Michelin British GP preview

Michelin's MotoGP dominators come to Donington Park this weekend aiming to score the company's 301st premier-class Grand Prix win, 30 years and five weeks since Michelin scored its first 500 GP success in the British round of the 1973 World ...

Michelin's MotoGP dominators come to Donington Park this weekend aiming to score the company's 301st premier-class Grand Prix win, 30 years and five weeks since Michelin scored its first 500 GP success in the British round of the 1973 World Championship.

That race, staged on the Isle of Man on June 8 1973, was won by Australian Suzuki rider Jack Findlay, who will join Michelin's 300 wins celebration party in the Donington Park museum on Saturday evening, along with many current MotoGP stars including Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin), who won Michelin's 300th 500/MotoGP victory at Assen two weeks ago, and reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), the most successful Donington rider of recent years. Michelin has enjoyed unprecedented success in the fastest, most demanding class of bike racing over the past three decades and is currently enjoying an unbeaten run of 77 race victories.

Like every MotoGP track, Donington Park has its own characteristics -- a layout of contrasting corners and a surface that offers less-than-ideal grip. But that hasn't stopped Michelin from winning eight of the last nine GPs staged at the Midlands circuit. M ichelin riders currently hold the top 11 places in the 2003 MotoGP points chase.

Sunday's British GP is the eighth round of this year's 16-race World Championship. The season continues with the German GP later this month and concludes at Valencia, Spain, on November 2.


Michelin's renowned star awards are the most prestigious decorations in the restaurant business. This weekend we invite members of the media to Michelin's F1 hospitality unit -- the only such unit ever to have been awarded a Michelin star -- which will be in stalled in the Donington paddock. The unit's chef was recently unofficially awarded a star by the head of Michelin's Tourism Services (who produce the globally respected Michelin guide books and maps), and will be serving meals, delicacies and refreshments throughout the weekend.


No rider has a better record at Donington than Valentino Rossi the Italian has missed victory at the British track just once over the past six years. He has taken a hat trick of premier-class successes over the past three years, following on from 250 victo ry in 1999 and 125 victory in 1997.

The Italian -- known for his inch-perfect riding technique -- reckons that the track is just made for him. "Donington is very, very good for my style," he says. "You need to have good lines there, and you need to be very precise through the high-speed corner s."

DONINGTON'S GREATEST PECULIARITY-- Rossi is also very aware of Donington's greatest peculiarity -- the contrasting characteristics of the fast, flowing old section, from the start-finish to the back straight, and the dead-slow new section, from the Fogarty e sses to the final Goddard hairpin. The new section, added in 1986 to bring the track up to the minimum length required for GP events, requires a very different approach from both riders and engineers.

"There are two parts to the track -- one fast, one slow," affirms Rossi. "So you have to ride very sweet through the fast bit, then you need to be more aggressive with the bike for the slow corners at the end of the lap. If Donington didn't have those slow turns it would be the best track in the world, for sure, better than Assen, better than Catalunya."

IT'S ALL ABOUT COMPROMISE-- Donington's contradictory nature is also a concern for engineers in pit lane. "The biggest problem is the bike settings," Rossi adds. "You make a perfect setting for the first part and it's no good for the second part, or the opp osite, so you have to make a compromise. You need the bike quite precise for the fast section, but also quite agile for the last part."

Rossi's favourite section of the track is the ultra-quick uphill double left-hander between the Old Hairpin and McLeans. "This is very nice, because you need to exit from the Old Haiprin in the middle of the track, and if you make a very, very good line, m aybe you can't use full gas but you can make the lefts very fast. This is the kind of place that's good for the lap time -- if you have good settings and if you ride sweet."


Donington is one of the slowest and least grippy tracks on the GP calendar -- so it's not too hard on tyres. The main focus of Michelin engineers throughout the weekend will be to offer their riders the best-possible grip and traction for the slippery surfa ce. Interestingly, it was here in 1994 that Michelin hero Kevin Schwantz (Lucky Strike Suzuki RGV500-Michelin) won his last GP victory, the first success for Michelin's 16.5in rear slick, the tyre that developed into the current S4 which is helping the Mot oGP four-strokes to destroy lap and race records wherever they go.

"Donington isn't one of our favourite tracks, even though we've only lost on race in 500 or MotoGP in the last nine years," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "It isn't a very grippy circuit, that's its main characteristic from a tyre point of view. And it feels worse for the riders because they've just come from Assen, which is incredibly grippy, then they're at Donington, sliding all over the place." Even 125 riders have been known to riders complain about the track's lac k of grip. "But we love the circuit itself," Goubert adds. "The layout is spectacular, and there've been some great races there."

WHY DONINGTON IS SLIPPERY-- Some people blame the airplanes taking off from nearby East Midlands airport for the circuit's lack of grip -- they suspect that aviation fuel may affect the surface -- but Goubert believes the problem is simpler than that. "I thin k the tarmac isn't that grippy, that's all," he says. "Also, the surface is quite old, which makes it even more slippery."

DONINGTON'S NEGATIVE CAMBERS-- "Our main concern is finding grip, especially through the few left-handers," continues Goubert. "The two critical points of the track are Craner and Goddard. Both these lefts have quite serious negative camber, plus Goddard is very bumpy. This is one of the biggest challenges for us -- providing tyres that will grip well, even though the left side of the tyre gets so little use and some parts of the track's surface aren't in good condition.

"Track temperature is also an issue for Donington -- we've had some quite hot GP weekends there, but it's always possible that it could be very cool, so we take quite a large range of compounds to this event. In normal circumstances I'd say that we use medi um compounds and constructions at Donington. There aren't any corners that put a lot of heat into the tyres -- riders get sideways at Coppice, but it's not a very long or very fast corner."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Kevin Schwantz , Valentino Rossi
Teams Repsol Honda Team