Spa: Michelin preview

A legendary race at a legendary venue-- Organised for the first time in 1963, the Spa 1,000km became a qualifying round of the Le Mans Series calendar for the first time in 2004 and Michelin-equipped prototypes enjoy a 100% record at ...

A legendary race at a legendary venue--

Organised for the first time in 1963, the Spa 1,000km became a qualifying round of the Le Mans Series calendar for the first time in 2004 and Michelin-equipped prototypes enjoy a 100% record at this legendary circuit in this championship. But who will follow in the footsteps of Audi and Zytek this time round?

Located in the Belgian Ardennes and nestled in a landscape of forests and deep-cut valleys, Spa-Francorchamps is viewed by many drivers as the finest venue of the season, and possibly the toughest too. For the men from Michelin, it's an eagerly awaited if somewhat daunting fixture.

"The circuit's length is 6.973km which makes it the longest of the 2006 Le Mans Series. It offers average grip, but repeated hard cornering through the left-hand turns makes big demands of the front-right tyres, although the rear tyres tend not to suffer. Average speeds are very high," says Michelin's Circuit Activities Manager Matthieu Bonardel. "The biggest challenge, however, can be the weather."

Whatever the time of year, the weather is effectively frequently unsettled in this part of the world and, given the length of the circuit, it can be dry in one place and very wet in another. The temperature can also vary considerably from end of the circuit to the other. "That's why we need a complementary range of versatile tyres for Spa. Slick tyres may be asked to perform in damp conditions, while the intermediates also need to be competitive in the wet. Because of the length of the track and the pit straight, getting tyre choice wrong can prove very costly."

The Belgian race was the opening round of the 2005 championship and Michelin enabled its partner teams to get the year off to a flying start despite the damp conditions and cool temperatures: "Getting the tyres up to their ideal working temperature is a key factor at Spa. But our slick tyres performed very well on a drying track last year." The premier category was eventually won by the Michelin-shod Zytek of Shimoda/Nielsen/Elgaard.

Who will succeed from them this time round? After its win in the inaugural race of the 2006 LMS in Istanbul, the Pescarolo C60-Michelin of Collard/Boullion will find itself up against the Zytek 06S-Michelin for the first time this year after the Nielsen/Elgaard/Anderssen car missed the Turkish round. Meanwhile, the Oreca-run Saleen S7R- Michelin of Ortelli/Ayari will also be making its 2006 debut at Spa. "We won't have any new tyre developments for the LMP1 cars in Belgium. On the other hand, we will have wider front tyres for the LMP2s and a new range of tyres for the GT1s," reveals Matthieu Bonardel. Spa is the final endurance race before the Le Mans 24 Hours, so it is a good opportunity for us to validate our range of rain tyres and also fine-tune our slicks for cars like the LMP2s."

-michelin

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Series European Le Mans