British GP: Michelin preview

BRITAIN - WHERE IT ALL STARTED FOR MICHELIN Michelin won its first premier-class motorcycle GP victory in Britain 32 years ago-- The British motorcycle Grand Prix has a special significance to Michelin because it was...


Michelin won its first premier-class motorcycle GP victory in Britain 32 years ago--

The British motorcycle Grand Prix has a special significance to Michelin because it was in Britain that the French tyre company won its very first premier-class World Championship race more than three decades ago. Australian Jack Findlay (Suzuki-Michelin) had the honour of scoring the company's maiden success in June 1973 at the Isle of Man TT, Britain's World Championship event at the time.

Since then Michelin has won more than 330 premier-class victories and 24 world titles, including an unbeaten run of the last 14 500/MotoGP crowns. And its domination continues this season with a straight eight wins from eight races so far, six of those victories achieved by reigning MotoGP king Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin).

Findlay, actively involved in the organisation of GP racing until just a few years ago, remembers having a few qualms about becoming Michelin's first top 500 GP rider and then helping the company to introduce the first slick tyres to GPs.

"I was worried, because even at that time the tyres were essentially the only thing between your backside and the road," he recalls. "But pretty soon I was thinking 'Jeez, these things aren't too bad at all'. I remember when we first turned up with slick tyres in the Isle of Man - the scrutineers were against slicks altogether, they said there was no way you could go out onto the track without a tread on the tyre! But they made a huge difference to riding and pretty soon everyone was using them."

Findlay, who became Michelin's chief test rider for radial-tyre development after he'd retired from racing, remembers that the pace of development was very different in his racing days. "It was another world, nowadays riders test four or five different tyres every race, back then you might test four or five in a year!" Current MotoGP series leader Rossi will have a typically busy weekend at Donington, testing various Michelin compounds specifically tailored for the complex British track. And on Sunday the Italian will aim to win his fifth British GP in six years to complement Michelin's domination in the recent British F1 GP at Silverstone, where Michelin drivers monopolised the top five places.


Troy Bayliss (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) is fired up for this weekend's British GP after an impressive return to form at the US GP, where he qualified fourth fastest, just 0.046 seconds off the front row, and equalled his best result of the year with a hard-fought sixth-place finish.

"I wanted better than sixth at Laguna but hopefully it's something that we can build on for the British GP, even though Donington's never been that good to me," says the straight-talking Aussie, who lived in the Coventry area while he conquered the British Superbike series in 1999. "I did okay there in British Superbike but I always preferred places like Brands and Oulton. The best bit at Donington is from the exit of Redgate, all the way round to the back straight, the fast, flowing stuff, not the Mickey Mouse stuff at the end of the lap.

"Donington works the tyres a lot. It's a front-endy kind of a track, so if you've not got the front working right, you're in trouble. It's like that because you're braking into a lot of the turns on the side of the tyres, especially places like the Old Hairpin and then into Mcleans where you're pretty much at full lean when you grab the front brake. The slow turns, like the Mickey Mouse hairpins, aren't so tricky, they're just in- and-out stuff.

"There's not many lefts, so you've got to be a bit careful through places like Craner and Goddards when you're on cold tyres. I've been caught out at Goddards in the past and you've got to think about it when you flick into Craner going down the hill. The place that really works the rear is Coppice, you get a lot of rubber laid down there because there's a lot of sliding going on.

"For overtaking I guess the Mickey Mouse places can work, just nip it up the inside on the brakes, or sometimes you can get up the inside of people into McLeans. But like anywhere, it's worth giving it a go at any corner where you feel good.

"Michelin are still doing the business in MotoGP, it doesn't matter where we go, they come up with the right tyres for the place. They don't even need to bring a dozen different tyres because they know what's needed for each track. Generally you get five or six rears to choose from, but with front tyres I've got a couple that I like wherever we go and I stick with them."


Donington Park has hosted the British GP ever since 1987, when it took over from Silverstone, which had become the event's home in 1977 after the treacherous Isle of Man TT circuit was axed from the calendar.

Of the 18 Donington GPs so far, Michelin riders have won 14, including an unbeaten run of six victories since 1999. The circuit isn't hugely demanding on tyres but it does have its own special demands. Its two crucial characteristics are its contrasting high-speed and low-speed sections and its asymmetric layout, with seven right-handers and just three left-handers.

The fast section, from Redgate to the back straight, and the slow section, from the Fogarty Esses to Goddards (nicknamed the car park by some riders) do place different demands on tyres but they are a real conundrum for team engineers, who must find a settings compromise between two mutually exclusive chassis characteristics - stability (for the fast turns) and manoeuvrability (through the slow turns).

Meanwhile Michelin engineers invest much time and effort in developing tyres that offer enough endurance for race-long grip through all the right-handers while offering good traction through the few left-handers. "In fact that job isn't a hard as it used to be since they resurfaced the track for last year's race," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "The surface is much more grippy now, so it's easier to find compounds that are good for the entire track.

"We've been doing a lot of work on compounds recently. Results from the early part of the season proved that the work we did during the winter gave us a good rear construction which offers consistent performance throughout races. It takes four or five GPs at different tracks and in different conditions before you know if you've done a good job on tyre construction, and we've had some great races in all kinds of conditions so far this year. We've proved that we have excellent race-long performance at quite a few tracks - our riders scored the fastest lap on the last lap at Assen and Le Mans, and three laps from the finish at Barcelona. So now we're happy with construction, we're focusing on creating the right compound for each track as well as improving our range of compounds.

"Another big consideration at Donington is the weather. We need to be prepared for all kinds of conditions because the track temperature can be 20 degrees or 40 degrees. Our aim is always to have compounds that offer great grip over a wide range of temperatures. That's not easy to achieve at many venues but recently we seem to have managed it. At Assen, for example, it was hot during practice and qualifying but much cooler for the race, and yet all our top guys were able to use the same tyres they'd used during practice."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Troy Bayliss