Qatar GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN GOES FOR 12th WIN FROM 14 RACES With the title wrapped up, all eyes are on the Michelin-dominated battle for second overall Michelin goes for its 12th race victory of the year at Qatar this Saturday, ...

MICHELIN GOES FOR 12th WIN FROM 14 RACES
With the title wrapped up, all eyes are on the Michelin-dominated battle for second overall

Michelin goes for its 12th race victory of the year at Qatar this Saturday, less than a week after Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) secured the company's fifth consecutive premier-class crown with a second-place finish in last Sunday's Malaysian GP. Although the French tyre brand has had a challenging time at the last two race GPs, its engineers are confident of a strong performance at Losail, where last year Michelin riders monopolised the first seven finishing positions.

With Rossi claiming the title with four races still to go, the focus now switches to the thrilling battle for second overall, which has 37 points separating six riders, five of them Michelin men: Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V- Michelin), Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), Marco Melandri (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) and Alex Barros (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin).

Last year's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix was an historic event for MotoGP, the World Championship's first visit to a Middle Eastern country. Hardly surprisingly, the weekend was dominated by extreme conditions - ambient temperatures nudging 50 degrees and desert sand on the track - making the event a massive challenge for riders and teams alike.

MICHELIN RIDER SETE GIBERNAU AND LOSAIL

Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) is hoping for a change of luck at Losail this weekend. Winner of last year's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, Gibernau has had a luckless time since, not taking a single victory from the last 16 races.

However, the Spaniard has lost none of his confidence despite a run of ill luck that has him eighth in the current MotoGP World Championship standings. "It seems that when things go bad, they go really bad," says Gibernau, who was second overall in 2003 and 2004. "But mentally I believe in myself more than ever, we just need a change of luck, so I'm hoping for a win this weekend."

Although Losail isn't a stand-out MotoGP track, Gibernau reckons he enjoys this event. "It's an interesting track, like it's got the only triple right I've ever seen," he says. "So it's different for sure - it's flat, it's sandy, it's hot, plus it's got a bit of everything - a long straight, tight corners and flowing corners.

"Last year it was bad when we got there, just really sandy, which means no grip, but it was the same the first time we went to Welkom (South Africa) in 1999. It's simple - the more you ride the track, the better it gets. On the first morning last year it was like riding in the rain, in fact it was worse because we don't have sand tyres! It's just really unpredictable. You just have to ride real smooth and not ride aggressively until you get some rubber down and the track comes to you. Tyres are important here but they're important everywhere nowadays. The bikes make so much power that you can't do anything if you've not go the right tyres - tyres are always crucial."

MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF LOSAIL

Qatar made history last year when it became the first Middle Eastern country to host a round of the MotoGP World Championship. Situated just inland from the Persian Gulf and a few kilometres from the capital of Doha, Losail was constructed with one purpose - to attract the world's fastest bike series to this oil- and gas-rich nation. The track proved popular enough with the riders, while the air-conditioned pits made life more comfortable for the teams, but the main issue of the weekend was desert sand getting blown onto on the racetrack.

"It's another hot track but we're used to that," says Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions Nicolas Goubert. "Track temperature was 40 degrees at Motegi, it was more at Sepang and it'll probably be around the same at Losail, up in the 50s. We didn't show such a great technical performance at the last two races, but that's what racing is all about, you always learn something, so now we look forward to showing what we can do at Losail.

"The Losail track isn't particularly demanding on tyres - it's very symmetric, it doesn't have any particular character and it's not got any fast corners that need a lot of throttle. The main consideration will be the sand. You never know what kind of grip you're going to get here because of the sand. Last year it was bad - lap times dropped by ten seconds from first practice to race day as the sand got cleared away, so we couldn't learn much about the track because conditions changed so much from one session to the next. Then we went back to test in February, just a few days after the World Superbike round, and the conditions were much better because the track had been cleaned by the other bikes. It was a good test but will it be useful? I doubt if conditions will be as good at the start of this weekend, because the track doesn't get used a great deal, so we'll have to wait and see. If it is sandy, you do everything you can to find grip, but if you use really soft tyres, the sand wears them out quickly, whereas if you use hard tyres you have no grip."

-michelin-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Colin Edwards , Sete Gibernau , Marco Melandri