Dutch: Michelin preview

Michelin Men Ready for Fastest GP of All Dutch track is the fastest challenge for MotoGP men Michelin man Jeremy McWilliams reveals his Assen secrets The MotoGP circus comes to Assen this week for what should be the fastest race of what's ...

Michelin Men Ready for Fastest GP of All

Dutch track is the fastest challenge for MotoGP men Michelin man Jeremy McWilliams reveals his Assen secrets

The MotoGP circus comes to Assen this week for what should be the fastest race of what's turning out to be an incredibly fast season. Michelin's dominant MotoGP men - who have made a clean sweep of race victory, pole position and fastest lap at all five GPs so far this year - aim to continue the company's unbeaten run of twelve premier-class victories at the Dutch track. Michelin riders also currently hold the top 12 places in the 2004 MotoGP points chase, with Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) locked in a titanic struggle for the title.

Assen is a unique GP circuit. Not only is it the sole surviving venue from the first-ever World Championship season in 1949, it is also the only current MotoGP circuit which was originally based on public roads, the only GP called a TT (for Tourist Trophy, an age-old term for motorsports events) and the fastest GP track of all, with an average lap speed of 181.1kph/112.5mph.


Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin) scored his one and only GP victory at Assen three years ago, in the 250 class, and is expecting an entertaining time at the track this weekend with his 230 horsepower Aprilia triple.

"I'm looking forward to going there, but I can't think what it's going to be like with 230 horsepower-" says the 40-year-old from Northern Ireland. "Tyres seem to last at Assen, because most of it is so flowing, and you're not using a lot of gas, it's partial throttle a lot of the way, though you do get to spin up in a few places."

THE MOST PHYSICALLY DEMANDING- "The big thing at Assen is switching the bike from one side to the other. It's the most physically demanding track of them all. And you've got to be so precise, if you make one little mistake, the whole lap is ruined."

McWilliams will get some help through the direction changes from Michelin's new 16.5in MotoGP front tyre. This tyre is smaller and lighter than the previously popular 17in and is now used by all Michelin's MotoGP men. "I used the 16.5 for the first time during winter tests at Mugello and I never looked back," he adds. "It steers better, flicks from side to side easier and it's got a bigger contact patch so it gives you more confidence in the corners."

WHY McWILLIAMS ADORES ASSEN- Like most riders, McWilliams loves Assen because it's fast and fun. The track is all corners, with barely a straight worthy of the name, and there are three sections that he particularly looks forward to.

"I love it, though it's not my favourite place when it's raining," he says. "I really love the new section on what used to be the back straight - it's really fast, on-the-edge stuff. The first part, turns one and two, is also really nice and the last section too, coming back towards the chicane. That's probably the most difficult to get right. You've got to be spot on for the fast flick before Hoge Heide. Then you've got Hoge Heide itself, you're heading in there at 180mph (290kph) looking at the tyre wall, hoping you're going to be able to get the bike turned from right to left. The camber buries you in the right-hander, so the bike feels like it's never going to turn, then you hit the top of the camber and the bike's almost flying, so you can't do anything You're in limbo for a second, waiting for the bike to load up again before you can turn left."


Assen is unique for many reasons, but from a rider's point of view its sinuous layout, cambered surface and extra-grippy tarmac are the features that set it apart from other MotoGP venues. These three factors make it less challenging for tyres than some circuits but nonetheless Assen is a favourite with Michelin's MotoGP crew.

ASSEN IS SO DIFFERENT- "The tracks that are most challenging for us are those which place a lot of strain on the tyres, or place some other demand on the tyres," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "Those kinds of tracks are very interesting for us because they're a real challenge, while Assen isn't so challenging. Assen is so different from everywhere else we go to, so it's not very useful for development either - there's nothing much we can learn there that will help us elsewhere. But we still look forward to the Dutch TT, it's an amazing track from a riding point of view and it produces some great battles. One of my favourite races of all time was Assen 2002, when Barros and his NSR500 battled with Rossi and his RCV."

Despite Assen's unusual character, Goubert believes the track will showcase the advantages of Michelin's 16.5in front tyre. "Assen is all about fast direction changes, and the 16.5 makes it easier for riders to change direction quickly," he explains.

NOT SO MUCH WHEELSPIN - The surface is ultra-grippy, the track is dominated by high-speed sweepers rather than the tighter turns that characterise other tracks, so riders don't get to spin the rear tyre as much as usual.

"For these reasons, the track isn't so demanding on tyres," adds Goubert. "But we do have to bring a wider than usual range of compounds to Assen because the track temperature can vary a lot according to the weather. And the weather can be very changeable, it's very rare that you get three days the same at Assen, which is another factor that stops us from doing any real development work at this race, because it's difficult to make back-to-back comparisons between tyres."

Last year's event was run in monsoon conditions, the third of the last four Dutch TTs to be affected by rain. "But the track's excellent grip does make Assen quite fast in the wet and the camber keeps it free of puddles," says Goubert. "The only problems is the spray - the circuit is so quick that it generates a massive amount of spray."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Jeremy McWilliams , Sete Gibernau
Teams Williams