Pacific GP: Michelin preview

Michelin up for 290th premier-class GP win. The remarkable Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) secured the first-ever four-stroke-based MotoGP World Championship at Rio two weeks ago, giving Michelin its 11th successive ...

Michelin up for 290th premier-class GP win.

The remarkable Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) secured the first-ever four-stroke-based MotoGP World Championship at Rio two weeks ago, giving Michelin its 11th successive premier-class championship success and its 22nd in the past 27 y ears. But while the crown is already beyond his rivals' reach, there's still plenty to play for in the 2002 MotoGP World Championship. Rossi's team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) is locked in a tense contest for the coveted runner-up spot with Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), while just nine points separate Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin), Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-d'Antin YZR500-Michelin) who are battling for third overall.

Michelin has totally dominated this year's MotoGP World Championship, taking pole position, race victory and fastest lap at all 12 rounds so far. Michelin riders currently fill the top ten places in the series and if a Michelin man wins Sunday's Pacific GP , the globally renowned French manufacturer will have secured its 290th premier-class victory. First man to win a premier-class World Championship race with Michelin was Australian Jack Findlay, who won the 1973 Isle of Man Senior TT for 500cc machines abo ard a 73 horsepower twin-cylinder 500 two-stroke Suzuki TR500, a very different machine to the 220 horsepower 990cc V5 four-stroke Honda RC211V raced by reigning bike king Rossi. And last weekend Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda SP-2-Michelin) beat Troy Bayliss (Ducati Infostrada 998-Michelin) to win the company's ninth successive World Superbike crown.

This weekend's MotoGP round at Twin Ring Motegi will be another challenging event for Michelin's tyre technicians because the weather is notoriously unpredictable at this venue. But Michelin should be ready, rain or shine. The company's new rear rain tyre proved an amazing success at Rio two weeks ago, where winner Rossi, runner-up Biaggi and Checa raced the tyre for the first time. During a magnificent ride from last place Checa set the fastest lap, just seven per cent outs ide the track record, an amazing improvement over the usual 12-15 per cent wet-to-dry lap difference. The first eight men home at Rio all used Michelin tyres and the first non-Michelin rider finished the race 69.9 seconds behind Rossi.

DAIJIRO KATO AND MOTEGI

Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V-Michelin) will be vying to score his first MotoGP victory at Motegi this weekend and the omens are good for the Japanese. The reigning 250 World Champion has achieved a phenomenal amount of 250 GP success on Japan ese tarmac and now he's getting ready to continue that form into the premier class. Kato commenced his debut MotoGP season riding NSR500 two-strokes but since August's Czech GP he has been equipped with Honda's RCV four-stroke, the bike that has dominated the season. He quickly adapted to the awesome V5, learning how to get the best out of the machine through machine set-up, tyre choice and riding ability, qualifying second quickest for two of his first three races on the bike, and scoring a brilliant runne r-up finish first time out at Brno. Two rain-lashed races at Estoril and Rio weren't so kind to Kato, who hopes for more benign weather conditions at Motegi.

"Rio was really unlucky for me," he says. "We had a good wet set-up and I was confident of a good ride, then someone knocked me down at the first corner. That was shame, I was looking forward to finishing the race and improving my feeling for the V5. I'm h aving fun learning the bike - the main difference between this bike and my 500 comes towards the end of a race, when the four-stroke spins its rear tyre more. This is no surprise, because the bike has 20 or 30 horsepower more than my old 500, also more to rque, more weight and more speed! But the four-stroke spins the tyre in a different way to the 500, the revs rise more slowly, so it's easier to control. There's only a slight difference in tyre choice between the two types of machine - you need a slightly harder construction and compound with the four-stroke. I've enjoyed working with Patrick (Isacco, Kato's Michelin tyre technician) this year. We work very closely on tyre choice, because with these machines it's very, very important that you choose the co rrect tyres, especially the rear.

"Overall, I'd say the four-stroke is a little easier to ride, just because the 500 is more nervous and difficult to control when it spins the rear tyre. I don't think I've changed my riding style since I swapped bikes. With the 500 you can enter the corner s slightly faster, both bikes are similar mid-corner and the four-stroke is faster out of the turns, so the difference isn't that huge.

"I'd say I'm at about 80 per cent with the RCV. I still have more to learn with this machine, mainly the way I think about getting the best out of the rear tyre during the races. You need to be a little more clever with this machine, you need to look after the tyre, so you've got good grip for the final few laps."

Kato has known success at Motegi. He won the 2000 250 Pacific GP at the track and was one of the favourite's for last year's 250 Pacific GP, until he was brought down by another rider. But like many of his rivals, he's not a great fan of the circuit, which Honda built to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1998.

"Motegi isn't so exciting for riders - the character of the track is quite stop and go," he says. "I don't mind it but I don't enjoy it too much either. It's one of those tracks where you have to focus a lot of your effort on the corner exits, you need max imum exit speed to help your speed down each straight.

MICHELIN TYRES AND MOTEGI

Michelin tyres have dominated all three premier-class GPs at Twin Ring Motegi, taking pole position, race victory and fastest lap at the 1999, 2000 and 2001 events. This year Michelin aims to continue its domination at the track, even though the French com pany's MotoGP tyre technicians haven't even been to the venue since Valentino Rossi won last year's Motegi race.

"We only have our data from last year's race, so we'll bring a wider-than-usual range of tyres to Motegi to make sure our riders have what they need," says Michelin Grand Prix manager Emmanuel Fournier. "It will be interesting to see if the track character has changed again because last time Motegi offered much less grip than it had during 2000. Hopefully, the surface won't have deteriorated any further."

Motegi bucked the trend last year, the 2001 Pacific 500 GP nine seconds slower than the previous record, against a general trend of race times cut by between 20 and 40 seconds. The 250s were also troubled by the loss of grip, last year's Motegi 250 race wa s 33 seconds slower than the 2000 event.

"The track isn't particularly hard on tyres, though there's plenty of low-gear acceleration, which requires riders to work hard on choosing the correct rear-tyre compound," adds Fournier. "And there's a few downhill corner entries, so riders tend to go for a slightly harder-than-usual front compound. It's not the most popular circuit with riders, even though it was designed for motorcycles. "But races in Japan are always important, with so much interest from the factories, especially for the Japanese riders. We've enjoyed our first season with Kato-san, there's no doubt that he's a very special rider - he's clever and reliable. We do sometime s have a little trouble communicating with him because he's Japanese, his team is Italian and we are French, but we manage!^Ô

There will be more four-stroke MotoGP bikes than ever before at Motegi this weekend, with HRC furnishing the West Honda Pons team with an extra RCV and Kawasaki returning to the premier class for the first time in two decades. Current 500 riders Shinya Nak ano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin) Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin) also go four-stroke soon, receiving Yamaha YZR-M1s from next weekend's Malaysian GP. But while the 'old school' 500 two-strokes are on the verge of obsol escence, Michelin are still working with the 500 teams to give them the best-possible tyres.

"Our four-stroke and two-stroke tyre development is diverging more and more," reveals Fournier. "Obviously we've been working hardest with the four-strokes because this is the future, but we also want to keep working to give our 500 guys the best possible chance. Although all the 500s use the S4 rear we created for the four-strokes, we're finding that the demands of each type of bike are getting more and more different. Generally the 500s run a softer type of tyre."

MOTEGI DATA

Lap record @Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500-Michelin) 1m 50.591s 156.283kmh/97.110mph (2000)

Pole position 2001 @Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin), 1m 49.800s

-michelin-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Troy Bayliss , Colin Edwards , Tohru Ukawa , Olivier Jacque
Teams Repsol Honda Team