Japanese GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN GO FOR MOTEGI REVENGE MotoGP dominators Michelin working hard to avenge last year's defeat and continue unbeaten run of 2005 victories The Japanese Grand Prix is always a stand-out event on the MotoGP ...

MotoGP dominators Michelin working hard to avenge last year's defeat and continue unbeaten run of 2005 victories

The Japanese Grand Prix is always a stand-out event on the MotoGP calendar because Japan is the epicentre of MotoGP engineering. Most bikes on the grid come from the country's four motorcycle factories - Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki - so there is plenty of pride at stake in this home-tarmac confrontation.

Of course, this is also an important weekend for Michelin. The renowned French tyre brand, which has won all but three of the past 151 GPs over the last ten seasons (a win rate of over 98 per cent), suffered a rare defeat at Motegi last season and is determined to reassert its dominance on September 18. Michelin has ruled in Japan pretty much since the country hosted its first premier-class World Championship GP in 1987. Of the 22 big-bike GPs held so far in the country - 16 at Suzuka and six at Motegi - Michelin has won all but three, with 13 wins at Suzuka and five successes at Motegi.

Among the favourites for Motegi victory are runaway World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), plus Alex Barros (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) and Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), the only other riders to have won so far this year, plus local hero, 2004 Motegi winner Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) who is anxious to turn around a run of ill luck. Rossi has won a remarkable nine races so far this season; a tenth win will clinch his fifth successive premier-class title.

This weekend Michelin, which operates a Japanese factory in Ota city, Gunma prefecture, also supports the sole MotoGP wild card at Motegi - former All-Japan 250 champ Naoki Matsuda (Moriwaki MD211VF- Michelin).


Makoto Tamada has enjoyed some great times at Motegi, winning last year's Japanese MotoGP event as well as All-Japan Superbike races at the circuit, built by Honda to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary in 1998.

The layout is very 'stop and go', dominated by in-and-out corners which place the emphasis on how riders enter and exit corners, rather on how they get through them. Tamada reckons that the circuit suits his all-attack style

"I like Motegi because I have a lot of experience there and because it's where I learned to ride a big bike," says the Japanese hero. "I first rode 250s there in '98, at first my results were so-so but once I started racing Superbikes I rode much better there. Since then I've won pretty much every race I've ridden at Motegi. I didn't like the track at first but it was very different on a Superbike. In fact it was the place where I got the hang of big bikes, learning to accelerate and slide out of Motegi's hairpin turns. After that my results came better, so Motegi was really the start of my big-bike career."

"Some riders say the track is too simple to be fun. True, it is a stop-and-go course, like an F1 circuit, so the most important thing you need from your tyres is good acceleration traction from all the slow corners. This is always important, of course, but it is especially important at Motegi.

"The other crucial factor is braking. There are six areas of heavy braking, maybe more than at any other circuit, so the front tyre is as important as the rear at Motegi. Maybe it's good to adjust your set-up for all the braking, but you have to be careful to maintain the bike's overall balance of the bike.

"My favourite corners are turn three, the bottom hairpin and the tight right at the end of the back straight. I like these corners because I'm fast through them! And the most important section for a fast lap? That is my secret! Seriously though, it's one of those places where the whole track matters, there's no room for error anywhere."

Unlike some riders, super-laidback Tamada isn't fazed by home-race nerves. "To me, my home GP is like any other GP," he affirms. "But I do like to feel the support of my home fans."

Wild card Naoki Matsuda will also be counting on fervent local support as he contests Moriwaki's first Motegi MotoGP race with Michelin tyres. Moriwaki has switched its Honda RC211V-powered MotoGP racer to Michelin tyres this year with impressive results. "The consistent performance of Michelin tyres really helps our chassis R&D," says Mamoru Moriwaki, President of Moriwaki Racing. "As a result, we can better understand the character of our chassis, as well as the machine as a whole, which I think allows us to accelerate development. In addition, our rider can make precise feedback about the chassis, thanks to the stable performance of the tyres. At Motegi we will use our latest chassis and we are looking forward to enjoying the performance of our Michelin tyres."


Motegi may not seem to be a particularly complex circuit, but its character makes for some complex issues in tyre design. The track's many slow, tight turns demand first-class braking and acceleration performance while also placing extra strain on the centre of both tyres. And excellent grip is required for these tight corners, which are so short that they don't generate much heat into the tyres. Like most things in race engineering, it's a case of compromise, but it's never easy to find the best compromise.

"Motegi was one of two races we lost last year, so we need to improve because we don't want to get beaten again!" says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "The strong point of our tyres is usually race-long consistency in grip and traction but we didn't have that last year. It was a disappointing race for us. We do win a lot of races, which might make some people think we have it easy, but winning is never easy. If you come to an event with tyres that aren't 100 per cent suited to the conditions, you lose. Obviously we have been working hard to make sure we have the right tyres this time but because we don't test at Motegi with any of the MotoGP teams, we won't really know how we're going until Sunday afternoon!"

Goubert hopes that Michelin's 2005 rear slick, which features a new construction rear to increase the tyre's footprint for improved grip and longevity, will help make the difference at Motegi. "Our 2005 rear should help but we'll need the right compound to match the construction for Motegi," he adds. "We are quite confident we can solve the consistency problem we had last year, but whether we can also be fast enough is the real question. Two years ago our speed and consistency was very good, so last year was a little strange.

"Motegi is tough on the front tyre, so you need a stronger-than-usual front construction, different to the construction we use at the other tracks. This means riders have to adapt to the different construction, which is an extra job for them, because everywhere else they like to use the same front."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Makoto Tamada
Teams Repsol Honda Team