Michelin preview

2005 LE MANS 24 HOURS Presentation Looking for an eight consecutive win Winner of the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours in 1923 and unbeaten in the French race since 1998, Michelin is this year looking to pull off an eighth consecutive win.


Presentation Looking for an eight consecutive win Winner of the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours in 1923 and unbeaten in the French race since 1998, Michelin is this year looking to pull off an eighth consecutive win. This year, the French tyre firm is supplying 23 of the 50 cars entered, including the Audi R8s, the Pescarolo C60s, Aston Martins, Corvette C6Rs and a long list of Porsche GT3s.

The Le Mans 24 Hours, the Monte Carlo Rally and the Indianapolis 500 are certainly the world's three most famous motor sport competitions. Every year, more than 200,000 fans flock to La Sarthe to watch the great endurance classic, that is to say three times the attendance for the French Formula 1 Grand Prix at Magny-Cours!

The popularity of the Le Mans 24 Hours is based on a deep-rooted tradition dating back many, many years, as well as on the sheer scale of its sporting challenge. Its history abounds with memorable battles between some of the automobile world's most prestigious names. Today still, like Jaguar, Ford, Porsche and Ferrari in the 50s, 60s and 70s, manufacturers know that a win at Le Mans -- at an average speed of more than 200 kph, for 24 whole hours and sometimes in driving rain -- is a sure way of durably promoting the notoriety of their brand.

Michelin's first win in La Sarthe dates back to the inaugural race back in 1923, with the Chenard & Walcker of Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard. But it's in the 60s and 70s that Michelin really began to emerge as the number one technical partner to win in what is an extremely exacting event for the driver/car/tyre package.

Unbeaten at Le Mans since 1998 Michelin's first success of the modern era, with Alpine-Renault in 1978, underlined the advantage of close, long-term working relationships with its partner teams. Then, over the years, Porsche, BMW, Sauber-Mercedes, Peugeot, Toyota, McLaren, Bentley and Audi successively turned to Michelin tyres to help their bid for victory. Michelin and its illustrious partners have secured ten outright successes in the Le Mans 24 Hours from the last thirteen races, and seven wins from a possible seven since 1998!

Bibendum owes its most recent triumphs at Le Mans to a fruitful partnership with the VAG Group and its two brands Audi and Bentley which obtained three one-two-three finishes and two one-twos between 2000 and 2004. And last year, in addition to the privately-entered Audi R8-Michelins' monopoly of the podium, Chevrolet-Michelin and Porsche-Michelin triumphed in the LM GT1 and LM GT2 categories respectively.

Performance, endurance and consistency The keys to Michelin's success at Le Mans can be summed up in just three words: performance, endurance and consistency. The French long distance test effectively demands tyres that are capable not only of running at speeds of up to 330 kph, but also of safely sustaining average speeds of more than 215 kph and, above all, remaining consistent for three or four stints at a time, i.e. more than 500 km. Competing in a 24-hour race equally means being prepared for the unexpected, including evolving track conditions and sudden changes in the weather... An ability to anticipate, react and adapt is therefore essential. And this is where Michelin's unique savoir-faire comes into its own.

The regulations specify that just four mechanics can work on cars in the pit-lane at any one time, and the number of nut-guns is also restricted to just two. Tyre changes are therefore costly in terms of time, so the objective is to cover as many stints as possible with the same set of tyres -- without compromising either safety or performance. The knock-on effect of this is that the tyres themselves must be competitive as long as the driver stays in the car and another secret behind Michelin's success at Le Mans is the ability of its products to cover three or even four stints of 12 or 13 laps each.

Alpine-Renault, Porsche, BMW, Peugeot, Toyota, Audi... Many of the automobile industry's most prestigious names have placed their confidence in Michelin to help them in their bid to finish on the highest step of the podium at Le Mans. Michelin tyres are not only the most durable but they are also extremely competitive.

"Year after year our tyres have improved in terms of both durability and performance. The technical regulations are there to curb the performance of the cars. Yet each year, the lap records at Le Mans tumble and tyres play a big role in pushing out the package's performance envelope," says Michelin Competition's Circuit Racing Programme Manager Matthieu Bonardel.

A reshuffled deck

Despite supplying half of the entries for the 2005 Le Mans 24 Hours, Michelin is expecting to find itself with a fierce fight on its hands. "The Audis will lose between 4 and 5 seconds a lap, which means they are unlikely to figure at the sharp end before ten o'clock in the evening," predicts Matthieu Bonardel, Michelin Competition's Circuit Racing Programme Manager.

"This year, the most competitive entrants are likely to be the 'hybrid' cars and, in this sub-category, we only equip the two Pescarolos. The Courage, which was very quick at Le Castellet, and the Dome are both on rival tyres which means there will be a real fight between the tyre firms in LMP1. That also goes for the LMP2 category, Michelin equips four of the seven Courages entered. Technically, all these cars are very similar and tyres could well end up making the difference. We have also developed new specific tyres for the Porsches and we are feeling confident."


Michelin this year supplies 23 of the 50 cars on the grid: 8 in LMP1, 6 in LMP2, 6 in LMGT1 and 3 in LMGT2. 6,000 TYRES... Some 6,000 have been taken to the famous French venue in a fleet of 18 semi-trailers. Michelin staff totals 60 people, including 7 American technicians.


Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Le Mans
Teams Sauber