Donington: A game of two halves

MotoGP 500 World Championship Round nine : British Grand Prix Donington Park, July 7/8/9 2000 This weekend's British Grand Prix marks the start of the second half of the 2000 500 World Championship, already shaping up to be the closest title...

MotoGP 500 World Championship

Round nine : British Grand Prix Donington Park, July 7/8/9 2000

This weekend's British Grand Prix marks the start of the second half of the 2000 500 World Championship, already shaping up to be the closest title fight in years. The first eight races of the series counted five different winners - Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin), Alex Crivillé (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin), Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin), Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin) - and there's at least six riders in the title hunt.

Kenny Roberts currently leads the chase and now returns to the track where he scored his first 500 front-row start and first led a 500 GP, during his debut 500 season in 1996. But the local crowd will be putting its faith in the sole British factory 500 rider, Jeremy McWilliams (Blu Aprilia Team-Michelin), who believes he has a good chance at Donington.

Michelin riders currently hold the top 16 places in this year's 500 series.

The riders and the track

Sunday's British Grand Prix will give local favourite Jeremy McWilliams one of his best chances of a first World Championship victory. Riding for a factory team for the first time in his eight-year GP career, McWilliams' Italian-built RSV500 twin is well suited to Donington's complex curves. Less powerful but more nimble than the four-cylinder machines that dominate the class, the 1999 RSV scored a third-place finish with Tetsuya Harada at last year's British GP, less than a second down on winner and reigning World Champion Alex Crivillé. McWilliams is convinced he can win a GP this year. At May's Italian GP he was third, becoming the first Briton to climb a 500 podium in seven years, and if he wins on the RSV he'll be the first Briton to top a podium since Barry Sheene won the '81 Swedish GP!

There's no doubt McWilliams is riding the Aprilia as hard as he knows how. He's even developed a new corner-exit style, using the kerbs to keep him on track.

"At some circuits you can use the kerbs to knock you back into line when you're going wide and getting a bit sideways, like a motocross berm," he says. "But you can't do that at Donington because the kerbs are pretty severe rumble strips”.

"I like the Donington layout, most of the track is pretty fast and we've got a good chance there because Harada went well there last time, but overall I'm not so keen on the place. The last three corners - the Esses and the two hairpins - are just too slow. And the camber at Goddards really goes away from you, which can catch you out; you're on a fast lap, not thinking about cambers and stuff, and suddenly you're on your backside”.

"The best part is the fast run through the lefts at Starkeys - getting them right is really exhilarating, I love it. You're in sixth gear with your knee on the deck, then you have to pull the bike up, and hit the brakes for McLeans. Coppice is fun too - the entry is steep uphill and totally blind”. “Every time you go over the crest and flick it in, you're thinking 'Am I too late? Am I too early?' And you get pretty sideways on the way out - if you've got a worn rear tyre you can really show off to the crowd there!"

"I only started using Michelins a few races back but I'm already very confident with the Michelin front. The tyre never seems to end, the profile rolls over pretty much to the rim. It looks like it'd be impossible to ride off the edge of the tyre, but of course you do sometimes!

"What you need most at Donington is grip at maximum lean, then again, you need that everywhere! The way I ride, I pick up speed from mid-corner at full lean. That's the way you need to ride the twin and I guess that's one reason Aprilia chose me, because I can ride it a bit like a 250. That's what we're working on with Michelin, increasing grip at maximum lean because Michelin has designed its 500 tyres around V4s, because that's what pretty much everyone rides.

"Michelin do make a narrower rear tyre for the twins but I prefer the wider V4 rear. We can run the tyre either on a six inch or 5.75 inch rim. The six inch gives you more grip and surprisingly it doesn't make the bike any heavier to steer, so that's what we usually go for. The Michelin rear is a lower profile tyre than what we used to use, and that suits the Aprilia really well."

If he doesn't win on Sunday McWilliams can look forward to two other tracks which should suit his RSV500, the slow-speed Sachsenring (venue for the German GP on July 23) and ultra-tight Valencia (venue for the Valencia GP on September 17).

Michelin's solution to the challenge of Donington

There are few Grand Prix tracks with a more contrary nature than Donington Park. The circuit can be divided into two distinct halves - the fast, flowing section that runs from Redgate to Coppice and the dead-slow section from the Esses to Goddards. It's no coincidence that these two parts of the track are so different. The first section comprises the original modern Donington circuit, constructed in the late seventies, while the second was added in the mid-eighties to raise the circuit to GP-spec length, allowing the venue to host its first Grand Prix in 1987. The contrast offers a major challenge to riders, engineers and tyre technicians, as Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli explains: "The contrast is a problem and a challenge too! You need a grippy, soft construction front for the slow turns but you need a stiffer construction tyre for the faster sections, especially the downhill run through Craner curve, where there's maximum pressure on the front. Somehow we have to come up with a compromise tyre”. "It's the same for the rear too. You can't use a soft construction, soft compound tyre because of the high-speed sections, so you have to run a stiffer construction tyre that can be a bit scary through the slower corners, where there's less pressure on the tyre. The track is also slippery but probably no worse than Suzuka, Nürburgring or Misano."

Michelin has had plenty of success at Donington, winning five of the last six 500 GPs at the track, and earlier this year Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda-Michelin) was the fastest man at Donington's British World Superbike round, taking a win and the super pole. Edwards currently leads the streetbike-based series running Michelin tyres.

This weekend will be particularly significant for Michelin because it's likely to be the first full try-out for the company's new 16.5 inch 500 front. The tyre was first made available at the Dutch GP two weeks ago, but ever-changing weather conditions prevented riders from doing any more than a minimal amount of evaluation.

"So far riders are saying the tyre allows them to hold a better line, so they can increase their corner speed," adds Morelli. "We originally developed the 16.5 front for Kevin Schwantz in the early nineties. We abandoned the tyre because of its weight but kept working on the size to improve it. Some riders had been asking for more feedback from the front and we had been able to provide that by building softer construction tyres. But the softer you go, the more the tyre deforms as it loads up into the corner, and that spoils the tyre's mid-corner steering characteristics. Building the new tyre on a smaller rim allows us to use a taller sidewall, which deforms under load, leaving the profile unaffected. So the rider gets improved feel without any compromise in turning ability."

Donington tyre information

Michelin transports approximately 2400 tyres to Donington this weekend - 1800 slicks and 600 rain/intermediate tyres. A total of 17 Michelin staff looks after the needs of riders - six technicians, nine fitters, one manager and a co-ordinator. And Michelin has five juggernauts at the track - four tyre transporters and one office/fitting equipment truck. <pre> Donington data

Lap record (1998) Simon Crafar (Red Bull WCM Yamaha), 1’32”661 Average speed :156.299kmh/97.120mph

Pole position (1999) Tadayuki Okada (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 1’32”597

Recent winners of the British Grand Prix 1999 Alex Crivillé (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 47’06”290 1998 Simon Crafar (Red Bull WCM Yamaha), 46’45”662 1997 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 46’55”378 1996 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 47’11”135

Provisional positions 1 - Kenny Roberts (Suzuki-Michelin) 125 points 2 - Carlos Checa (Yamaha-Michelin) 111 points 3 - Norick Abe (Honda-Michelin) 91 points 4 - Loris Capirossi (Honda-Michelin) 89 points 5 - Alex Crivillé (Honda-Michelin) 79 points 6 - Alex Barros (Honda-Michelin) 77 points 7 - Nobuatsu Aoki (Suzuki-Michelin) 75 points 8 - Valentino Rossi (Honda-Michelin) 67 points 9 - Garry McCoy (Yamaha-Michelin) 62 points 10 - Régis Laconi (Yamaha-Michelin) 51 points 11 - Tadayuki Okada (Honda-Michelin) 48 points 12 - Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Honda-Michelin) 45 points

Michelin partners

 N° Rider     Team
 1 Alex Crivillé    Repsol YPF Honda Team
 2 Kenny Roberts   Telefonica Movistar Suzuki
 4 Max Biaggi    Marlboro Yamaha Team
 5 Sete Gibernau    Repsol YPF Honda Team
 6 Norifumi Abe    Antena 3 Yamaha - D’Antin
 7 Carlos Checa    Marlboro Yamaha Team
 8 Tadayuki Okada   Repsol YPF Honda Team
 9 Nobuatsu Aoki   Telefonica Movistar Suzuki
 10 Alex Barros    Emerson Honda Pons
 12 Shane Norval    Sabre Sport
 15 Yoshiteru Konishi   Technical Sport Racing
 17 Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh  Rizla Honda
 18 Sébastien Legrelle   Tecmas Honda Elf
 24 Garry McCoy    Red Bull Yamaha WCM
 25 José Luis Cardoso   Maxon Dee Cee Jeans
 31 Tetsuya Harada   Aprilia Grand Prix Racing
 43 Paolo Tessari    Team Paton *
 46 Valentino Rossi   Nastro Azzurro Honda
 55 Régis Laconi    Red Bull Yamaha WCM
 65 Loris Capirossi   Emerson Honda Pons
 99 Jeremy McWilliams   Aprilia Grand Prix Racing

* On few european races

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Series MotoGP
Teams Williams