Italian GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN MEN TACKLE MAD, MAGNIFICENT MUGELLO High-speed track includes MotoGP's fastest corner -- a 335kmh rodeo ride MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) comes to Mugello chasing a hat trick of Italian GP ...


High-speed track includes MotoGP's fastest corner -- a 335kmh rodeo ride MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) comes to Mugello chasing a hat trick of Italian GP victories and a fifth consecutive MotoGP World Championship. And if he does win his home GP yet again he will also give Michelin its 12th successive Mugello victory. Mugello is one of the fastest, most challenging and most entertaining racetracks in MotoGP.

And this most picturesque of venues probably illustrates the astonishing performance of the latest MotoGP bikes better than any other MotoGP venue. Such is their power and speed that Mugello has gained an extra corner since the 990cc four-strokes replaced the 500 two-strokes. Back in the days of the 500s, turn one used to be the slowish San Donato right-hander. But now the first corner that MotoGP riders encounter is the super-fast left-hand kink just before turn one.

There's a simple reason for this -- the quickest man at last year's Italian GP was Alex Barros (Repsol Honda RC211V-Michelin) at 343.0kmh/213.04mph, that's an amazing 27.4kmh/17.01mph quicker than 315.6kmh/196mph achieved by the fastest 500 (Valentino Rossi, Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500-Michelin) during the last Italian 500 GP in 2001. But what makes this 335kmh/208kmh corner totally unique special is that riders cross the brow of a hump as they sweep through it.

So what you have is a banked-over 335kmh wheelie! "I've been there and watched," says Troy Bayliss (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin), one of the 12 Michelin-equipped riders at Mugello. "But I don't want to do it again because now I know what I must look like through there! The corner is unique, it's not a problem if your bike is handling well but if you've got some stability problems it can be a bit frightening."

Mugello has been hosting motorsport events since just before the First World War, though in those days races were staged over a street circuit that ran through Scarperia, Firenzuola, the Futa Pass and San Piero. The short circuit was created in the mid-70s and hosted its first motorcycle GP in 1976. That race was won by Barry Sheene (Texaco Heron Suzuki RG500-Michelin), who claimed Michelin's first 500 world title that summer. Michelin has won another 23 premier-class crowns since then and currently occupies the top six places in the 2005 MotoGP series.


Italian MotoGP heroes Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) will be vying for victory at Mugello. Both men have enjoyed a hat trick of victories at the track, Rossi winning the last three MotoGP races, Biaggi taking three consecutive Italian 250 GP wins in 1995, 1996 and 1997, so they both know the fast line.

Mugello is undulating, with many downhill corner entries, so this one track where front-tyre performance is probably even more crucial than rear-tyre performance.

"The front is very important, especially through places like Casanova, because it's downhill and very adverse camber," affirms Rossi. "Bike set-up isn't easy at Mugello and it's important to have a well-balanced bike for such a fast and technical track. The most technical part is the Casanova-Savelli esses and the two Arrabbiata rights. It's very fast there, so you can make time, though the bike needs to be just right and you need very much grip. Like everywhere else, but maybe even more so, you need a very well balanced bike for this track because it's fast, up and down and quite bumpy in places. You need to feel very well with the bike to be fast at Mugello."

Biaggi, who has scored three second-place finishes from the last four Italian GPs, adds: "You need a well balanced set-up and strong tyres at Mugello. You need a lot of confidence to attack the fast, downhill corners, which is why you need a really grippy front tyre with good feedback. The track is really enjoyable, because it's very up and down, plus it's one of the most beautiful places we go to -- racing right in the middle of nature."


"From a tyre point of view, Mugello has two main characteristics: it has a very fast main straight and it's very hard on the front tyre," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "The surface isn't too aggressive but the track layout and topography make it tough for the front -- Mugello is very undulating, with plenty of downhill corner entries. But the ups and downs are what make it a really entertaining circuit.

"It is one of the most demanding tracks for the front, but not as demanding as Shanghai, which has a new and therefore very aggressive surface and several very long corners. Turn one, for example, is almost 270 degrees and riders are still slowing down through the corner, scrubbing off speed with the front tyre.

"Of course, Mugello is fairly demanding on the rear too. It's the kind of track that uses all of the rear tyre -- there are a few long corners, so edge grip is important, a lot of fast corner exits out of which the riders are sliding, so acceleration traction is also very important, and a very long main straight.

"Looking at MotoGP as a whole, the main focus of our work is the same as it's always been -- developing our tyres to allow the riders to employ more and more horsepower. Despite this year's reduced fuel capacity, it seems power is still increasing. The only 2005 race we can really compare to last year is Spain, because the other three GPs have all been affected by rain, and Jerez was much faster than last year, thanks to improvements to bikes and tyres. The competition between tyre companies is also intense, it's a big fight and we like it like that, because that's what racing is all about."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Valentino Rossi , Troy Bayliss , Alex Barros
Teams Repsol Honda Team