Monza: Michelin preview

Michelin begins the defence of its Le Mans Series title With a capacity entry of 49 cars, the addition of a sixth round in Brazil and the arrival of at least one factory team in the flagship LMP1 category, the 2007 Le Mans Series confirms its ...

Michelin begins the defence of its Le Mans Series title

With a capacity entry of 49 cars, the addition of a sixth round in Brazil and the arrival of at least one factory team in the flagship LMP1 category, the 2007 Le Mans Series confirms its status as a major international championship and an exciting shop window for the celebrated Le Mans 24 Hours. A longstanding key player in long distance motor racing, Michelin will be looking to extend its enviable the series which was first organised in 2004. Michelin has also put its name to the new Energy Endurance Challenge which will reward the most fuel efficient teams at each LMS round as well as during the Le Mans 24 Hours.

After taking top honours in the Le Mans Series every year since the competition's creation in 2004 and after securing the title in every one of the three categories in which it was present in 2006 (LMP1, LMP2 and LMGT1), Michelin will once again be out to take its partner teams to the highest step of their respective podiums in this season's LMS.

As one of motor racing's only top international formulae to permit free competition between tyre manufacturers, the Le Mans Series is clearly of particular interest to Michelin whose products have been chosen by most of the full-house entry of 49 cars.

" Michelin et le LMS Challenge "

"Our year-long presence in both the Le Mans Series (LMS) and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) allows us to develop products for the calendar's two major endurance fixtures which are the Le Mans 24 Hours and the 12 Hours of Sebring, two events that Michelin won in 2006, and again in 2007 even in the case of Sebring! Without our active presence in the LMS and ALMS, however, we couldn't hope for victory at either Le Mans or Sebring . Our aim at Michelin is to help our manufacturer and privateer partners optimise their preparation for Le Mans which is their priority objective." explained Michelin's Competition Director Frederic Henry-Biabaud

Michelin's partners include the new factory Peugeot Total team which has chosen the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Le Mans Series to showcase its new diesel-powered 908 HDi FAP. The French squad will be looking to find its marks in the discipline, however, and the new car can expect stiff opposition from the LMP1 prototypes run by some of the LMS's more experienced teams - including reigning champions Pescarolo Sport - which promise to be especially competitive at the slower venues where outright power promises to be less decisive.

Michelin's 2006 titles in the LMP2 and LMGT1 categories will also be defended by an exciting list of top entries.

"The Le Mans Series is a particularly stimulating challenge for Michelin," says Matthieu Bonardel, Michelin's Racing Programme Manager. "In 2007, we will be working with a broad variety of LMP1 cars feature big differences regarding chassis design and engine types. Meanwhile, we face a number of top LMP2 teams racing with the tyres of other manufacturers. We have chosen not to compete in LMGT2, however, because we didn't want to refuse any of the strong teams that approached us in the other three categories."

Michelin's range for the LMS marks a significant shift compared with the tyres campaigned in 2006. "All our slicks are different and half our intermediates and full rain tyres have evolved following our winter testing programme, " continues Matthieu Bonardel. "In P1, we have sought to improve outright performance without losing any of the ground gained in terms of endurance, while the P2 category sees the introduction of a new front dimension that has only been used in the ALMS until now and which contributes to combating understeer. Last but not least, our aim in GT1 has been to enhance the endurance performance of our tyres to permit double stinting at every circuit without affecting grip which is a compromise none of teams wanted to make."

Michelin Energy Endurance Challenge
Fuel efficiency rewarded

Following trials conducted in 2005 and 2006, a Michelin-backed Energy Endurance Challenge has been introduced for 2007 with a view to rewarding the most fuel-efficient teams in all six rounds of the Le Mans Series and in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

This challenge will use a specially-calculated formula known as the Energy Performance Index (EPI) which is based on the weight, fuel consumption and average speed of each team's cars during the race.

Given the complexity of this calculation, the Michelin Energy Performance Challenge classification for each race will be published along with the official results and the prize- giving ceremony will take place at the following round.

"Our aim is to highlight the capital role played by the driver/car/tyre package as a whole in optimising fuel efficiency and it is important to note that this challenge isn't just restricted to Michelin teams," explained Michelin's Competition Director Frederic Henry-Biabaud at the Le Mans Series pre-season test days at Le Castellet, France, in March.

"Michelin's credentials when it comes to durable performance go back a long way," he continued. "We have long understood the importance of low rolling resistance tyre technology when it comes to cutting CO2 emissions. We have made significant gains with our road tyres in this domain and green tyres today account for 80 per cent of the Michelin range. So while motor sport often serves as an exacting proving ground for breakthroughs that go on to benefit road tyres, this is a case of our road tyre know-how and research being beneficial to our race programme. That is something I find particularly exciting and rewarding."

Prizes will be awarded to the best-performing teams in all four categories, namely LMP1, LMP2, GT1 and even GT2 in which Michelin isn't present this year.

The six-round 2007 Le Mans Series calendar features just two venues visited in 2006, namely the Nurburgring and Spa-Francorchamps. The four others are either new to the series or else return to the programme this year, namely Monza, Valencia, Silverstone and newcomer Interlagos in Sao Paulo in Brazil which will bring down the curtain on the season with a 1,000-mile race in November (the other fixtures are all 1,000km races).

"The year kicks off with Monza which has a number of characteristics in common with the full Le Mans circuit, including chicanes, high-speed braking and fast corners," observes Matthieu Bonardel. "But that's where the comparison stops. Its surface is more abrasive and there is less hard cornering, which means less hard re-acceleration. The key is to find the optimal balance between response from the front tyres for the chicanes and traction performance out of them, plus good lateral grip for corners like Parabolica."

The tyre challenge of the different circuits, with Matthieu Bonardel (Racing Programme Manager, Michelin)

1 Monza (April 13-15)
Track length: 5.793km
Race distance: 1,000km

Matthieu Bonardel: "This is an extremely complex circuit for us, especially regarding the rear tyres, and more notably the rear lefts of the prototypes. Wear isn't exceptionally high at Monza but the extremely high speeds reached dictate a robust tyre while turns like Parabolica call for impeccable balance. At the same time, you need good response from the front tyres to avoid understeer through the chicanes. In fact the demand of the drivers tends to change between practice and the race: during practice they like a nice responsive front end but that can compromise rear tyre performance which is what they tend to favour during the race."

2 Valence (May 4-6)
Track length: 4.005 km
Race distance: 1,000km

Matthieu Bonardel: "This is probably the least challenging circuit of the year for us, despite the lack of grip because of the very smooth asphalt. The profile is quite twisty and the low speeds mean it can be difficult to get the tyres up to their working temperature. The drivers consequently tend to prefer a soft compound, but traction performance is equally important. If it rains, the smooth surface makes Valencia as slippery as a skating rink."

3 Nurburgring (June 29-July 1)
Track length: 5.148 km
Race distance: 1,000km

Matthieu Bonardel: "The Nurburgring is always a challenging venue for Michelin. We don't really have a problem with the rears, but the overall lack of grip means it can be difficult to get the fronts up to their ideal working temperature and that can produce understeer. The surface also produces wear and this heightens the understeer problem. Soft tyres will wear but a harder compound may not deliver. On top of that, the amount of grip available can evolve during the race and produce differences of up to as much as 3 seconds a lap, although you can never tell whether that will be quicker or slower. Meanwhile, the fact that temperatures can range from one extreme to the other in the Eifel Mountains even at this time of the year only adds to the complexity of the challenge we face here. We therefore have to cater for all eventualities and take a complete range of options with us. Happily, the Le Mans Series gives us complete freedom on the tyre front."

4 Spa (August 17-19)
Track length: 6.976 km
Race distance: 1,000km

Matthieu Bonardel: "This is a very fast track and quite a challenge for tyres. Spa calls for a robust tyre and we essentially take our Le Mans range. That said, Spa can produce understeer; the front tyres have a tendency to slide if the set-up is optimised for the rears so you need to find a good balance to be sure that the fronts don't wear too quickly. Meanwhile, tyre strategy is probably more important here than anywhere else. The teams have to decide whether to go for a soft compound and single stints or attempt double stinting with a medium compound. That said, when the weather's hot, the rears can suffer too, although if it rains and it often does here! the undulating nature of the track and the good drainage of the asphalt mean that you can run with a slick in light rain, or with intermediates in heavy rain. That can be very useful as conditions can differ from one end of the track to the other."

5 Silverstone (September 14-16)
Track length: 5.141 km
Race distance: 1,000km

Matthieu Bonardel: "This year sees the return of Silverstone to the Le Mans Series instead of Donington which took its place on the 2006 calendar. People often believe that the visit to Silverstone means a strong likelihood of a wet race. The last time the LMS came here two years ago, however, this was the only round of the season that wasn't affected by rain! The weather can in fact be quite warm and, when it is, Silverstone calls for impeccable grip at high speed, making it a bit like Monza without the chicanes. The fast corners tend to flow into each other without any real straights so, despite the high average speeds, we generally don't have a problem with the front tyres; it's the rears that suffer the most. It is not rare to run harder compounds on the left-hand side of the car which takes the strain through the mainly right-hand corners. And we also have to have a good stock of wets... just in case!"

6 Interlagos (November 9-11)
Track length: 5.309 km
Race distance: 1,000 miles

Matthieu Bonardel: "This 1,000-mile race is a new fixture for the Le Mans Series and we have little knowledge of the circuit. Happily, we will be able to extrapolate from Michelin's experience of the surface, profile and conditions built up here over the years here in Formula 1 and GT racing. We will also be able to count on the teams' simulation work to establish a basic set-up before we leave. We will basically take enough tyres to cover a wide range of situations. One of the best-known features of Interlagos is of course the fact that it is anti- clockwise circuit and, as at Silverstone, it may be profitable to run different tyres left and right."

-credit: michelin

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Series European Le Mans