Catalunya GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN AIM TO REIGN AGAIN IN SPAIN Catalunya track is a big challenge for tyre manufacturers, riders and engineers MotoGP is big in Spain, so big that the world's biggest bike racing World Championship makes three visits to the country each ...


Catalunya track is a big challenge for tyre manufacturers, riders and engineers MotoGP is big in Spain, so big that the world's biggest bike racing World Championship makes three visits to the country each season, and so big that even King Juan Carlos counts himself amongst Spain's MotoGP fans. In recent years Michelin has very much dominated MotoGP events in Spain, winning the Spanish, Catalan and Valencia GPs over the past six seasons.

And Spain plays a vital role in Michelin's motorcycling successes. Around 9000 people work for Michelin in the country, and the company's massive Lasarte factory, in the Basque region, produces the bulk of Michelin's global motorcycle tyre output. Founded in 1934, Lasarte makes tyres for trucks, cars, bicycles, scooters, streetbikes, dirtbikes and racing motorcycles, though Michelin's MotoGP tyres are still made at the company's Clermont-Ferrand base.

This weekend Spanish fans will be hoping that Sete Gibernau (Movistar Honda MotoGP- Michelin) can return to his winning ways after a tough start to his 2005 season. Winner of eight GPs over the past two years, and runner-up to reigning World Champion and current series leader Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) in 2003 and 2004, Gibernau needs a win this weekend to get his campaign back on track. Fellow Catalan star Ruben Xaus (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) will also be out to kickstart his 2005 season on Sunday while Toni Elias (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) is an uncertain starter started after suffering a wrist injury last month.


Catalunya (or Montmelo to some locals) was only built in the early nineties but unlike many modern circuits it isn't dominated by ultra-slow corners and chicanes, which is why most riders look forward to this race. The layout is complex and demands much from riders, bikes and tyres. The circuit features many long turns that require maximum grip and has an excellent combination of corners and a super-quick main straight that encourage close racing. Xaus had one of his best results of his rookie MotoGP season at Catalunya last year, taking his Michelin-equipped Ducati to a popular sixth-place finish. And the Catalan rider has enjoyed other impressive rides at the track, mostly on production bikes.

"At the 1996 Catalan GP I won the Thunderbike race (a now defunct series for street 600s on street tyres)," recalls Xaus. "I had been using another tyre brand, changed to Michelin for morning warm-up and won the race. The following year I won the 24 hour race, on another CBR600 running Michelins. The track is great, it has everything in 4.7km: long corners, short corners, uphill, downhill, a long straight and heavy braking.

"You need a lot of traction for a good lap time, especially out of Renault, Repsol, Campsa and the last two corners. You get a lot of wheelspin out of these turns. It's the kind of track where you really notice the extra traction you get from qualifying tyres. I really enjoy most of the circuit, especially Renault and the final two corners, which you treat as one. You also need good speed out of those turns for the main straight. The only corner I don't really like is Seat, because it's a very slow left after a lot of rights.

"Tyres are always important but they have a particularly hard time at Catalunya, especially on the right side. The rear is important but also the front, especially through the last two turns, which are downhill, so the front does all the work because you get a lot of side push.

"I was very pleased with my Catalunya race last year. The tyres worked really well all through the race, so I could maintain a good pace. My only problem now is my riding style. I stop the bike, turn it, then stand it up, so I lack some sidegrip. This isn't a tyre problem, it is my problem, so I need to work at adapting my riding style, which isn't easy. I have been used to riding Ducatis for a long time. The Yamaha is good but very different, and I see Troy Bayliss having similar trouble after switching from Ducati to Honda.

"Catalunya is my home race, so I always look forward to it. A lot of people were cheering for me last year after I qualified on the second row. I was impressed, the grid was full of important people, like politicians and so on, people I normally only see on TV! It was more like being at a big football match."


Michelin has won 11 of the 13 premier-class GPs staged at Catalunya, with some of the greatest riders of the modern era including Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR- M1-Michelin), Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), Alex Criville (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), Wayne Rainey (Marlboro Yamaha Team Roberts YZR500- Michelin), Kenny Roberts Junior (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki RGV500-Michelin), Carlos Checa (Telefonica Movistar Honda NSR500-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin). This weekend Michelin goes for its 11th straight win at the track, which was resurfaced earlier this year.

"Catalunya is a very well-balanced circuit, with fairly even demands on the front and rear tyres," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "But this weekend's race will be rather like going to a new track for us. Obviously we know the layout very well but a new surface is a very big difference for tyre manufacturers, it can change everything, so this weekend will be interesting. We weren't able to learn much about the new surface at the Catalunya IRTA tests in March because the ground temperature was only 20 to 30 degrees, whereas it'll be 40 to 50 degrees this weekend, which makes a huge difference.

"The old surface was rippled and bumpy, that's why it needed resurfacing, not because it was worn out. Anyway, it's good to see circuits being kept in good condition. Catalunya used to be a medium wear circuit, and while the new surface did seem a bit more aggressive in March, that may have changed by now. You usually see a big change in the character of a new surface over the first few weeks because the oil comes out of the tarmac, loose fragments break away and rubber gets laid down. And the surface undergoes further changes over a much longer period of time as the stones within the tarmac get polished with use."

Whatever the demands of the new surface Michelin will make sure it's in the best possible position to tackle the challenge, using its innovative C3M manufacturing process to take advantage of know-how learned only last week at Mugello. C3M technology allows Michelin to build a better tyre much more quickly than usual.

"We are in a constant state of evolution, that is what racing is all about," adds Goubert. "And the C3M process allows us to react very quickly, so we can use what we learned at Mugello last weekend to help us build even better tyres for Catalunya."


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Alex Criville , Troy Bayliss , Sete Gibernau , Ruben Xaus , Wayne Rainey , Mick Doohan , Toni Elias