Michelin Catalunya GP preview

Can Gibernau or Checa beat Rossi? Fresh from 75th consecutive win, Michelin head towards landmark 300th succes Ever-changing Catalunya surface makes life complicated for Michelin engineers. The MotoGP circus barely drew breath following last...

Can Gibernau or Checa beat Rossi?

Fresh from 75th consecutive win, Michelin head towards landmark 300th succes Ever-changing Catalunya surface makes life complicated for Michelin engineers.

The MotoGP circus barely drew breath following last Sunday's Italian GP before heading west for this weekend's Catalan Grand Prix outside Barcelona. With five of the season's 16 races already gone, the 2003 World Championship is now fully in top gear, and the next few races will be vital in deciding the ultimate outcome of the campaign.

Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) is currently sitting pretty at the top of the points table with three wins so far. But his Italian GP victory -- his 27th on Michelin tyres -- didn't come easily, and he will have to fight once again on Sun day, especially if he's to overcome the home-town contingent of Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin). Gibernau is on brilliant form this year, he's already beaten Rossi twice and he'll be trying everything he knows to defeat the Italian on home tarmac.

Rossi's Mugello success gave Michelin its 75th consecutive win in the premier class and the French tyre brand is now just two victories short of a landmark 300th success in 500/MotoGP. Michelin has dominated the first five MotoGP events of 2003 -- taking pole position, lap record and monopolising the podium on each occasion, as well as holding the top ten places in the World Championship. Not only that, Michelin has won nine out of ten World Superbike races and currently heads both the F1 car series and World Rally Championship with three wins in F1, including victory at Monaco earlier this month, and a full-house of rally victories.

Michelin has won every Catalunya premier-class GP since this event became the Catalan GP in 1996. Previous to that the event was known as the European GP.


Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) won his first Grand Prix success at Catalunya in 1996, a golden moment completed when King Juan Carlos joined the Catalan rider atop the podium. Since then the local hero has had a rollercoaster ride -- another win in 1998 and then some fast and furious times with Yamaha, including a whole bunch of podium finishes, but as yet no more victories. This weekend Checa will be fighting to get his YZR-M1 into winning form, and he knows that his Michelin engineers will play a vital part in that battle, especially since Catalunya is a tricky track for tyres.

THE BIG DEAL AT CATALUNYA-- "The big deal at Catalunya is consistency and stability," says Checa. "It's one of those tracks where your laps times vary more through the race than they do at most other tracks. It's also one of those circuits where the race pace is never as fast as the qualifying pace, and there can be a one-second difference in lap times from the start of a race to the finish. That's my concern this weekend -- if we can improve the way my bike works with the tyres to give me more feeling and grip over the last few laps, we can ride a better race."

Checa is also aware that front-tyre performance is particularly crucial at this complex track. "The front tyre is more important here than at most circuits," he adds. "You need stability and grip, especially for the downhill corner entries (like turn one and turn five), some of which are quite bumpy. You need the tyre and suspension working together, offering both flexibility and stability, so they can 'copy' the bumps."

SLIDING AND TURNING-- Checa is also working on the rear end of his YZR-M1, trying to improve its ability to slide. "I can't really slide my bike the way I want," he explains. "We need something more because as soon as the rear slides, I can't turn the bike properly, so I can't keep turning with lean angle; I have to stand it up out of the corner and then go. Losing traction isn't the problem, we never really lose a lot of traction during races, it's just a bike set-up thing."

Checa has raced and tested at Catalunya countless times, so he knows better than most the venue's weird grip characteristics. "The grip situation is always strange at Catalunya," he affirms. "On days when there's no grip, you come into the pits and you can wipe the dust off your wheel rims. On grippy days, there's no dust on the wheels. I think wind blows dust onto the track, maybe from the gravel traps which are full of volcanic stone. They also have a lot of F1 testing at this track, which can leave too much rubber on the asphalt, which isn't very grippy anyway."


Catalunya is one of the strangest circuits of the MotoGP year -- and no one is quite sure why. The track is renowned for its constantly changing grip characteristics -- the surface can offer good grip in morning practice, then three hours later, when riders return for qualifying or racing, grip is much reduced.

CATALUNYA'S WEIRD SURFACE-- "It's a strange track because you never know what to expect," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "The grip varies from day to day and from hour to hour, which makes Catalunya quite a challenge for us. In normal circumstances at most tracks we can increase grip throughout the weekend, as we work with the riders and their machines. But when the track changes every session, it's very difficult to do find a good direction because you have no firm base line. You can't even forecast how the surface will be for race day, because it might be completely different from Friday and Saturday.

"We think the surface undergoes these changes due to dust that gets blown onto the track. And really, when the grip falls away like that, there's no solution, this is when it's up to the riders to deal with it. Of course, our dream, our aim, is to create tyres that work in all conditions. At Catalunya we simply try to offer tyres that are less sensitive to conditions -- easy tyres with a wide working range. Other than this problem, Catalunya isn't that demanding on tyres. It has some long corners, but nothing like Welkom or Phillip Island."

THE TURN FOR TYRE-SMOKIN' ACTION-- Turn four is Catalunya's most famous corner -- a 180-degree right-hander that encourages riders to get totally sideways on the exit, often smoking their rear tyres as they attempt to lay down too much horsepower. "You see a lot of riders getting sideways there, simply because there isn't a lot of grip and they have plenty of power." adds Goubert.

After Sunday's racing, Michelin stay at the track to test with a number of teams. "Testing is very important, because most riders stay fairly conservative with their tyre choice during a race weekend, simply because there isn't enough time to try anything very different," Goubert concludes.


Lap record: Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 1m 45.594s (2002) Pole position 2001: Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1), 1m 44.523s

Recent winners of the Catalan GP

2002 Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 44m 20.679s
2001 Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500-Michelin), 44m 57.142s
2000 Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki RGV500-Michelin), 51m 31.504s (wet race)
1999 Alex Criville (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 44m 55.701s
1998 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 44m 53.264s
1997 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500-Michelin), 44m 56.149s
1996 Carlos Checa (Fortuna Honda NSR500 Pons-Michelin), 44m 56.885s


Colin Edwards (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin)
Noriyuki Haga (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin)

Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin)
Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin)

Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin)
Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin)
Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin)
Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin)
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin)
Tohru Ukawa (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin)

John Hopkins (Suzuki Grand Prix Team GSV-R-Michelin)
Kenny Roberts Junior (Suzuki Grand Prix Team GSV-R-Michelin)

Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Shinya Nakano (D'Antin Yamaha YZR-M1-Michelin)


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Alex Criville , Troy Bayliss , Colin Edwards , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Sete Gibernau , Shinya Nakano , Kenny Roberts Jr. , John Hopkins , Noriyuki Haga , Olivier Jacque , Mick Doohan , Marco Melandri , Ryuichi Kiyonari , Phillip Island
Teams Repsol Honda Team