Michelin Mugello preview

Rossi leads Italians home to Mugello Local-hero Rossi reveals his secret for a hot lap of his home MotoGP circuit New Michelin front slick should prove useful around demanding up-and-down track Michelin goes for its 75th consecutive premier...

Rossi leads Italians home to Mugello
Local-hero Rossi reveals his secret for a hot lap of his home MotoGP circuit
New Michelin front slick should prove useful around demanding up-and-down track

Michelin goes for its 75th consecutive premier class victory at Mugello on Sunday - a milestone that underlines the French company's mastery of the world's most demanding motorcycle series. Undefeated in the premier class since July 1998, Michelin has cont inued its dominance following the advent of four-stroke MotoGP, winning every race since the awesome 220-plus horsepower four-strokes hit the tracks last year. And Michelin men currently fill the top 14 places in the 2003 MotoGP World Championship.

This year Michelin is focusing its efforts particularly on front-tyre development, following the great strides made last season with the S4 MotoGP rear slick. The fruits of these labours will be felt this weekend at Mugello, a track that places massive dem ands on front tyres, with its many high-speed, downhill corner entries. Of course, rear tyres don't get the easiest of times at Mugello, where the fastest MotoGP bikes are expected to nudge 330kmh/205mph.

Michelin has dominated the Italian World Championship round since its earliest years in the premier class, winning all but four Nations/Italian GPs since 1982, including a 100 per cent success record at the last nine Mugello GPs.

MICHELIN RIDER VALENTINO ROSSI AND MUGELLO

Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) comes to Mugello as the man to beat. The Italian superstar has won two of the first four races of 2003 and leads the championship by 23 points from compatriot Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Mi chelin). The pair will be cheered all the way by locals, along with fellow Italians Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) and Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin).

But while Rossi has towered over the past two seasons of premier-class racing - winning the last 500 title in 2001 and the first four-stroke MotoGP crown last year - he hasn't always been the man to beat on home tarmac. The 24-year-old crashed out of his f irst two premier-class Mugello GPs in 2000 and 2001, making the Italian venue his bogey circuit. Last year he finally laid those difficulties to rest with a fine win in front of an adoring crowd.

"It meant a lot to win in front of my fans, especially since I hadn't done it since I won the Mugello 250 GP in 1999 - I was beginning to think I had a problem with the place," grins Rossi. "This year will be difficult though - there are many more fast bik es around now than there were this time last year. And for sure Ducati will want to win in Italy!"

THE KEY TO A QUICK MUGELLO LAP-- Despite a few tumbles at Mugello, there's never been any doubt that Rossi is a master of the challenging, undulating Italian circuit that nestles in a picturesque Tuscan valley. He took pole position at Mugello 2001, usin g his finely balanced style for maximum speed through the many high-speed changes of direction that dominate the track. Getting through Mugello's five esses sections is the key to a fast lap, and since many of the esses have downhill approaches, front-tyre performance is more important here than anywhere else.

"The front tyre is always one of the most important things in bike racing because a good front tyre gives the rider confidence to go fast," Rossi adds. "Michelin has done some great work to give us very good front-tyre feel, and you need really that feel a t Mugello, maybe more than anywhere else. The rear tyre isn't as crucial as it is at some tracks, because most of the corners are medium fast, so you're not pushing the rear as hard as you do out of slower corners. The front is important at Mugello because there's a lot of heavy, downhill braking that throws very much weight onto the front tyre. Also, you need high corner speed to get through the esses fast, and you need good front grip for that.

BALANCE IS THE SECRET AT MUGELLO-- "It's a big job to find the best overall machine set-up at Mugello, because if you focus on the front too much, for sure you'll lose some rear-end performance. Like everywhere else, but maybe even more so, you need a ver y well balanced bike for this track because it's fast, up and down and quite bumpy in places. You need to feel very well with the bike to be fast at Mugello."

Rossi believes the most crucial corners at Mugello are the downhill, off-camber Casanova right-hander which makes up the first part of the Casanova-Savelli esses, which, coincidentally, is where he watched his first GP in 1991 and where his fan club now ha ngs out. "This section is very important, because you can make up a lot of time there," he says. "The same is also true of the two Arrabbiata right-handers that follow, which I also like very much. And I also enjoy the fast left-right flick at Biondetti be fore the final corner."

MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF MUGELLO Last year Michelin focused its development on its new S4 rear slick, specially created for the new breed of massively powerful MotoGP four-strokes. The tyre was a remarkable success, winning every round of the 16-race series, and helping riders obliterate lap and race records wherever they went. Development of the S4 continues apace, but Michelin has also been working very hard on front-tyre improvements during recent months, and since front-tyre performance is crucial at Mugello, this weekend's Italian GP will be a particularly interesting GP for Michelin's MotoGP technicians.

EXTRA STRAIN FOR FRONT TYRES-- "Mugello is one of the most demanding tracks for front tyres," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "Usually riders spend 80 per cent of their time choosing rear tyres during practice and qual ifying, but at Mugello they work more than normal on the front. Mugello is tough on fronts because there's a lot of downhill corner entries, which puts a lot of strain onto the front tyre. That's why we use a slightly harder compound for this track."

Michelin's latest MotoGP front tyre has been tested by most MotoGP riders over the past few months and has been created to offer more feel. This is the vital factor in front-tyre performance, because a rider must be confident to push his machine into turns on the limit. Without that feel he won't feel brave enough to even try and approach the limit.

BIG WEEKEND FOR NEW MICHELIN FRONT-- "We're really looking forward to Mugello because of our new construction front," adds Goubert. "It's always very difficult to get riders to adopt a new front tyre because the front is a critical part of performance, an d riders prefer to stick with what they know rather than venture into the unknown. The idea of this tyre is to offer them more feedback, so they can feel exactly what's going on up front, which gives them the potential to use more of the tyre's grip for fa ster corner-entry and mid-corner speeds."

Mugello isn't so hard on rear tyres because most of the corners are medium-speed, so there's not so much low-gear acceleration, but the track does feature the fastest straight in MotoGP racing, with top speeds expected to nudge 330kmh this weekend.

MUGELLO DATA

Lap record
Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 1m 52.601s (167.689kmh/ 104.197mph)

Pole position 2001
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) 1m 51.258s

MICHELIN MotoGP RIDERS

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

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

HONDA
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)

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

YAMAHA
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)

-michelin-

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