Brazil: Michelin preview

Barros Bids For First Rio Win Brazilian hero reveals his secrets for success at Jacarepagua Dominant Michelin men aim to maintain their grip on MotoGP series The MotoGP circus makes its annual visit to South America this weekend for the Rio...

Barros Bids For First Rio Win
Brazilian hero reveals his secrets for success at Jacarepagua
Dominant Michelin men aim to maintain their grip on MotoGP series

The MotoGP circus makes its annual visit to South America this weekend for the Rio Grand Prix, where Michelin aims to score its eighth consecutive victory at Jacarepagua. Michelin men have dominated at the high-speed track for years, none more so than Vale ntino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) who has won the past four Rio GPs, the 2000 and 2001 events on 500 two-strokes and the last two on MotoGP four-strokes.

Rossi is also the man on form at the moment, the reigning World Champion having won the last three GPs to level the points fight with title rival Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin). The Italian and Spaniard -- who battled all the way to the finish in last Saturday's Dutch TT -- are expected to continue their rivalry at Rio this weekend. So far this year Michelin riders have dominated every GP and currently hold the top 12 positions in the 2004 MotoGP points chase.

MICHELIN RIDER ALEX BARROS AND JACAREPAGUA Local hero Alex Barros (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) has his best chance in years of scoring a first-ever home GP victory on Sunday. This year the Brazilian, who contests his 201st premier-class GP this weekend, is riding Honda's RC211V V5, the bike that has dominated the past two MotoGP World Championships and won the last two Rio GPs.

"For me, this is the best bike ever," says the man from Sao Paulo. "When I first raced an RCV at Motegi in 2002 I was amazed. I couldn't feel one bad thing about the bike and it was so easy to set-up."

BARROS DETERMINED TO WIN AT RIO-- Despite his respect for the RCV, Barros hasn't had the best of starts to the 2004, scoring only one podium finish (at Jerez) from the first six races. But he's determined to turn his year around on home tarmac.

"I have a very good chance to win this year, my best chance since 2000 when we were all on 500s," adds Barros, who scored his best Rio result that year, finishing second, just 0.9 seconds behind Rossi. "I also had good chances at Mugello, where I had a pro blem, and at Barcelona (Catalunya) and Assen where I crashed. But I will be doing everything in my powers to win at Rio."

Barros knows that this year's Rio GP will be different from the last few, simply because it's being held several months earlier than usual.

IN THEORY RIO SHOULD BE DRY-- "The race will be very different this year because the date has changed -- this time we're in Brazil's winter. It won't be cold but it will be cooler. In theory, it's not the rainy season, so it shouldn't be wet, but neither is September the rainy season and it's rained at the last few Rio GPs we've had in September."

But Barros isn't too worried if the heavens do open because Jacarepagua is super grippy in the wet. "The track gives a lot of grip when it rains," he says. "Two years ago it rained heavily for the race and the lap times were incredibly fast." The usual dif ference between dry and wet lap times is ten to 15 per cent but at Rio in 2001 -- when Michelin introduced a new range of rain tyres -- it was just eight per cent.

Ironically, Jacarepagua isn't super grippy in the dry, not so much because the tarmac is slippery but because it's often dirty since the track doesn't get used as much as most modern circuits.

RIO'S ABRASIVE SURFACE-- It's very abrasive, so if the temperature is high, you get a lot of wheelspin. Tyre choice is therefore important. If you don't choose well, your tyres won't be good for all the race, and that's as true for the front as it is for th e rear.

"Both tyres are equally important at Rio, because you really ride with the front at this track. There are a lot of fast turns where you load the front, and the track is also bumpy, so you have to control front-end slides. You also get a lot of rear slides because there are a lot of long corners, just like Barcelona."

Like his fellow Michelin MotoGP men, Barros has quickly taken to Michelin's 16.5in front and new-profile rear tyre, both new to MotoGP at the start of the year.

BARROS LIKES 2004 MICHELINS-- "I really like the 16.5 front. You can brake more and it gives you some more grip on the side of the tyre, so you can use a higher corner speed. The new rear, also gives you more sidegrip, though I feel that its biggest advanta ge is greater acceleration traction out of the corners. At first we had a little bit of chatter with this tyre, but we dialled that out with the suspension. Earlier in the year we also had some problems with understeer but we've fixed that with some suspen sion adjustments."


Jacarepagua is a special challenge for Michelin's MotoGP crew. Not because the circuit places particularly complex demands on tyres but because the MotoGP circus only visits Rio once a year.

"Like Welkom and a few other places we never test there," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "That can make it difficult to improve on what you did there before, because you've so little data about the place. And we know w e have to improve at Rio because the competition got quite close last time, so we're really looking forward to this year's race."

THE RIO TRACK CAN BE DIRTY-- "Rio isn't so bad for grip, it's been okay since they resurfaced it a few years ago. But the track can be dirty -- because it's not used so much -- which can make life difficult, especially on the first day before there's much rub ber laid down. And if it does rain during the course of the weekend, the track will get dirty again. In the wet, however, the track is grippy, so it shouldn't be a problem in the rain.

"This will be the first time everyone has run our 16.5in front at Rio. We were very happy after the recent Barcelona race because endurance is a problem for both front and rear tyres at that track but after he'd won the race Valentino (Rossi) said that the front was perfect. The 16.5in has a bigger contact patch than the old 17in, which should be useful at Rio because it's the kind of track where riders need a good front tyre. We're also expecting our 2004 rear tyre to offer some advantages over last year's S4 at this track. This year's rear offers more sidegrip, which should help at Rio because there are many long corners."

THE IMPORTANCE OF LOGISTICS-- "There's a lot of logistics involved in back-to-back races, especially when we race in Europe one weekend, the next in South America, and especially when the weather conditions are so unpredictable, because we have to make sure that we have enough tyres for all conditions -- slick, intermediates and rain tyres."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Alex Barros , Sete Gibernau
Teams Repsol Honda Team