BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE NEW TYRE REGULATIONS New rules present bigger challenge, reduce tyre consumption by 40% Michelin has had to totally change its modus operandi to work within MotoGP's new tyre regulations that restrict riders to 31 ...
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE NEW TYRE REGULATIONS
New rules present bigger challenge, reduce tyre consumption by 40%
Michelin has had to totally change its modus operandi to work within MotoGP's new tyre regulations that restrict riders to 31 slick tyres over each race weekend.
The new rules place an even greater responsibility on the shoulders of the tyre companies because they now need to cover all possible track and weather conditions within a very limited allocation of slick tyres. This requires a much increased level of behind-the-scenes work.
"Our job is much more difficult and much more complex now but of course that makes success taste all the sweeter," says Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "The big challenge is all the theoretical work we have to do behind the scenes. We have a lot of people within our R&D centre who carefully consider all the models and all the data we have to develop constructions and compounds that will suit the conditions within a very limited number of tyres."
Michelin usually begin working on tyre choice for each race about a month before the event, but it's an ongoing process, final decisions on tyre production can be made just a few days before the event. Some tyres are therefore manufactured well in advance, others much closer to the date of the race.
"We may want to use what we've learned from the previous race or post-race tests undertaken at the previous event in some of the tyres we make," adds Weber. "So, for example, from what we learned with Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) during the Istanbul race we are making stronger construction rear tyres for the Yamahas. And then, of course, we have to consider the weather forecasts. For example, the last tyres we made for Istanbul only left the factory on the Monday before the race and for China they will be made ten days before the race.
Riders and teams were involved in tyre choice prior to manufacture for the Qatar and Spanish GPs because they had only recently tested at Losail and Jerez. But with no pre-event tests at Istanbul or Shanghai they must rely on Michelin's expertise.
"For Istanbul we made casings and constructions according to the direction each of our riders took during winter testing, this is part of the process of tailor-making tyres for all our riders. Then we included the information we have about the track, the bikes and the weather, computed all that data together and produced each rider's tyre allocation. For Shanghai we will factor in what we learned in Turkey. While most of our Honda riders chose good tyres at Istanbul, we learned that the Yamaha needs a stronger rear casing.
"At Istanbul we had five different specs of rear slick for our riders to choose from and at Shanghai we will have a minimum of five specs but we will have more at some events. For example, the weather is more difficult to predict at places like Donington and Assen, so we may have a wider range of specs from which riders can choose their selection on the day before practice starts."
The permutations of different tyre specs certainly aren't endless because within the allocation of 17 slicks two or three may be qualifiers. "Most riders choose between three and five different specs of rear slicks and that's it," Weber explains. "If you were to choose six different specs it would be almost impossible to manage because you'd only have two tyres of each spec."
Tyre selections are made on the day before practice begins, when each rider's 31 tyres are barcoded. From that point on riders have to make do with the tyres they've got. And it's quite possible that they won't always have the best tyres for all conditions over the race weekend. At Jerez, for example, morning temperatures were much lower than forecasts had predicted.
"The morning sessions at Jerez were much colder than expected, which made it quite difficult, but riders just have to deal with that. They need to understand that if they don't have the best tyre for the morning session then that doesn't mean they need to change the whole bike set-up. So long as they know how they're working towards the race then it's okay, and we're very happy with the way our teams worked towards the race at Jerez."
"Many of the riders seem to like the new rules because in a way their job is now simpler. When they had an endless supply of many different tyres it could be confusing, and it was certainly very time confusing because they had so many different tyres to test. Now they know exactly what they've got for the weekend, so they can focus on what they've got and work to make the best race tyre choice."
The new rules are certainly reducing the number of tyres used. "This year we are making less tyres and using less tyres," reveals Weber. "At Qatar (where Michelin has the same number of riders as they had last year) we used 300 less tyres than we used in 2006, that's a reduction of around 40 per cent."