ROSSI EYES THE PRIZE IN MALAYSIA Italian Michelin man all set for his fifth premier-class crown while his rivals battle for second MotoGP king Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) comes to Sepang...
ROSSI EYES THE PRIZE IN MALAYSIA
Italian Michelin man all set for his fifth premier-class crown while his rivals battle for second
MotoGP king Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) comes to Sepang this week needing just a fourth-place finish to secure his fifth successive premier-class title with Michelin. Winner of nine races so far this year, the Italian genius heads the Michelin-dominated title chase by 112 points, despite a rare mistake in last weekend's Japanese GP which resulted in his first race tumble of the year.
While Rossi is well ahead of the pack, there's a battle royal for second place, with the next four riders - Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), Marco Melandri (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) - separated by just 28 points. Every point counts for these four Michelin men as they battle to maintain the French tyre brand's unbeaten record at Sepang. Michelin has won all six premier-class GPs at the track which hosted its first GP in 1999, having also won six of the eight previous Malaysian GPs staged at Shah Alam and Johor.
MICHELIN RIDER COLIN EDWARDS AND SEPANG
Sepang has the longest lap in MotoGP, with the lap record at 2m 03.253s, and this fast, wide and open circuit has plenty going on to keep riders occupied. Most riders enjoy the track and know it well too, because Sepang is MotoGP's favourite winter testing venue, thanks to the region's consistent year- round weather conditions.
"If you're doing MotoGP you get to spend a lot of time at Sepang," says Colin Edwards, currently battling to win second overall in the riders' World Championship and win the teams' prize with team- mate Valentino Rossi. "I've never really done that great there but I enjoy the place. There's a couple of tricky parts, you've got to get a couple of sections right to get the lap time, like the fast downhill left at turn five, you've got to carry a lot of speed through there, then the same through the blind stuff after the hairpin (turn nine). If you get those sections right you can get a good lap time going."
The tropically hot conditions that prevail at Sepang make life tough for tyres, but Michelin has always been up to the track's demands. "Sepang is one of those special places where you get a lot more wheelspin than normal," adds Edwards. "The hotter it is, the more wheelspin you get, so you just try to keep the bike in line, you have to think about conserving your tyres more. The place is very heavy on the right side of the tyres, that's the side that gets all the abuse, so Michelin takes all that into account and builds something focusing 90 per cent on of the right side of the tyre. The places that really generate heat are turns three, six and coming onto the back straight (turn 14) where the thing just wants to light up."
Riders can get so sideways at 14 that photographers and cameramen congregate there during winter testing to capture riders showing off for the cameras. "It's one of the funnest corners, it just kinda sets itself up like speedway!" grins Edwards. "It's uphill, so you come up there and it automatically kicks out sideways. But you can always have fun on MotoGP bikes, doesn't matter if you had all the traction in the world you could still break the thing loose!"
Edwards has worked closely with Michelin since he was the main man in World Superbike (winning the WSB title in 2000 and 2002). "Tyre and bike development is a never-ending process," he says. "There's never a race where you come in and say everything was perfect, it just doesn't happen that way. You keep moving forward but you always want more - that's how it is in racing. The new rear we've got this year has been a big step forward for race-long grip and traction - any time you increase the contact patch the tyre's going to wear out less because you've got more rubber down."
MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF SEPANG
Michelin commenced development of its 2005 MotoGP rear slick at Sepang last winter. The new tyre features a new construction which increases the tyre's footprint for improved grip and longevity, one of the main reasons why race records have tumbled throughout the 2005 season.
"We started work with our 2005 rear at Sepang during February," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "The difference between that tyre and the 'old' tyre wasn't immediately huge, some guys liked it, some guys didn't like it so much, and they needed to slightly adapt their machine set-up. After that first test we adapted the compound for other circuits to see if the tyre would work elsewhere and it did. Since then we've made further evolutions to the construction and we've been very happy with the tyre's performance, with race records broken at many tracks and lap records often broken in the final few laps, which proves that the tyre has excellent endurance.
"The tyre's consistency should help at Sepang. Last year this was one of the tracks where we didn't have as good consistency as we wanted. But Sepang is one of those places where it's very difficult to achieve perfect consistency - the kind of race-long performance that allows riders to ride the fastest lap on the last lap of the race - simply because of the heat.
"Sepang isn't as tough on tyres as Phillip Island, so we don't go there with super-strong tyres, but it is more demanding than somewhere like Motegi. It's the kind of place where it's difficult to find a good compromise between performance and durability. It's also the kind of place where you can get sudden rain showers that soak the track, which then dries out just as quickly. That can make things a bit of a nightmare! And if there is a shower during the race, maybe we could see pit stops for the first time--"