Portuguese GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN -- THE FASTEST TYRES AT MotoGP's SLOWEST TRACK After scoring a record-breaking victory at last weekend's Spanish GP, Michelin expects 2005 rear slick to pay dividends at Estoril The world's fastest motorcycle racing series tackles its...


After scoring a record-breaking victory at last weekend's Spanish GP, Michelin expects 2005 rear slick to pay dividends at Estoril The world's fastest motorcycle racing series tackles its slowest racetrack in Portugal this weekend. The Estoril lap record stands at 152kmh/95mph, quite a bit less than half the top-speed potential of the fastest MotoGP bikes.

But in a world of 250 horsepower and 340kmh/210mph motorcycles, going very slow is just as much of a science as going very fast. Michelin has proved its mastery of tyre performance at Estoril, winning every one of the five premier- class GPs staged at the track. World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1- Michelin) won last year's race, scoring a crucial victory ahead of impressive Japanese rider Makoto Tamada (Camel Honda RC211V), now contesting his first MotoGP season with Michelin.

Rossi was also triumphant at Jerez last weekend, scoring a determined victory over arch-rival Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin). Marco Melandri (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) completed an all-Michelin podium in third spot.

Michelin riders currently fill eight of the first nine positions in the 2005 MotoGP World Championship points standings.


Slow it may be, but Estoril is also a circuit of extremes, featuring MotoGP's slowest corner and also one of its fastest. Riders attack the daunting turn five at over 220kmh/136mph, then four corners later they're down to just 55kmh/34mph through the chicane. This contrast between the track's slow turns and fast sweepers dominates the minds of riders and engineers who need to find machine settings that deliver stability through the high-speed sections and manoeuvrability in the slower sections.

And just to complicate matters further, Estoril is very bumpy, not too grippy and often buffeted by strong winds blowing in from the Atlantic. Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) has contested every GP event staged at Portugal's premier motorsport venue but only scored one podium finish, in 2003. However, he does know the fast way around this tricky, tortuous circuit, having claimed pole position in 2001. Last year he was the innocent victim of a first-lap melee at the chicane.

"You really need to think about what kind of tyre construction you use at Estoril," says Biaggi, winner of 13 premier-class GPs with Michelin. "You want stability but you can't choose too stiff a tyre because it won't be any good on all the bumps. This is where Michelin's experience is so important, they really understand what's required when you face difficult choices. The other difficult thing about Estoril is that we don't test there anymore.

"The last corner is the most important turn because it's really long and because it leads onto the start- finish straight which is also very long. A good exit there definitely gains you a few tenths down the straight.

"Maybe turn five is the most fun. It's really fast and you use some extreme lean angles through there. This corner is also very important because it's so fast and because it leads onto the back straight.

"The grip level isn't so good at Estoril, so you need tyres that last, otherwise you'll be in trouble during the final laps. Again, Michelin know how to build tyres that deliver both good grip and good endurance. We know that their rivals are pushing really hard in MotoGP but I have total confidence in Michelin, we've enjoyed a long partnership together."


The season-opening Spanish GP marked the introduction of two important new MotoGP rules -- a single-session qualifying format and flag-to-flag races. Switching to Saturday afternoon-only qualifying works better for the fans because it prevents wet Saturday qualifying following a dry Friday qualifying. Flag-to-flag races are also more fan friendly, because races will no longer be stopped and restarted in the event of rainfall; instead riders will pit to change tyres or bikes.

"We like the new qualifying format, because it allows ourselves and our partners to focus 100 per cent on race set-up throughout Friday and on Saturday morning," says Michelin's chief of competitions Nicolas Goubert. "Our policy is to keep qualifying tyres for qualifying. We don't use qualifying tyres in any of the first three sessions to record a few faster laps just to look good. We also await with interest the first use of the new flag-to-flag rule. Tyre-wise, flag-to-flag races won't make any great difference, though having slicks that work on a damp track, maybe in the drizzle, will be an advantage."

Michelin comes to Estoril happy with its Jerez performance (where it won the ‘triple crown': pole position, race victory and lap record) and determined to maintain its 100 per cent record at the Portuguese track.

"It's quite a strange track -- asymmetric, bumpy and not too grippy," adds Goubert. "There's also a big contrast between the fast parts and the slow parts which must make bike set-up difficult, although that concerns the team engineers more than us.

"It's not an easy place for tyres. The weather can be unpredictable, which always complicates things. If it's fairly cool the surface isn't too aggressive but if it's hot you need quite strong tyres on the right side, largely due to the final corner. This corner is very long, with riders using high angles of lean all the way through, then a lot of throttle on the exit, so it puts a lot of heat into the tyres. Our 2005 rear construction should help here because it provides very stable edge grip, which should be particularly useful towards the end of the race. When the tyres are quite worn riders need stability to maintain their corner speed."

Estoril was originally scheduled to take place later in the season but was brought forward to replace the cancelled Rio GP. Last year at Rio Michelin suffered one of its only two defeats in the last 103 races, but Goubert is sad that MotoGP isn't returning to Rio this season.

"We are disappointed because we were keen to win the race which we'd won every other time we'd been there," he says. "We were actually very confident last year because Sete was easily fastest in warm-up, but he crashed in the early stages of the race, so it's all 'ifs' and 'buts'. And, of course, we congratulate the winners."


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