The new tyre rules give us an exciting new opportunity to move forward in MotoGP, creating tailor-made tyres for each of our riders."
Not only has Michelin developed new tyres to suit the new 800s, it has also developed new ways of working with its riders to get the best out of the new tyre regulations. Each rider is now restricted to 31 tyres per GP weekend (14 fronts, 17 rears), whereas before there were no restrictions in the number of tyres used. This change demands a shift in approach from the tyre manufacturers. Michelin's new policy is to offer tailor-made tyres to each of its riders, according to individual riding style, machine performance and the character of each racetrack.
Michelin's nine MotoGP riders have every confidence in the French company's ability to continue offering race-winning tyres. "Michelin doesn't enjoy all this success by being lucky, they put in the work and listen to what us riders have to say," reveals 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin). "Like in 2005 they gave us a wider-profile front tyre which gave me the confidence and the grip to start winning races. My results really improved thanks to that tyre. It's the same with the 800s they listen to what we've got to say, like we say these bikes have more corner speed, so we need more edge grip, so they give us give us more edge grip."
Former World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Michelin) has similar faith in Michelin's efforts. "Michelin always works step by step, and this is the clever way to work in MotoGP," says the Italian, who won the previous five premier-class crowns from 2001 to 2005. "They give us more edge grip from the rear, then more traction, then they give us a better front, so it's always step by step, improving the lap times, improving the race times."
Last year's MotoGP Rookie Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin) is also enjoying working with Michelin to produce a new range of tyres for the 800s. "It is a special experience working with Michelin's technicians, it makes you realise how much work and development goes into these tyres," says the Spaniard. "I'm very much enjoying working on the 800 project, it's great to be involved in something from the beginning."
Hayden, Rossi and Pedrosa are joined by six other riders on Michelin in this year's MotoGP series. Between them the nine riders have won a total of 15 World Championships!
MotoGP's NEW TECHNICAL AND SPORTING REGULATIONS
The move to 800cc MotoGP bikes follows concerns for safety due to the immense speeds achieved by the 990s, which were already nudging 350km/h in 2003. On the other hand, the new technical regulations on tyre allocation and the new sporting regulations that restrict testing were introduced to encourage continued competition between the world's top tyre brands (rather than subject MotoGP to a single-tyre rule) and to contain costs by restricting testing and reducing the number of tyres used by riders at MotoGP events.
New MotoGP Technical Regulations (Extract from FIM Technical regulations)
2.9. Tyre restrictions for MotoGP
2.9.1 Wet tyres are not subject to supply restriction. A wet tyre is defined as a tyre which has a land-to-sea ratio of at least 20% overall, and a minimum ratio of 7% in each third of the section profile. The tyre may be moulded or hand cut, but each groove must have a minimum depth of three millimetres over 90% of its length. Any tyre with a land to sea ratio of less than 20% will be deemed a slick tyre. In case of dispute the decision of the Technical Director will be final.
2.9.2 Prior to the start of the season (defined as the day before the start of the first IRTA MotoGP test of the current year), each team must register the brand of tyre it will be using with the Grand Prix Technical Director. Should a team choose to change its designated brand of tyre during the season it must inform the Technical Director in writing prior to the start of scrutineering at the event where the change will take place.
2.9.3 Teams that are supplied by a tyre manufacturer that has achieved at least two MotoGP race wins in dry conditions since the first race of the 2005 season will be restricted in the quantity of slick tyres that each of the teams riders may use at a single event as follows: During all practice sessions, warm up and the race a maximum of 31 slick tyres, specifically front tyres: 14, rear tyres: 17.
When a tyre manufacturer, not subject to the limitation at the beginning of the season, achieves two MotoGP wins in dry conditions during the current season, it will become subject to the restrictions at the third event after the one where the second win was achieved.
2.9.4 Between 12.00 hrs and 17.00 hrs on the day prior to the start of official practice, the Technical Director will mark the tyres available to each entered rider.
2.9.5 Each motorcycle entering the track fitted with slick or hand-cut 2.9.tyres (as defined in Art 1) must first have its tyres checked for 2.9.compliance
2.9.6 In the case of an interrupted race, a rider must use tyres from his allocation of marked tyres for the restarted race. 2.9.7 In the unlikely event of a tyre being accidentally damaged during the fitting process it may be replaced with a tyre of the same specification with the permission of the Technical Director. Such replacement tyres will be marked and included in the allocation of the rider concerned.
2.9.8 Should an exceptional and unpredictable safety problem arise for a manufacturer during an event, so as to prevent a team supplied with its tyres from safely competing in the race, then that manufacturer must inform and prove to the satisfaction of the Technical Director the severity of the problem. The Technical Director may then ask the Race Direction to grant an exemption. Such request must be made before 17.00 hrs on the day of qualifying practice.
The exemption if granted will apply as follows: Each rider using tyres supplied by the manufacturer granted the exemption will be supplied with three tyres of a new specification (front and/or rear depending on the determination of the problem). Such replacement tyres will be marked by the Technical Director, and only these tyres may be used in the race.
A new provisional starting grid will be published with all of the riders supplied with the tyres of the manufacturer granted the exemption starting at the rear of the grid in the order of their qualifying positions.
New MotoGP Sporting Regulations (Extract from FIM Technical regulations)
1.15.1 Practice Restrictions
For the purpose of practice restrictions the year is divided into two parts. The "Season" is defined as the period starting 13 days before the first race of the year and ending 4 days after the last race of the year, both dates being inclusive. The Season does not include "Breaks". A Break is defined as two consecutive week-ends where events are not scheduled. The period of the Break extends from 09h00 on the fourth day after the Grand Prix until the following Grand Prix.
The "Winter" is defined as the rest of the year, i.e. starting 5 days after the last race of the season and ending 14 days before the first race of the subsequent season, both dates being inclusive. The Winter does not include the "Pause". The Pause is a period starting on the 1st December of one year and finishing on the 20th January of the following year, both dates being inclusive.
18.104.22.168 MotoGP Class
Practice with machines eligible for the MotoGP class is forbidden:
i) During the "Season" at any circuit included in the Grand Prix calendar of the current year with the following exceptions:
a) Practice included in the schedule of the Events.
b) Practice during the three days immediately following an event at the circuit at which the event has taken place. c) Any activity authorised by the Race Direction.
d) Manufacturers and constructors who supply machines to the MotoGP class may, before the 20th January of each year, designate and inform the Race Direction of one Grand Prix circuit as their testing circuit at which they may practice during the Season and during the Breaks with their MotoGP class machines during a maximum of 30 days or part thereof, but not with their designated riders or with riders designated by other teams and not as from 14 days before the race scheduled for that circuit. The schedule of such tests and any subsequent amendments must be notified to the Race Direction.
ii) During the "Winter" at any circuit with the following exceptions:
a) At a maximum of seven official tests organised by Dorna/IRTA at Grand Prix circuits included in the calendars of the preceding or following year, each test being of maximum three days duration.
b) At any circuit not included in the Grand Prix calendar of the preceding or following year.
c) Manufacturers and constructors who supply machines to the MotoGP cclass may, before the onclusion of the last event of each year, cdesignate and inform the Race Direction of one Grand
Prix circuit as their testing circuit at which they may practice during the Winter with their MotoGP class machines at any time, excluding during the Pause.
d) Furthermore, during the Winter, no single rider may participate in more than eight tests, each of a maximum of three days, at any circuits.
INSIDE MICHELIN'S NEW 16in MotoGP FRONT TYRE
Michelin's MotoGP stars will contest this year's World Championship with an all-new 16in front tyre. The tyre is another step forward in the never-ending process of progress which has helped Michelin win the last 15 premier-class crowns.
The new 16in front tyre delivers several advantages over the 16.5in with which Michelin dominated the last few seasons of MotoGP. It offers lighter handling, more grip and improved confidence crucial benefits to the new breed of nimble 800cc MotoGP bikes.
Work began on the tyre early last year. "The aspect of performance that we particularly wanted to improve was the speed at which the rider can get the bike to maximum lean because this is a very important factor in producing good lap times," reveals Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "The new tyre gives a slightly bigger contact patch between 40 degrees of lean and maximum lean which creates more grip, so riders have more confidence to flick the bike onto its side as they attack the corners.
"Also, the tyre is slightly smaller and lighter so it creates less inertia, which allows faster changes of direction. But we believe that the better corner-entry and mid-corner speeds we are now seeing aren't only due to our new front, because the 800s themselves are faster through the corners."
Michelin riders were able to test the tyre during the early stages of last season. Initial feedback suggested that Michelin engineers needed to do some further work on construction and it wasn't until the end of the season that Michelin were ready to continue testing the 16in.
"The 16's profile is quite similar to the 16.5's but we had to make some big changes to the construction and we did this using different computer models. Once we understood what we needed to do we produced new 16s for the post-season tests and our riders immediately gave us very positive feedback. They said the tyre was a big step forward from what they were used to."
Michelin continued to develop and improve the 16 as winter testing progressed, encouraging riders to carry out back-to-back tests between the 16 and 16.5 at a variety of circuits Valencia, Jerez, Sepang, Phillip Island and Losail. "We have been to some very different circuits but although our riders switched back and forth between the two tyres they always said the 16 was better, so there's no reason to go back to the 16.5," adds Weber.
Of course, work isn't finished on the 16 tyre development is never finished. "Our first major job was to get the profile and the construction right," explains Weber. "Now we are working on our range of compounds for the 2007 MotoGP tracks, and this is work which will continue throughout the season."
This isn't the first time that Michelin has used a 16in front tyre for Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Marco Lucchinelli (Nava Olio Fiat Suzuki RG500-Michelin) and Franco Uncini (Gallina Suzuki RG500-Michelin) won the 1981 and 1982500 World Championships riding on 16in front Michelins, while Freddie Spencer won the 1983 (Honda NS500-Michelin and Rothmans Honda NSR500- Michelin) and 1985 crowns with a 16in front. His 1983 bike also featured a 16in rear tyre.
"But this is another world from 1982 the stresses and temperatures are much greater now because the bikes are so much better and the riding so much more aggressive," says Weber. "Yes, we are using a 16in front again but everything is different from last time t he design, the construction, everything, and although we still mix rubbers, carbon black and various chemicals for the compound, the recipe is completely different."
HOW DO THE NEW RULES CHANGE MotoGP FOR MICHELIN?
Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's recently appointed director of motorcycle racing, considers the affect that MotoGP's new regulations will have upon the task of tyre choice
Does the 31-tyre limit change the way you work with riders at GPs?
Yes, it changes a lot. In the past our policy was always to make sure that the same tyres were available to all our riders, rather than making individual tyres available to individual riders. From this season we have a different approach. Because of the limitation in the number of tyres we can supply to riders we have to provide the best specification tyres to each of our riders to make sure they all have the package that best suits each of them. So we will take advantage of the flexibility of our production plant to make tailor-made tyres for each rider. Each rider will have his own development programme with us, we will work in whatever direction necessary to give them the tyres they need to get the best results. Of course, this doesn't always mean that all our riders will use different tyres. At some tracks maybe all of our riders or most of them will use the same front or rear tyre.
What will be the major differences in the tyres assigned to each rider?
Usually the difference will be only compound and construction. During 2007 we aim to have two different front profiles and two different rear profiles, as we did last year, because having more profiles only complicates the task of bike set-up for the teams.
How big will the differences be between the tyres made for each rider?
That will depend on the racetrack. We may have some tracks where the difference between all riders' tyres is only 15 per cent, but at other circuits the difference might be 40 per cent.
With fewer tyres available, will you have to work more carefully than before?
Over the last few years we sometimes had new tyres delivered to the track during a GP weekend, so now we have to plan everything much earlier. We will have to create a weekend strategy to get the best out of each rider's allocation of tyres. We must also work carefully to ensure no confusion with the new tyre markings. All tyres are marked with barcodes when they are handed over to the MotoGP technical director before the start of the GP weekend, so we must make sure that our own markings and the organisation's markings correlate with each other, because if there is a mistake, riders can be penalised and sent to the back of the grid.
How many of the 31 tyres will be qualifiers?
My recommendation is that each rider has two qualifying tyres per weekend, but, like everything else, that will depend on the rider. If a rider is very happy with his rear tyre, he might tell us before the next race that he's very fast and very confident with that tyre, so he won't need a big choice of different rears, so he might ask for five qualifiers instead. But my recommendation is two qualifiers.
What do you make of the new 800s?
They have been quite a surprise because even last November they were almost as fast as the 990s, and sometimes faster! And because we are at the very early stages of development we can expect some rapid improvements, so we may soon see somemajor increases in horsepower, just as we experienced at the start of the 990 era.
From where do the 800s get their speed?
They seem to handle better and have more corner speed than the 990s. The bikes seem very compact and maybe the factories have changed weight distribution, centre of gravity and so on to improve their handling and make them faster through the corners. In fact the rear tyres we used last year worked very well with the 800s when we started testing with them but we've needed to work hard to give the riders more edge grip so they can exploit the superior corner speed.
So how different are your 2007 tyres from your 2006 tyres?
The rear isn't so different, we will probably retain the same size and work more on construction and compound. With less horsepower from the 800s we can currently use softer rears than we used with the 990s, though the difference isn't huge because the higher corner speeds deliver another kind of stress into the tyre. The biggest difference for 2007 is our 16 inch front tyre, which we have introduced for better handling and better grip. But the front tyre compound will be only slightly softer than we used in 2006 because the braking forces are very high with the 800s.
What can you tell us about your new front profile?
During last November we began testing a new 16in front tyre. All the riders who tried this tyre immediatelytold us that they preferred this tyre to the two 16.5in fronts we used last season. The 16 offers better manoeuvrability, better grip and delivers improved confidence, so riders can flick quicker into turns from brake to full lean, and they have more grip so they can hold a tighter line through corners. They all seem to have more trust in this tyre.
How will the change in testing regulations affect your work?
We have to work very hard during winter testing to gather as much data as possible. There is still quite a bit of testing during the season but most of it is after races, which is very different because the riders have been stressed all weekend, then they only get a few hours rest after the race before they begin testing on Monday. They are only human! During winter tests riders are fresher and in a testing mood, so they can test a lot of stuff, but after races they are physically and mentally tired, so we can't put so much pressure on them. Also, we will have to work hard on our computer models so we can make better use of our data, extrapolating what we learn at one circuit to help us at other circuits. With less testing available there will definitely be more theoretical work to be done.