Japan: Michelin preview

Michelin Aims to Maintain Unbeaten Run Unbeaten at Motegi, Michelin reveals what matters at this stop-go track Michelin rider Norick Abe explains his hopes for a top-three finish The MotoGP circus embarks upon its biggest series of flyaway...

Michelin Aims to Maintain Unbeaten Run

Unbeaten at Motegi, Michelin reveals what matters at this stop-go track Michelin rider Norick Abe explains his hopes for a top-three finish

The MotoGP circus embarks upon its biggest series of flyaway races this weekend in Japan, with four overseas Grand Prix spread over just five weekends at a crucial point of the title chase. Just one GP remains after the flyways, so every point counts, espe cially for title fighters Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin). Both riders have scored one victory each from the last two races and are currently separated by 29 poin ts.

Michelin has dominated premier-class GPs in Japan pretty much since the country hosted its first big-bike World Championship GP in 1987. Of the 21 big-bike GPs held so far in the country -- 16 at Suzuka and five at Twin Ring Motegi -- Michelin has won all bu t three, with 13 wins at Suzuka and an unbeaten run of five successes at Motegi.

Sunday's racing is followed by the Qatar, Malaysian and Australian GPs, to be run over back-to-back weekends. The season finale takes place at Valencia in Spain on October 31.

MICHELIN RIDER NORICK ABE AND MOTEGI Norick Abe (Fortuna Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) comes home to Japan with great hopes of achieving his best result of the year at Motegi. The Japanese star, still worshipped by a massive number of fans in Japan, is slowly getting to grips with hi s M1 in his first full season on a four-stroke. In MotoGP's first year he rode two-stroke YZR500s and last year he rode only a handful of races as a wild card, helping Yamaha with M1 development. This year he has already scored six top-ten finishes.

"My riding is slowly coming better," says Abe. "At first I found the four-stroke difficult because it is so different from the two-stroke 500. But now the M1 is coming normal for me. I do enjoy riding it but I still prefer the 500. MotoGP is so difficult n ow because there are many, many fast riders on fast bikes. It will be very difficult to get a podium but I hope to battle for the podium at Motegi and over the rest of the season."

Abe's main claim to fame is his two 500 GP wins at Suzuka, in 1996 and 2000. Although Suzuka has been taken off the calendar awaiting safety upgrades, Abe much prefers Japan's original GP track to Motegi.

"I don't like Motegi so much, it's no fun," adds the man who has won a total of three premier-class GPs. "Suzuka has many difficult turns, many technical turns, many fast turns, but Motegi has so many corners and many hairpins. Also, the main grandstand is a long way away from the track, which isn't good for the fans. The good things about this track are the smooth surface and the grip -- it's very grippy in the dry and in the wet.

"The important thing at Motegi is finding a good set-up for braking because there are many heavy braking points. I always use a harder-than-normal front set-up because I enjoy late breaking. But at Motegi you need even harder front suspension for all the h airpins, as well as the tight right at the end of the back straight which is a very good passing point. But, of course, if you make the bike very good for corner entries, maybe it won't be good for the exit, so you need a balanced set-up, because good acce leration is also very important."

"What you need from your tyres is the same at every track: grip, endurance and handling. I use soft to medium rear tyres, never hard, because for my riding style I want good feeling from the bike. But for the front, because of my heavy braking, I always us e a hard-carcass tyre.

"Motegi always feels different, because none of us MotoGP riders come here very often. I'm always more nervous in Japan than at other races because almost all the fans are Japanese and all my fans will be there. But I think my nervousness is a positive ner vousness."

MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF MOTEGI

Michelin has totally dominated premier-class GPs at Twin Ring Motegi since the track hosted its first GP in April 1999. The French tyre brand has scored pole position, race victory, a full podium and fastest lap at all five races.

"The important factors of machine performance at Motegi are strong acceleration and good braking," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "The track layout isn't too popular with riders, somehow it feels a little artificial, but anyway the Japanese Grand Prix is always a challenging race for us because it's the home race of our biggest competitor. So we always know that the fight will be rough on Japanese circuits. Then again, we have won every Grand Prix run at Motegi, both i n dry and wet conditions.

"Over the last three seasons we've always been to Motegi later in the year, this time it's more end of summer rather than autumn which should make things a little easier with a higher track temperature

"Because there's a lot of heavy braking at Motegi we use a front tyre that's stiffer than usual, maybe the stiffest we use all season. And riders tend to use a stiff front suspension set-up too, so they probably get a little less feel than normal. But at l east the surface is both smooth and grippy, even in the wet. Motegi isn't that old, so the track hasn't degraded much. Also they don't have F1 or Indy races on this track. (Instead Motegi stages Indy races on an oval track that criss-crosses the GP circuit, hence the Twin Ring prefix.)

"The fact that braking is such a big thing at Motegi means that I don't think our 16.5 front will give too big an advantage over the 17in we ran last year. Same with our 'big foot' rear because most of the corners are very short, so the tyre's main advanta ge of extra sidegrip isn't such a big plus here. For this reason I don't think this we'll see much of an improvement in the race time. Generally this year we've seen improvements of 15 to 30 seconds but I expect Motegi to be more like 15 seconds. But who k nows? I hope I"ll be wrong ".

MOTEGI DATA

Twin Ring Motegi: 4.801km/2.983 miles
Lap record: Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V-Michelin), 1m 48.885s
Pole position 2003: Max Biaggi (Camel Honda RC211V-Michelin), 1m 47.696s

-michelin-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Sete Gibernau