Germany: Michelin preview

Michelin men Rossi & Gibernau attack crucial German GP equal on points Michelin rider Colin Edwards talks tyres secrets and the Sachsenring The 2004 MotoGP World Championship hits half distance in Germany this weekend with Valentino Rossi ...

Michelin men Rossi & Gibernau attack crucial German GP equal on points
Michelin rider Colin Edwards talks tyres secrets and the Sachsenring

The 2004 MotoGP World Championship hits half distance in Germany this weekend with Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) sharing the points lead. And after both riders crashed out of the Rio GP two weeks ago, Rio runner-up Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) is just 13 points adrift of the leading duo, setting up the prospect of a thrilling three-way battle for the world title.

The points chase for the 2004 MotoGP crown is very much dominated by Michelin - the first nine riders in the points table all use Michelin tyres. No surprise there since Michelin has established an iron-like grip on biking's fastest, hardest-fought World C hampionship over the past three decades. Since their first premier-class title success in 1976, Michelin riders have won 22 premier-class crowns including every one of the past 12 championships. Michelin riders have also won all but two of the past 132 pre mier-class GPs, going back to 1995, a truly remarkable win rate of 98.5 per cent. Michelin also rules the German GP, having been unbeaten at the event over the past 12 years, at the Sachsenring, the Nurburgring and Hockenheim.


The Sachsenring is one of the slowest tracks in MotoGP racing, with a lap record of 'only' 156kmh/97mph. The venue, which replaced the notorious Iron Curtain street circuit which hosted its last GP in 1972, was even tighter and slower when it joined the GP calendar in 1998, with a lap speed of just 143kmh/89mph. Since then the 'Ring has undergone a series of improvements, though many riders still consider it too slow and too tight for 240 horsepower MotoGP machines.

SLOW DOESN'T MEAN EASY-- However, the anti-clockwise, asymmetric circuit isn't without its challenges. Dominated by its unique succession of left-handers, which dominate the mid-section of the lap, the Sachsenring also features one of the most daunting corn ers in MotoGP - the blind, downhill, fourth gear turn 12.

Colin Edwards (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) raced at the 'Ring for the first time last season and has mixed feelings about the place. He doesn't like its slow-speed character but he believes it to be the most physically exhausting venue in Mo toGP.

ROUND AND ROUND AT THE 'RING-- "You go a full 360 degrees through all those left-handers, coming right back on yourself," he says. "That section is really, really demanding for the rider as well as the tyres. Last year's race was the first time in my career - apart from the Suzuka Eight Hours - that I've been totally wasted at the end of a race. You're going left, left, left and left again for more than 30 seconds. It just kills your left shoulder, so you want a bike that lies on its side pretty easy, you do n't want to be fighting to hold the thing down all the time. But although it's got a couple of cool sections, I'd say it's a bit of a Mickey Mouse track."

Mickey Mouse it may be but all those lefts do give the rear a bit of a workout over race distance. "By the end of the race the left side of the rear tyre is pretty shagged," adds Edwards. "It's a pretty demanding track for the left side of the tyre, so it' s all about how you manage the tyre - you have to look after it at this place. Of all the tracks, this is one of those places you can't abuse the rear."

TYRE MANAGEMENT IS CRUCIAL-- "The front isn't a big deal at the Sachsenring - in fact I pretty much use the same Michelin front wherever we go. In bike racing it's nearly always the rear that takes the biggest beating, and when the rear starts to go, you st art to push the front, so you just have to manage that situation. But Michelin did a good job in Germany last year and there's no reason they won't improve on that this year, they always do, they always bring something better, Michelin are always evolving.

"There's a couple of places you need to be real fast at this track - the last right-hander down the hill (turn 12) and the last two corners, so the last three corners, really. Other than that it's mostly one-line stuff and follow your leader, there's not m any places to make a move. The best way to make a run on someone is down that hill out of turn 12, so you can have a go at the last-but-one turn. And if that doesn't work, try again at the final corner."

Edwards is looking forward to this weekend's German GP, if only to erase the memory of last year's event when he had to abandon ship at 190kmh/120mph when his Aprilia caught fire. "When I think of the Sachsenring I think of fire," he says. "So I need to ch ange that."


Michelin has totally dominated premier-class racing since the purpose-built Sachsenring track hosted its first GP in 1998, taking the race win, pole position and lap record on all six occasions. With so many corners packed into a relatively short distance, grip and traction are primordial at the 'Ring but tyres can offer a rider more than grip and traction.

"Manoeuvrability is the most crucial aspect of machine performance through the very slow and twisty first section, so it will be interesting to see what our riders have to say about our 16.5in front here," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcyc ling competitions. "The 16.5 is slightly smaller and lighter than our old 17, so it allows riders change direction faster. The tyre also has a larger footprint than the 17, which helps at every track but especially Sachsenring which is nearly all corners.

BOTH LEFTS AND RIGHTS MATTER-- "While the circuit has a lot of lefts it also features some long and fast rights, so both sides of the tyres get a work out, which means you need strong tyres on both sides. The rear does have to work fairly hard through the l ong succession of fast left-handers that make up the middle of the lap. The downhill lefts are important for lap time because they're pretty quick; also the fast right-hander near the end of the lap is somewhere where brave riders can make up some time. It 's also important for setting up a pass into the penultimate corner. This has always been Valentino's favourite place to overtake other riders.

"But it's not the most challenging circuit for us. Its character is more like a 250 track, especially the first section where the average speed must be around 130kmh. The weather can also be a factor here - it's in Eastern Europe so the conditions can be q uite extreme either way."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Valentino Rossi , Colin Edwards , Sete Gibernau