Chinese GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN ALL SET FOR CHINESE CHALLENGE World's greatest motorcycling nation welcomes MotoGP circus for first time as Michelin races for an historic 325th victory Michelin contests China's first-ever motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday May 1, aiming...


World's greatest motorcycling nation welcomes MotoGP circus for first time as Michelin races for an historic 325th victory Michelin contests China's first-ever motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday May 1, aiming to continue its dominance of MotoGP with its 325th premier-class victory. And there could be nowhere better to score another landmark MotoGP success than China, the world's biggest manufacturer and consumer of powered two-wheelers.

China's motorcycle market is breathtaking in scale. This nation of 1.3 billion produces almost half the world's annual output of powered two-wheelers, the vast majority of which are sold on the domestic market, though exports are rapidly increasing. Last year Chinese motorcycle production and sales both exceeded 17 million units, though the vast majority of bikes made and sold are small-capacity models of between 100 and 150cc. Michelin has had a presence in China since the late 80s. Michelin China now employs almost 5000 people across the country, investing hundred of millions of euros in various enterprises, including Shanghai Michelin Warrior Tire Co Ltd which manufactures Michelin and Warrior Tyres. Michelin also has an R&D centre in Shanghai. Although this is MotoGP's first visit to the world's most populous nation, there is every chance that the Chinese GP will instantly become the championship's best-attended event, exceeding the 200,000 crowd figures achieved at several European events last summer.

"We are very much looking forward to our first race in China," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "It's a country we've wanted to come to, because it's a huge motorcycling nation and because it's a huge market. We have three new MotoGP events this year and two of them are in China and the USA, which are two places that MotoGP really needs to be."

The Shanghai crowd is sure to witness a thrilling event, with the 2005 MotoGP World Championship already building into a classic battle between Michelin men like World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Alex Barros (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin), who won the season's opening two races at Jerez and Estoril. Michelin riders dominate the current World Championship standings, holding the first five positions.


China's awe-inspiring scale is mirrored by the breathtaking Shanghai International Circuit. The track is probably the most impressive MotoGP venue, with a 5.45km/3.387 mile circuit, seating for 200,000 fans and a 5sq-km commercial and entertainment complex. The track also features some of the most daring architecture ever seen in the world of motorsport. Designed by renowned architects Hermann Tilke and Peter Wahl, also responsible for Malaysia's Sepang circuit and Germany's redesigned Hockenheim venue, the Shanghai track layout was inspired by the Chinese character "shang', meaning "high' or "above', which is the origin of the historic port's name, Shanghai meaning "above the ocean'.

Tilke and Wahl have used further references to Chinese history and culture in other parts of the stunning venue, like the team buildings which are arranged like pavilions in a lake to resemble Shanghai's ancient Yuyuan Garden, created during the Ming dynasty. And the grandstands are shaded by 26 giant canopies shaped like lotus leaves. "Here, nature and technology are carefully used to create harmony between the elements," say Tilke and Wahl.

The building project itself was every bit as impressive as the final result. The track is located on marshy ground near the Yangtze river delta, so the foundations required two million cubic metres of earth, 40,000 concrete reinforcing pillars and 320,000 cubic metres of EPS engineering plastics. The project also devoured 12,000 tonnes of steel. Possibly most remarkable of all was the speed with which the Shanghai circuit was constructed. This awesome project took just 18 months to complete, with its inaugural race staged in September 2004.


Michelin's crew of MotoGP-dominating technicians and engineers spend most of their time at circuits they already know well. At these venues they already understand track layout and surface, and what effect these factors have on tyre wear, so they can supply tyres tailor-made to offer optimum grip and endurance. Shanghai is very different. Michelin's MotoGP team has never visited the track before, so they must use their expertise and experience to offer a range of tyres that will offer the best-possible solution on race day.

"As with other new tracks, we will offer a larger selection of tyres to our riders, and each of these tyres will be quite different to the others, so we will cover a wider-than-usual range of track conditions," explains Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions.

"At most tracks we usually offer three or four different rear tyres and two fronts, but for Shanghai we will probably have five rears and three or four fronts. "Looking at the layout, Shanghai looks like it will be quite tough on tyres. It has two very long straights and two very long right-handers, almost 360 degrees, which will put a lot of heat into the right side of the tyres."

Michelin air freights around 1300 tyres to Shanghai for its 12 MotoGP riders. The tyres left the factory's competitions department in Clermont-Ferrand on the Monday before the race. They were trucked to Paris, then flown to China.


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Alex Barros