Portugal: Michelin preview

Slow Track With a 220kmh Corner Slowest MotoGP track features one of the sport's most daunting turns Michelin man Marco Melandri talks about his MotoGP Catch 22 This weekend at Estoril the 2004 MotoGP World Championship moves another stage ...

Slow Track With a 220kmh Corner

Slowest MotoGP track features one of the sport's most daunting turns
Michelin man Marco Melandri talks about his MotoGP Catch 22

This weekend at Estoril the 2004 MotoGP World Championship moves another stage closer to what promises to be one of the sport's all-time greatest climaxes. With ten races gone and six to go, series leaders Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR -M1-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) are separated by just 17 points after winning eight of those ten races between them. Both men have already predicted that the title fight will go down to the season finale at Valen cia on October 31. And the battle for biking's biggest prize isn't a straightforward two-way affair, for Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) is only another nine points behind Gibernau in third place.

Rossi comes to Estoril aiming to extend an unbeaten run of three victories at MotoGP's slowest racetrack. Michelin meanwhile aims to maintain its unbeaten record of six premier-class Portuguese GPs at three different tracks (and in two different countries) The first two Portuguese GPs were run in Spain -- the 1987 event at Jarama, the 1988 race at Jerez -- because Estoril didn't fulfil stringent GP safety standards until modifications were carried out in the late nineties.

Sunday's race is the last in Europe before MotoGP riders head overseas to Japan, Qatar, Malaysia and Australia, before returning to Europe for Valencia.

MICHELIN RIDER MARCO MELANDRI AND ESTORIL Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) contests his second MotoGP event at Estoril this weekend, hoping that Lady Luck will smile on him again after a run of recent ill luck. The Italian is currently struggling with a right-hand inj ury sustained in crashes at the Sachsenring and Donington Park during July. The previous month the former 250 World Champion had proved that he is really getting the hang of controlling a 230-plus horsepower MotoGP bike by recording his first premier-class podium finishes at the Catalan and Dutch GPs.

Last year at Estoril Melandri finished seventh, albeit only 16 seconds behind winner Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin). And he has enjoyed great success at the track in 250s, finishing on the podium on three consecutive visits from 2000 t o 2002.

ATLANTIC WINDS CAN BE A PROBLEM-- "Estoril isn't such a bad circuit, so long as it's not too windy," says Melandri. "It's a bit strange though because it has a very fast straight but then many slow corners, plus it's very bumpy.

"It isn't one of the most difficult circuits for tyres. Maybe after half the race you start sliding around a bit but it's not a real problem. Slow corners don't really put too much heat into the tyres. The only turn at Estoril that really affects the tyres is the final corner which is very long, so you're using a lot of lean and a lot of throttle because you're always working to get the best-possible exit speed to give you as much speed as possible down the straight. It's quite tricky because you want to ge t on the throttle as early as possible, but if you open up too early you'll get too much wheelspin, so then you have to ease off the throttle which loses you a lot of time."

IT'S ALL ABOUT TURN FIVE-- There is one other corner through which riders can really gain -- or lose -- a lot of time at Estoril. Turn five is a dauntingly fast and unforgiving right-hander, taken at over 220kmh.

"Turn five is a very fast sweeper that takes you onto the back straight," Melandri continues. "Again, you want to get through there as quick as possible because that will give you more speed for the next 500 metres. It's fifth gear, so it's quite exciting! But it's not a long corner, so you need to get in there fast. The trouble is, if you're a metre out on the entry, you're six or seven metres off line on the exit, which will really hurt your speed.

Now well into his second MotoGP season, Melandri has successfully adapted his 250 riding style to the demands of a big four-stroke, but he isn't the tallest rider on the grid and he reckons his lack of stature is a handicap. At 165cm tall he finds it diffi cult to get enough weight over the rear tyre. But if he moves his riding position back, then he can't get enough weight on the front tyre for corner entries. It's a classic racing Catch 22.

MELANDRI'S MotoGP CATCH 22-- "I can spin the rear tyre no problem, the only problem in MotoGP is spinning too much," he says. "Most riders can control wheelspin by moving their weight backwards to put more weight on the rear tyre but I'm very short, so I ca n't move back as effectively as most riders. This means that I can't afford to get any wheelspin in the first place. We have moved my riding position around a lot, but if we move my seating position too far back I'm then unable to put any weight over the f ront tyre, which means I have less front-end grip, so I'm too slow into the corners.

"Generally I can use quite soft Michelins -- because I'm light and because of my riding style. I'd say I usually use medium-soft tyres at Estoril because you need good traction for the slow corners and because the track surface is usually quite dirty."

MICHELIN AND THE CHALLENGE OF ESTORIL ichelin has dominated every one Mof the four premier-class GPs held at Estoril and the legendary French Mtyre brand aims to maintain its grip on the Portuguese circuit this Mweekend.

With the slowest lap speed of any MotoGP venue -- at just 151kmh/93mph -- Estoril is not the trickiest of racetracks for Michelin's MotoGP technicians but it is not without its challenging aspects. The final corner is very long, with riders using extreme lea n angles and lots of throttle for several seconds, which puts serious heat into the rear tyre.

MICHELIN'S WORK FOCUSES ON ONE TURN-- "The last right is the only corner that really puts a lot of temperature into the tyres -- it's a long, long corner, through which riders use increasing amounts of throttle," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of mot orcycling competitions. "Much of our work over the weekend is focused on finding the right rear tyre for each of our riders for this corner. The final turn is crucial for lap times and it's also crucial in the race, because the rider who chooses the correc t rear tyre will be able to use maximum corner exit speed for longer than any of his rivals.

"Other than that, Estoril isn't too challenging for us. It's quite a twisty track with an ultra-slow chicane, which is probably the slowest corner in MotoGP, but that isn't really an issue for us. The layout and surface give medium wear, though that can ch ange according to the weather. Estoril is one of those places where you can get all sorts of weather conditions -- it can be really hot or quite autumnal, and generally it's always windy because the track is next to the Atlantic. I think our 16.5in front sh ould help through all the direction changes.


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Valentino Rossi , Sete Gibernau , Marco Melandri
Teams Repsol Honda Team