Le Mans: Michelin preview

MICHELIN MEN AIM TO MAKE MOST OF GRIPPIER LE MANS Resurfaced Le Mans racetrack should offer more grip for MotoGP riders Michelin’s MotoGP riders aim to reign supreme, whatever the weather Two Grands Prix into the 2004 MotoGP World...


Resurfaced Le Mans racetrack should offer more grip for MotoGP riders Michelin’s MotoGP riders aim to reign supreme, whatever the weather

Two Grands Prix into the 2004 MotoGP World Championship and Michelin’s riders are as dominant as ever, whatever the weather. Contrasting conditions at the season-opening South African and Spanish GPs proved that Michelin has the upper hand whether it’s bur ning hot or soaking wet.

After World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) ruled in last month’s South African heat with pole position, race victory and a new lap record, Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) took an equally i mpressive victory in torrential Spanish rain two weeks ago. The Spaniard’s Jerez win was particularly significant because it was the first success for Michelin’s new 16.5in front rain tyre which offers better grip at maximum lean, increased manoeuvrability and extra feedback compared to the company’s traditionally popular 17in front. Gibernau’s pace with the new tyre was extraordinary – his average lap speed was 3.9 seconds faster than the best non-Michelin finisher! Michelin also dominates the points chase , holding the top nine places in the current standings.

Michelin looks forward to another interesting weekend at Le Mans. The French tyre brand has an enviable record at its home Grand Prix, with 11 victories from the last 11 French GPs held at three different circuits, Magny Cours ,Circuit Paul Ricard and Le M ans.


Colin Edwards (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) races at Le Mans for only the second time this weekend. But while the double World Superbike champion doesn’t have as much knowledge of the French track as many MotoGP riders, he reckons he won’t ha ve too many problems getting to grips with it this weekend.

A straightforward track… Le Mans is one of the most straightforward of all MotoGP tracks – dominated by short, low-speed corners, several of them hairpins. Riders find it less challenging than most other venues, both from a riding and a set-up point of vi ew.

“As far as tyres are concerned, Le Mans is all about exiting the slow corners and getting on the gas,” says Edwards, who finished tenth at the legendary French motorsport mecca last year. “Some tracks are fast and flowing but Le Mans is pretty much stop an d go all the way. What you need is acceleration traction just off lean, when you’re pulling the bike up out of the turn. Set-up should be fairly easy, there’s no really fast corners apart from turn one – it’s just playing with the balance of bike and worki ng your way through testing different tyres.

Michelin’s 16.5in front… “You also need confidence in the front for the tight corner entries, especially because some of them are downhill. That’s another case of just working on the setting and tyre combination. Michelin’s 16.5in front tyre should be good at Le Mans. It has its advantages and disadvantages but it’s definitely the future. I ran the tyre in Superbikes from 2000 and when I came to MotoGP last year I wanted to run it again. When you brake with the 17 you squash the tyre and you’ve got to get o ver a bit of a shoulder to find the contact patch; with the 16.5 it feels like the contact patch always follows you, wherever you put the bike.”

While working hard to help Michelin create better and better tyres, Edwards is also busy getting the best out of a new RCV chassis that he received just before the start of the season. “We raced the new chassis for the first time at Jerez,” he adds. “It se ems to load the front for you, plus it’s supposed to offer better side grip.”


Michelin goes for its 12th straight premier-class French GP victory at Le Mans on Sunday. But the company’s dedicated crew of MotoGP engineers go into their home event somewhat blind, because Le Mans was resurfaced before the start of the season and no Mot oGP teams have tested there, simply because it’s not considered a useful venue for testing purposes.

new surface holds secrets… “Le Mans definitely needed resurfacing – the old surface was worn out – very smooth with not so good grip, especially in the wet,” says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin’s chief of motorcycling competitions. “We don’t really know what to expect from the surface.

“For sure the new surface should be grippier and more demanding on tyres. But you can never predict how a new tarmac will work; it all depends on its make-up. Usually construction companies tend to use as much local material as possible, and we’ve known in stances of seaside circuits using too much sand in the tarmac mix, and others using small, shiny pebbles that obviously offer very little grip. But nowadays generally most circuits do a good job of resurfacing.

It’s all about acceleration traction… “Le Mans is one of the less challenging tracks we go to. It’s got many slow corners, so acceleration traction is important. We therefore work at maximising traction out of the corners, and because most of the corners a re so short, edge grip isn’t as important at Le Mans as at some other circuits.

“The 16.5in front could be good at Le Mans. It gives riders more confidence as they flick into corners and that’s important at a circuit with so many short turns.”

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