Michelin Rio GP preview

Last surviving 500 record set to go as Michelin's MotoGP men raise the pace Local hero Alex Barros reveals where he makes time around Jacarepagua This weekend the MotoGP circus commences its round-the-world tour in Rio, where the last remaining...

Last surviving 500 record set to go as Michelin's MotoGP men raise the pace
Local hero Alex Barros reveals where he makes time around Jacarepagua

This weekend the MotoGP circus commences its round-the-world tour in Rio, where the last remaining lap record of the 500 GP era is expected to fall. The Jacarepagua record has stood unbroken since the late nineties because of poor circuit conditions and ra ce-day rain at the last two Rio GPs, when the new MotoGP four-strokes should have established a new record.

The performance of the pace-setting four-strokes and their Michelin tyres has already obliterated race and lap records at every other MotoGP circuit, often by vast margins. Two weeks ago Portugal reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team R C211V-Michelin) broke the Estoril race record by a staggering 37 seconds.

This time last year Rossi came to Rio to wrap up the first-ever four-stroke MotoGP title and the Italian did it in style, winning his tenth victory from the first 12 races of the season. This weekend Rossi arrives in South America leading the title chase o nce again, but he's far away from retaining his crown, having won half as many races so far this season. Rossi has had to fight every inch of the way this season as MotoGP gets more competitive.

After Saturday's race Rossi and his rivals head to Japan, Malaysia and Australia for three GPs on consecutive weekends in October. The season concludes at Valencia, Spain, on November 2.

MICHELIN RIDER ALEX BARROS AND JACAREPAGUA

Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) has big hopes for Saturday's Rio Grand Prix. The Brazilian star has had a tough 2003 season so far and looks to his home race for a change of fortune.

"Of course, I want a good result at Rio," says Barros, currently eighth overall. "We managed to score a podium finish at Le Mans in May, now I really want another. Most of all, I just want to be up front again. Our bike should be okay at Rio because we hav e more horsepower now -- and you need a very good engine for Rio's long straight. We got new parts at Estoril a few weeks ago and they make a good difference -- we now have more power throughout the rev range. Now we need to work on the chassis, we need to c hange the characteristics so we can slide the rear more easily."

Barros, who has won six GPs, all of them on Michelin tyres, has yet to taste success in his home event. He scored his best Rio result so far in 2000 when he finished second, less than a second behind Rossi. Last year he was fourth and top two-stroke rider behind the faster four-strokes. As always, he knows tyre choice will be important at Rio.

"Rio is a tough track for tyre choice," he adds. "You have to choose very carefully if you want tyres that will work all the way through the race. The surface is abrasive, so tyre consumption can be too much if you don't choose well.

"The front is almost as important as the rear, because you really ride with the front at Rio. There are a lot of fast turns where you load the front, and the track is also bumpy, so you have to control some front-end slides. You also get a lot of rear slid es because there are a lot of long corners, just like Barcelona (Catalunya)."

Like his fellow Michelin riders, who are dominating the current MotoGP campaign, just as they've dominated the past 11 premier-class World Championships, Barros has been impressed by the French company's latest MotoGP development work.

"Michelin's engineers have been working very hard this year," he says. "We have new tyres to try at every race, with many of the tyres designed to suit specific tracks. The tyres are working well too -- you can see from the lap and race times. And I'm very happy with Michelin's recent work on front slicks. These tyres offer more grip on the brakes plus better turning, with the same feel that we get from Michelin's existing front tyres. Maintaining the same kind of feel is very important, especially with the front tyre."

If you want to watch Barros at his best this weekend, try turn seven at the end of Rio's main straight. "Like any racetrack, it's the fast corners where you make the most time," he explains. "I'd say turns one to four are very important, but most of all tu rn seven. I really like that corner -- I've always been strong on the brakes, so I can get in there really deep. It's my best corner at this track."

MICHELIN TYRES AND THE CHALLENGE OF JACAREPAGUA

Jacarepagua is a different kind of challenge for Michelin's MotoGP engineers. Since early May they have been working in Europe, at tracks which they know well, but now they come to Rio for their annual visit to Jacarepagua. No MotoGP rider or team has test ed at the Brazilian venue since last September's Rio GP, so there's plenty of educated guesswork involved in preparing for this event.

"Rio is a bit like Welkom for us, in that we only go there once a year," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "So it's a bit of a different challenge from the places at which we regularly race and test. We have to bring tyr es that cover a wider range of usage, whereas we can converge the choice at circuits we know better. Rio's surface is unpredictable. Last year it was pretty good but it all depends on what it's been used for recently, what state it's in.

"This does make life slightly less interesting for us because we can't push forward as hard as we do at tracks that we know really well. But the situation is the same for everyone, including the riders and their engineers. The track's unpredictability does mean that it sometimes throws up unusual results. And because no one really knows the place better than anyone else -- not even Barros -- no one has a real advantage in track knowledge.

"We generally use medium to medium-hard tyres at Rio, because while the circuit isn't that demanding, it can be very abrasive when it's dirty. The bumps are also a consideration, but they are more of a concern for the technicians who work on bike settings. If we modified tyre construction for better bump absorption that would disturb the overall tyre compromise, so it's better not to make any drastic changes.

"Last year the track was amazing in the rain. The usual difference between wet and dry lap times is 10 to 15 per cent but last year at Rio -- when we used our new rain tyres for the first time -- it was less than eight per cent."

As well as using superior technology to continue its MotoGP domination, Michelin's staff must also focus on logistics for these four 'flyaway' races at Rio, Motegi (Japan), Sepang (Malaysia) and Phillip Island (Australia). "We send around 2000 tyres to eac h race, mostly by air," concludes Goubert. "It's a major operation and a heavy investment. Only 20 per cent of the unused tyres can be flown on to the next races because we develop different tyres for most racetracks."

-michelin-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Alex Barros , Phillip Island
Teams Repsol Honda Team