MICHELIN MEN PLAY FOR HIGH STAKES AT MotoGP's SLOWEST TRACK The 2006 MotoGP World Championship moves into its final phase at Estoril in Portugal, the first of two season-ending GPs in Europe following the sport's three-race overseas odyssey in...
MICHELIN MEN PLAY FOR HIGH STAKES AT MotoGP's SLOWEST TRACK
The 2006 MotoGP World Championship moves into its final phase at Estoril in Portugal, the first of two season-ending GPs in Europe following the sport's three-race overseas odyssey in Malaysia, Australia and Japan.
With just two races remaining the title is wide open, with five riders able to win motorcycling's biggest prize which last went 'down to the wire' way back in 1992. Michelin riders have used Michelin MotoGP tyre technology to dominate the 2006 series and currently hold the top three places in the points chase. Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), Valentino Rossi (Camel Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V-Michelin) are separated by just 37 points at the top of the points table, while Rookie of the Year Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) is in fifth spot and still has an outside chance of the title. So far this year Michelin riders have won 12 of 15 races, scored nine pole positions and filled 36 of a possible 45 podium places.
Michelin has an excellent record at Estoril, winning all six premier-class GPs staged at the circuit since 2000. Estoril is the slowest track in MotoGP but offers its own set of challenges to tyre technicians. The circuit is very asymmetric, none too grippy and quite bumpy. Changeable weather conditions can also add an extra complication at MotoGP's most westerly Continental event.
MICHELIN'S RESPONSE TO THE CHALLENGE OF ESTORIL
"Estoril is quite a difficult track because it is quite asymmetric," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "Also this year's race is quite late so the conditions could be chilly, maybe wet too. And because the track is close to the sea the weather can be unpredictable and change very quickly, a bit like Phillip Island.
"The circuit itself is quite interesting because it's a strange mix of very slow corners and very fast corners, and there's a long straight too, so it's quite varied. The surface is quite old, it's not very high grip and not very hard on tyres, so it's quite difficult to find grip, although there are a few long corners that do put some heat into the tyres. The last corner is particularly long, with riders using a lot of lean and a lot of throttle, so you need the right side of the rear tyre to be quite strong."
"This is the last but one race of what has been a great season and we have four of our riders fighting for the title. This is very exciting for us but it doesn't change the way we work. Maybe we get a bit more pressure from the teams at times like this but we treat all our riders the same, then at the end the best will win!
"In Australia last month Michelin achieved its 350th premier-class victory. I didn't realise at the time because I'm not counting. I've been director of the company's motorcycle racing activities since 1997, during which time we have won something like 150 GPs. Each of those victories is a success for the Michelin group, it's a team achievement, it is never just one guy's input. But I am very proud of what Michelin has achieved in motorcycle racing, especially in MotoGP which has been a huge challenge with massive increases in horsepower. We have dominated the series, winning all but seven of the 80 MotoGP races held since the start of 2002 and we have never been beaten in wet or intermediate conditions."