Espana: Michelin preview

Michelin's 2004 Tyres Get A Grip On Jerez Michelin's 16.5in front and new profile rear tyres already winning races Local hero Carlos Checa discusses the challenge of the Spanish GP The 2004 MotoGP World Championship hits Europe this weekend ...

Michelin's 2004 Tyres Get A Grip On Jerez
Michelin's 16.5in front and new profile rear tyres already winning races
Local hero Carlos Checa discusses the challenge of the Spanish GP

The 2004 MotoGP World Championship hits Europe this weekend following a sensational season opener in South Africa two weeks ago. Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) stunned racing fans worldwide with a genius victory over arch-r ival Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) that confirmed the performance of Michelin's latest MotoGP tyres.

Both Rossi and Biaggi, as well as the vast majority of Michelin's other riders, used Michelin's new 16.5in front tyre and new profile 16.5in rear at Welkom. Development of both these tyres -- which have been specifically designed to handle the current 230-p lus horsepower MotoGP bikes -- will continue apace at Jerez this weekend.


Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) didn't have the best of starts to his 2004 campaign in South Africa but the hard-riding Spaniard is determined to get up front with team-mate Rossi on home tarmac this weekend. "It's really excit ing having Valentino as my team-mate," says Checa. "It's a new challenge to compete alongside the best rider in the world, it's a positive thing in every way."

Checa likes new 16.5in front-- Like most of his fellow Michelin riders, Checa raced the company's new 16.5in front at Welkom for the first time. "The 16.5 gives you an advantage into the corner, where you start to release the front brake and get on the gas, " says Checa. "You have a better contact patch at that point, so you feel more confident as you lay into the corner.

"Jerez is a fun track but it's aggressive on tyres because you're always leaned over on the edge of the tyres. As soon as you're out of one turn you're into the next, so the tyres have to cope with a lot of g-force. I would say that tyre choice is almost a s critical at Jerez as it is at Phillip Island -- there's a lot of fast corners through which you use a lot of gas. You have turns three, four and five, then you have the fast lefts between Dry Sack and Angel Nieto, as well as the fast rights before the end of the lap. You need to be careful to choose the best tyres and find good settings that will look after the tyres all through the race."

Workout for the front-- "There's also a lot of heavy braking at Jerez, which works the front tyre because the track is very grippy, especially into the final hairpin. Turn one is the only place where there's not a huge amount of grip into a corner because i t's off-camber there."

Checa is also getting to grips with a new configuration M1 engine that he raced for the first time at Welkom. This 'big bang' engine groups the engine's power pulses closer together to allow the rear tyre to recover traction between each salvo. "It feels l ike you're using a high gear all the time -- but a high gear with lots of power," he explains. "I'm still learning the new engine, so I need more time to work out how it affects tyre life."


Biggest change for Michelin this year is the 16.5in front, which is available to all the company's MotoGP riders following last year's development season with Aprilia's MotoGP squad. The tyre is already proving successful, having taken pole position, faste st lap and the race win at Welkom two weeks ago. And it's popular too -- so far only one of Michelin's 15 MotoGP riders Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP4-Michelin) has chosen to remain with the more traditionally popular 17in front.

Secrets of the 16.5 front-- Jerez should prove an interesting staging point in the development of the 16.5. The track features several areas of heavy braking which will really test the tyre. Michelin created the 16.5 to be smaller and lighter for less inert ia, so riders can flick from one side to the other with greater speed, a crucial factor in chasing rapid lap times. Its trade-off against the larger 17in front (which obviously offers more gyroscopic stability) is a minor decrease in straight-line stabilit y on the brakes, but riders weren't concerned with this during testing at Jerez a month ago, instead revelling in the way the tyre helps them change direction more quickly.

"We only got to try the 16.5 briefly during testing at Jerez because the weather wasn't good, but everyone seemed happy with it," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "We were obviously very happy with the performance of bo th the 16.5 front and our new profile rear at Welkom. We had only really tested the new front at four tracks during preseason testing, but we were happy with the results, especially once we had done some work on endurance.

Jerez's aggressive surface-- "Jerez is quite demanding on both front and rear tyres. The surface is quite aggressive and the bikes spend a lot of time on the edge of the tyres because there are so many corners. Riders always want more edge grip and traction at Jerez, so we need to work closely with them to choose tyres that will give them good consistency throughout the race.

"The surface is very different from how it used to be before they resurfaced it in 2002, though it is still temperature sensitive. And track temperature can change drastically from morning to afternoon -- it can be 25 degrees for morning practice, then 50 d egrees for afternoon qualifying. We have to be aware of that, and it certainly complicates tyre choice in the run up to the race."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Angel Nieto , Phillip Island