Malaysia: Michelin preview

Michelin Men Continue Title Battle Rossi and Gibernau all set to continue their rivalry at crucial Malaysian GP @British hope and Michelin World Champion Neil Hodgson talks about Sepang Michelin men Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha ...

Michelin Men Continue Title Battle

Rossi and Gibernau all set to continue their rivalry at crucial Malaysian GP @British hope and Michelin World Champion Neil Hodgson talks about Sepang

Michelin men Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) continue their battle for the 2004 MotoGP crown in Malaysia this weekend, just eight days after an incident-packed Qa tar Grand Prix in the Middle East. The pair go into Sunday's race separated by just 14 points, after Rossi crashed out at Losail while Gibernau scored a faultless victory. Only one other rider -- Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) -- has a mathema tical chance of winning the title, so no matter who comes out on top this year, Michelin is already assured of securing its 24th premier-class crown and continuing its current unbeaten run of 13 World Championship successes in motorcyclings's fastest, toug hest arena.

Last year at Sepang the same Michelin trio dominated the action, Rossi beating Gibernau and Biaggi by a few seconds to clinch the title. And whatever happens this weekend all three men can rely on their tyres to offer the best-possible performance at the d emanding Malaysian venue. Michelin has won every Malaysian motorcycle Grand Prix since 1994, both at Sepang and Shah Alam, which hosted the nation's inaugural GP in 1991.


Last year's World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson (D'Antin MotoGP Ducati Desmosedici-Michelin) approaches the end of his debut MotoGP season at Sepang this weekend, aiming to add another top-ten finish to his World Championship account. Although the Briton has never raced at the Malaysian venue, he spent three days at Sepang getting to know his 2003-spec Desmosedici during pre-season testing.

"It's a long track with a bit of everything, plus it's extra wide, so it takes a bit of time to figure out," says the Briton. "It's quite physical, largely due to the heat and because there's quite a few fast sections with heavy braking, so you're always f ighting against the g-forces. Motegi is the same -- it looks simple on the map but all the braking into the hairpins makes it physically tough."

Hodgson reckons that keeping a MotoGP bike under control on the brakes is one of the toughest things a rider has to do. "The thing is that this bike is pretty lively on the brakes -- you're trying to keep your weight back and both wheels in line, plus you'r e trying to keep breathing too," he adds. "Breathing is a big thing in bike racing -- you're so tense, especially during the race, that you're not always breathing and sometimes you don't realise that until it's too late. Maybe you've done half a dozen laps not breathing properly and you're finished because your muscles have pumped up. A lot of arm pump is due to not breathing properly.

"The sheer temperature at Sepang makes the track fairly hard on tyres, plus there's quite a few right-handers through which you're spinning a lot. The excessive heat also means that you don't get a lot of grip, you just have to get used to the thing slidin g around a bit. You can spin the rear really easily out of all the turns. In fact, when I was trying to find my way around when I first went there last winter I could easily see the racing lines from all the black lines already laid on the tarmac! The fron t tyre gets quite a hard time too -- you push the front a lot because there's a few fast, downhill off-camber sections.

"There's no particularly corner or series of corners which really make a difference to your lap times. At Sepang it's all about trying to put the whole lap together. That may sound like a cliche because that's what you have to do whatever track you're at b ut it's more so at Sepang because the circuit is so long."

Hodgson used Michelin tyres to win the 2003 World Superbike title with Ducati. This year he has been particularly impressed with Michelin's new 16.5in MotoGP front tyre and the latest 'big foot' 16.5in rear.

"When I first tested the Desmosedici I started with the 'old' 17 front, then switched to the 16.5 which definitely gives more feel on the way into corners," he explains. "At full lean there's not a lot of difference between the two tyres but you really fee l it on the way into corners. That extra feel gives you more confidence, so you can enter turns faster and use more corner speed. The new rear gives you a lot more drive grip, so you get less wheelspin. Last year it looked like Loris Capirossi and Troy Bay liss were sideways all the time on their Ducatis. We aren't this year but that's not because we're less hard on the throttle, it's because we've got more traction from the new rear."


Michelin has ruled premier-class racing at Sepang ever since the track hosted its first Grand Prix in 1999, taking race victory, pole position and the lap record at all five events so far. In recent years the race pace has increased dramatically, thanks to the speed of the new four-strokes and the grip offered by Michelin's ever-improving MotoGP tyres. Last year's MotoGP race was more than a minute faster than the last Malaysian 500 GP in 2001.

Sepang may not be the biggest test for tyres during the MotoGP season but the high-speed layout and steamy hot conditions certainly give both front and rear tyres a good workout. With track temperatures nudging 50 degrees, Michelin's engineers adapt compou nds and constructions to ideally suit track layout and weather conditions.

"The good news is that Sepang won't seem as hot as it usually does because we've just come from the desert!" smiles Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "But apart from the heat, everything will be very different from Qatar. Unli ke Losail, we know Sepang really well because we do a lot of testing there. It is a favourite track for testing because the weather conditions tend to be the same whether you're there in February or racing in October. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's any easier for everyone because we are all competing to be better than the others, whatever the circuit.

"From our experience I'd say Sepang is a medium-wear circuit. Although the conditions are usually very hot, the track isn't that demanding, certainly not like Phillip Island where the track temperature is much lower but the circuit is much tougher. In gene ral I would say that track layout has more effect on tyres than track temperature. The Sepang layout is really varied, it's got a bit of everything, which makes it fun for the riders and interesting for us.

"Even though the track isn't hugely demanding on tyres our new profile rear should offer riders more than our original S4 rear gave them last year. The tyre gives more driving traction, and you can see from all the tyre marks on the Sepang tarmac that ride rs always need more traction accelerating out of the corners."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Sete Gibernau , Neil Hodgson , Phillip Island