Round -- but, for once, not black!
Over the years, the trophy cabinets of champions become packed with the different medals and cups they claim on their way to glory. As it bowed out of the WRC, BFGoodrich chose to mark the occasion by thanking the crews that brought it so many wins and titles with an original prize: personalised coloured tyres.
Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) gave the BFGoodrich brand its first WRC success by winning the 2006 Monte Carlo Rally. In the space of two seasons, the Finnish pair totalled twelve outright victories on BFGoodrich tyres.
Meanwhile, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Citroen/BFGoodrich) contributed the most to BFGoodrich's list of sixteen world class wins and two world titles.
During the recent Wales Rally GB, the final round of 2007 and the swan song WRC outing for the American tyre brand, BFGoodrich profited from the occasion to present these four drivers and co- drivers with an original and personalised award: tyres coloured with their respective national flags and marked '150 WRC rounds' for Gronholm and Rautiainen and '98 WRC rounds' for Loeb and Elena.
300 hours of work
It should be stressed that these weren't tyres that had simply been painted but actually coloured in their mass using colorants incorporated into the compound itself. The production of these coloured tyres took approximately 300 hours of work.
The strips of coloured rubber were delicately laid on the casing of a real rally tyre; alongside each other for the 'Finnish' tyres and superimposed in the case of the 'French' and 'Monegasque' tyres.
Although black, the sidewalls were made from coloured rubber, too. Had a real rally compound been used, the black would have run and blended with the other colours in a matter of days and the end-result would have been dreadful. The finished items were then vulcanised (baked), in the same way as any tyre.
In total, 11 coloured tyres were made in the Michelin Group's competition workshops in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Each one called for more than an hour's work. The second phase of the process involved etching the message into the rubber by hand.
The tyres presented to Loeb and Elena featured an asphalt pattern (g-Force Profiler) as a tribute to their six straight wins in Germany and their domination on sealed surfaces. Those of Marcus and Timo had a gravel pattern (g-Force Gravel) in recognition of their record-breaking sequence of seven consecutive wins in Finland.
"Everything was done by hand, using a drawing and stencil. It took a steady hand, I can tell you! Afterwards, the edges were milled to obtain a perfect finish. I spent between 20 and 25 hours on each tyre," explains the tyre world's Michelangelo, Antonio Ferreira.
Surprised and moved
The quality of the work was not lost on the World Champions at the official award ceremony in Swansea, Wales, on Friday November 30, as Marcus, Timo, Seb and Daniel inspected their respective prizes from all angles.
"It's magnificent, and really original," said Marcus Gronholm, visibly moved. "It mirrors the careful, hard work that everyone in the Michelin Group has put in all these years."
"Mine won't just sit at the back of the garage; it will take pride of place at the front," promised Timo Rautiainen who also thanked the Group's staff for their work during the past eight years. If I could have four more to put on my car, that would be perfect!"
"It's certainly original, just like the real Michelin/BFGoodrich tyres always were," confided Sebastien Loeb who went on to claim his fourth world title two days later. I have always had the utmost faith in the Michelin Group's and I'm sure I will miss them on next year's Monte Carlo Rally"
"I think the Monaco tyre looks the best," quipped Daniel Elena. It's a remarkable job. Thank you, all of you. It's the end of a long and fruitful adventure. But who knows? Maybe we'll be back together in a few years' time--"
The record of Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena on BFGoodrich tyres
28 WRC rallies
188 stage wins 16 wins
228 Drivers' points
scored 2 world titles
The record of Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen on BFGoodrich tyres
32 WRC rallies
199 stage wins
223 Drivers' points
scored 2 runners-up world titles