Spa: Michelin qualifying report

MICHELIN AND PEUGEOT CLAIM POLE POSITION THE TYRE IS THE MOST INFLUENTIAL COMPONENT ON THE CAR... Michelin has claimed pole position at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium today - 4th round of the season - thanks to the n.7 Peugeot 908 HDI...


Michelin has claimed pole position at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium today - 4th round of the season - thanks to the n.7 Peugeot 908 HDI FAP driven by Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian.

The LMP2 pole position has been sealed by the RML team (with Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton) while the Oreca team of Stephane Ortelli and Soheil Ayari was quickest in GT1.

The Spa circuit is notorious for provoking understeer, and one of Michelin's primary objectives today was to supply tyres that provided consistent front-end grip.

Nicolas Minassian, who set pole position today, explains how a driver can work together with the Michelin technicians to find the best tyre compromise in an endurance race.

How do drivers analyse tyres?

NM : " To start with, we always have several different tyre solutions available from Michelin and that helps us a lot. In order to evaluate a tyre, we start first of all by leaning on it as much as possible just to get an idea of how quickly it will wear. We look at whether or not it could last for two stints, or just the one. Sometimes you need to strike a compromise by running different tyres - soft or medium - at the front and back, or different tyres on the left or right side. This can be particularly useful on circuits that put more load on one side of the car than the other, such as Valencia or the Nurburgring. Above all we try not to slide the car too much as that can damage the tyre terminally - it won't come back after that. "

Is it difficult to become a tyre specialist?

NM : " We're all experienced drivers and we've all taken part in tyre tests, so we know how to 'feel' the tyre. Our Michelin technician lets us know what rubber is available at the start of the race weekend, without telling us too much about the characteristics of each tyre so that he does not influence us unduly. It's very important that we make up our own minds about the tyres after an objective analysis. In the Le Mans Series, we have to tread a very fine line between speed and endurance. Our objective is to find the best compromise for qualifying and the start of the race - as we have to start the race on qualifying tyres. I know the car and the tyre range very well now so I've got a good feeling with everything, which helps make the decision easier. You need to think well ahead, so that you don't get confronted with any nasty surprises during the first stint. Changing the tyres - because of an incorrect original choice - can cost a huge amount of time. "

Which are the biggest difficulties that you will encounter?

NM : " As there is not much free practice time during race weekends, it's important to get things right straight away. Furthermore, when the weather is uncertain during a six-hour race, things can get even more complicated. It's important to think of performance, but also of consistency and the later stages of the race.

How do you decide which tyres you will use?

NM : " Generally, I already have an opinion during the first tests and then afterwards I discuss it with the Michelin technician. He has more information about wear rates, pressures and so forth, so we talk about it some more and arrive at the decision together. The Michelin technician is a key member of our team, and he is always around to hear our opinions and answer any questions. It's a very important role. "

The weather was appalling at the Le Mans 24 Hours: does that make it even more difficult to choose the right tyre?

NM : " On the whole, yes ! But whether it's day, night, rain, dry or drying Michelin has always been able to come up with a good solution for us. Compared to other manufacturers, experience has shown that Michelin is always able to come up with an appropriate answer to every situation, and that is obviously a key part of winning. In dry conditions we have been able to do three stints on the same set of tyres without any problems, setting our quickest times at the end of the final stint. This proves that the tyre is not only strong, but that it also suffers no drop-off in performance despite heavy use. At the Le Mans 24 Hours, the tyres were very impressive indeed! Basically, the tyre is the most influential component on the car. If you can't get the car to work with the tyre, then you will never make progress. And if you've got a bad tyre, it doesn't matter how good the car is..."

Was the tyre choice for the Spa race difficult?

NM: "It's quite tricky as the Spa circuit can provoke a lot of understeer, because the front tyres tend to degrade quite quickly. It's really important to find a good balance and make the right tyre choice in order to make sure that the rubber doesn't wear out too much. Yesterday, we tried out quite a few different possibilities which all seemed to strike a good compromise between speed and endurance, without degrading too quickly. I've not driven at Spa in the rain so far this season, but I've got plenty of experience from previous years. We've also got a very good basis from the Le Mans 24 Hours, so I'm not worried about our choice. I know which direction to take with the range of rain tyres that have been suggested to us."

Credit: Michelin

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Nicolas Minassian , Marc Gene , Stéphane Ortelli , Mike Newton , Soheil Ayari