Bibendum looking to bow out with a 224th win!
Although both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titlehave already been wrapped up (by Sebastien Loeb and Citroen -Michelin respectively), the Michelin brand would dearly love to conclude its long adventure in world class rallying with one last win. After an uninterrupted spell of 32 years in the World Rally Championship, Michelin will hand over in 2006 to BFGoodrich, a Michelin Group brand since 1990. Rally Australia will consequently be Bibendum'sfinal WRC outing and its rallies staff will be looking to add a 224th win to the 38 world crowns already secured since 1973.
The final task faced by Michelin tyres is no mean challenge! For tyre manufacturers, Rally Australia is one of the season'smost complex rounds because of the small, round, bauxite stones that cover the surface of the 'Bunnings' stages where grip is very much at a premium. "It is very probable that Day 2's stages inthe 'Bunnings'forest will once again be decisive," predicts Michelin Competition's Rally Programme ManagerAime Chatard. "The average diameter of these stones is between 8 and 10mm, and they form a loose top coating which has to be brushed aside before drivers can benefit from maximum grip. Start order is capitally important."
To optimise performance over these stones, Michelin - which counts eleven previous Rally Australia wins to its name since 1990 - has developed a number of solutions over the years, including narrow tyres and more open tread patterns. This year, the job of taking on the bauxite marbles will be down to the Z BTO which has already won six loose surface events this year in the hands of Sebastien Loeb . As we have already said, the BTO combines the strengths of the different Michelin tyres we have designed and rallied in recent years," says Aime Chatard. "We expect the Michelin Z BTO, which marks a step forward in terms of lateral grip and braking performance, to be as competitive in Australia as it has been on such different types of rallies as New Zealand, Argentina and Turkey. But once again, you are always a little bit in the dark in the case of long haul events since pre-event testing on location is forbidden."
A full-scale test session
With each of the 2005 World Championship'stitles already sorted, it could be feared that the final round of the season will be more or less 'just for fun'. "That's not the case though," counters Aime Chatard. "For one thing, Ford will be looking to test the new Focus WRC in readiness for the campaigns to come, while we will be looking to profit from the weekend to test and analyse the limit of our different products. Rally Australia will be the antepenultimate round in 2006, so there is a good chance it could be decisive in one or both title chases. Both for us and for Ford, the weekend marks an important step in our respective preparations for the future."
Meanwhile, Sebastien Loeb, winner in Perth twelve months ago, will be looking to make it two in a row and thereby add a 21st WRC win to his personal record. Should he succeed, it will bring him to within five wins of the score of the outright record holder, Carlos Sainz (26 WRC wins). The Frenchman won't be expecting an easy ride, however, since neither Marcus Gronholm , who has won Rally Australia three times with Peugeot-Michelin, nor Petter Solberg, who won in 2003, have any intention of ending the season with a defeat.
Loeb'sown Citroen -Michelin team-mate Francois Duval, who fu lfilled his mission to the letter in Catalonia (2nd), is still hoping to claim his first world class victory, while Ford-Michelin's Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta will be entrusted with putting the new Focus WRC through its paces in rally conditions. Finally, in the Skoda-Michelin camp, Armin Schwarz will team up in Perth with Scotland'sColin McRae who was already a victory contender in Australia exactly ten years ago!
Rally Australia, which first counted towards the World Championship eighteen years ago, is based in the Western Australia capital of Perth. The extremely fast yet narrow stages are bordered by eucalyptus trees which pardon absolutely no mistakes. When it rains, stages become as slippery as skating rinks. On this terrain, which is as demanding on the tyres as it is on the drivers, Michelin has already won eleven times. It is probable that the 2006 event will be the final Rally Australia to be held in this part of the country.
BFGOODRICH TYRES IN WRC FROM 2006
BFGoodrich in WRC and JWRC!
First tests begin in thirty days' time
The Michelin Group, which has been present in the World Rally Championship since the creation of the series in 1973, is to continue its involvement in the sport through its BFGoodrich brand from 2006. In Australia, the Bibendum logo will therefore appear on the cars of its partners for the final time.
BFGoodrich is currently working on two programmes simultaneously: the 2006 World Rally Championship and the 2006 Dakar Rally. Testing of BFGoodrich's WRC range is scheduled to begin at the beginning of December, in thirty days' time . BFGoodrich will also be the official tyre supplier for the FIA Junior World Rally Championship in 2006 and 2007.
Meanwhile, BFGoodrich's partners in the world of cross -country rally-raiding are also busy preparing for 2006. The Mitsubishi-BFGoodrich team - which has won the Dakar ten times, including a series of five in a row - is actively building up to the 2006 event for which four Pajero/Montero Evo 4s will be entered. Two factory Mitsubishis (for Stephane Peterhansel and Nani Roma) will compete in the UAE Desert Challenge in Dubai (November 7th -11th) which is the final round of the 2005 FIA Cross Country World Cup.
The Volkswagen team is also busily preparing for 2006. Carlos Sainz, the most successful driver in WRC history with 26 wins to his name, was fastest over the prologue stage of the recent Baja Portalegre, an event used to prepare for the 2006 Dakar, before going on to finish in 3rd place behind Luc Alphand (Mitsubishi-BFGoodrich) and Jutta Kleinschmidt (VW- BFGoodrich). The VW Race Touareg-BFGoodrich enjoyed further success in the 2005 Cross-Country World Cup when Stephane Henrard won the Rallye des Pharaons (September 25th - October 1st). Five Race Touaregs will take part in the 2006 Dakar.
Founded in 1870 by Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, the BFGoodrich brand has flown the colours of the Michelin Group on four wheels (cars) in the Dakar Rally and in the Cross Country World Cup since 1998. From 2006, BFGoodrich will spearhead Michelin's presence in rallying, both in the WRC and on the Dakar, while the Michelin brand will continue to compete in Formula 1, MotoGP and Endurance racing. BFGoodrich's WRC tyres will be developed and produced in Clermont-Ferrand, France, where the majority of the Group's competition tyres are designed.
A prestigious record in motor sport
The BFGoodrich brand enjoys a glittering competition record. BFGoodrich tyres have won America's most prestigious off -road event - the Baja 1000 - nineteen times, as well as the world's best known hill -climb, Pikes Peak, the Sebring 12 Hours and the Daytona 24 Hours. In 2004, BFGoodrich won 75% of the cross-country events organised across the world, including a long list of European and American Bajas, the Dakar, etc. This season, in addition to a fourth consecutive win in the Dakar in association with Mitsubishi, BFGoodrich tyres clinched the 2005 FIA Cross Country World Cup with two rounds remaining following Bruno Saby's win in the Rallye d'Orient driving forVolkswagen.
ON THE TECHNICAL FRONT
TYRE LOADS NOMINATED ON SEPTEMBER 23rd
The cut-off date for registration of the 70 tyres authorised per driver for Rally Australia was September 23rd, that is to say prior to the start of Rally Japan. A maximum of 45 of these 70 tyres may be used during the event.
THE MICHELIN Z BTO TYRE
Although the regulations permit a maximum of two types of tread pattern for Rally Australia, Michelin runners have only nominated the celebrated Michelin Z BTO (Braking & Traction Optimisation). It is expected that the medium compound Michelin Z BTO 9 and the hard compound Michelin Z BTO 9+ will be the most frequently used options.
Michelin'soverseas kit, which comprises two containers filled with equipment and Group N tyres, left Obihiro for the Australian port of Fremantle the day after the finish of Rally Japan. Another container containing the nominated tyres for Michelin's partnersfor Rally Australia left Marseilles, France, on September 24th.
Although the 2005 Rally Australia visits familiar stages, the event'sformat has been revised. The groups of stages programmed on Days 1 and 2 are particularly long (up to 77km on the Friday) but are made up of a number of short stages. On the contrary, Day 3'sstages tend to be longer (close to 30km) but the groups of stages are shorter. The Australian stages are not particularly hard-wearing, but the event takes place in November, so ground temperatures promise to be high.