Spa: Michelin preview

1,000KM DE SPA: MICHELIN TARGETING A HAT-TRICK Following the first two encounters at Barcelona and Monza, this weekend sees the 2008 Le Mans Series move on to the rollercoaster ride of Spa-Francorchamps for round three. This legendary venue and...

1,000KM DE SPA: MICHELIN TARGETING A HAT-TRICK

Following the first two encounters at Barcelona and Monza, this weekend sees the 2008 Le Mans Series move on to the rollercoaster ride of Spa-Francorchamps for round three. This legendary venue and its succession of sweeping corners represent a unique challenge for tyre manufacturers, yet Michelin will be looking to keep up its unbeaten by securing its third win of the season.

Following its victory at ultra-fast Monza two weeks ago, Michelin will be out for further success this weekend as the LMS teams travel to Spa. Nobody is taking anything for granted, however, since the Belgian venue is radically different to the Italian track. Whereas, at Monza, the teams generally go for low aerodynamic downforce because of the long straights and push the rear tyres as they slide under re-acceleration, the opposite scenario tends to prevail in the Belgian Ardennes where the rear tyres tend to stay 'glued' to the track.

"There are several specific aspects about the third round of the 2008 Le Mans Series," says Matthieu Bonardel who manages Michelin's four -wheel motor sport activities. "The most significant thing about Spa is the fact that the front tyres slide a great deal because of the combination of long hard cornering and the low-grip surface. At Monza, the long straights give the fronts a chance to cool but Spa tends to be just one long sequence of corners."

Because of the constraints they face, the front tyres generate understeer, so the balance of the cars is completely different to Monza which puts the accent more on oversteer. "The surface at Spa offers little grip and is not very abrasive, so the teams will probably opt for soft tyres, even if the weather is hot," believes Matthieu Bonardel. "We will perhaps see some medium compounds come out for the race to avoid excessive wear, but that's just a maybe. It is true that harder tyres wear less but they slide more, so the balance can be affected and this can produce even more understeer, which isn't good for lap times."

One of Spa's best known features is the spectacular compression atEau Rouge which some drivers describe as the trickiest turn of the season, although it doesn't pose all that much of a problem for Michelin. "The thing about Eau Rouge is the fact that it produces peaks in lateral and vertical acceleration simultaneously," observes Matthieu Bonardel. "The tyres need to soak up a big load, but the phenomenon only lasts a few milliseconds and the constructions are perfectly capable of withstanding such forces. Durable constraints push tyres harder than short, intense efforts. At Spa, they suffer more through Pouhon and Blanchimont, two very long corners where they are exposed to forces of several 'g'."

The characteristics of Spa make it a much different challenge to Le Mans than Monza. For example, the French circuit doesn't make the same demands on the front tyres . "Even so, Spa can help our preparations for Le Mans in two ways," continues Matthieu Bonardel. "First of all, the weather won't necessarily be hot. I don't expect we will have track temperatures as high as 35C as we did at Monza. The temperatures are more likely to be closer to what we might get at Le Mans at night. Also, Spa isn't very abrasive, so the prototypes are will probably use soft tyres to compensate for the lack of grip, although they probably won't double-stint because of the drop-off in performance."

Spa is also famous for its unsettled weather, and Michelin would welcome wet conditions as an opportunity to test the new maxi-rain tyre designed over the winter for the sort of downpour seen at Le Mans in 2007. "This is the second thing about Spa which could help us prepare for Le Mans. We will have our full range of wet weather tyres in Belgium, but we haven't had any call to use any of them so far this year," points out Matthieu Bonardel. "There is a chance we could see some rain during the weekend at Spa, either during practice or in the course of the race. Our new maxi-rain tyre will obviously be available, but we don't know whether teams will use it. Spa is a very special circuit in wet weather. Its undulating profile means that water drains easily and, if the weather is warm, it is possible to stay out on slicks in drizzle and run intermediates in heavy rain. That said, if it does rain a lot this weekend, and if the thermometer dips to as low as, say, 12C, it will be good to have our new maxi-rain tyre with us."

-credit: michelin

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Series European Le Mans