Spanish GP: Michelin preview

Two-stroke or four-stroke, Michelin aims to keep ruling in Spain. MotoGP fever hits Europe for the first time this weekend when the new breed of 990cc four-stroke GP bikes takes on the established 500cc two-strokes in Spain. So far the ...

Two-stroke or four-stroke, Michelin aims to keep ruling in Spain.

MotoGP fever hits Europe for the first time this weekend when the new breed of 990cc four-stroke GP bikes takes on the established 500cc two-strokes in Spain. So far the four-strokes have had it all their own way, winning the opening two rounds of the new-look World Championship. But there's every chance the 500s may fight back at Jerez, where the track layout should better suit their fiery character.

Either way Michelin tyres will be up front and gunning for a hat trick of victories on Sunday. So far the French brand has ruled MotoGP racing whatever the conditions, Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) winning the rain-lashed Japanese GP on April 7 and team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) winning the scorching-hot South African GP on April 21. The two-stroke riders most likely to worry the RCV duo this weekend are Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin) and Daijiro Katoh (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500-Michelin) who finished third and fourth at Welkom a fortnight back. Michelin riders took the first nine places at Welkom, currently hold nine of the first ten places in the World Championship and have won every premier-class Spanish GP since 1989.

MotoGP racing's Continental tour continues with the French GP at Le Mans on May 19. The 16-race season concludes at Valencia on November 3 after a whirlwind 'flyaway' tour taking in Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Australia.

THE RIDERS AND JEREZ

MotoGP riders probably know Jerez better than any other Grand Prix track because the circuit has featured in the World Championship every year since 1987 and has always been popular for off-season testing. But this year is different because the Spanish venue has undergone major changes during the winter, including reconstruction of the pit-lane infrastructure and resurfacing of the track. As a result most GP riders haven't used the circuit since the last Spanish GP in May 2001.

This isn't a concern for local hero Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) who counts Jerez as one of his favourite circuits. Known as 'El Toro' to his Spanish fans, Checa currently lies second in the World Championship behind Rossi and aims t o repeat the podium finish he achieved at the season-opening Japanese GP.

"I know Jerez very well and I don't think I'll have forgotten how to ride around it!" smiles the 29-year old. "Maybe there will be a few new secrets to learn because of the new surface but that's the same for everyone. Jerez used to be very aggressive on t tyres because of the surface and the type of turns, and even if the tarmac has changed the layout hasn't. There are a lot of fast, long turns which give the tyres a lot of g because you ride through them at very high lean angles, so you need good rear-tyre casing stability at Jerez, especially at the end of a race. Also there's a lot of heavy braking, so the front-tyre construction needs to be able to handle some serious pressure, especially braking into turn one, into the hairpin at the end of the back straight and into the last turn. But this has never been a worry for Michelin, they work very hard to give us the right tyres for every circuit.

"Every section of Jerez is important, though maybe the most important corners for a fast lap are the two last fast rights. I like every part of the track, I think it's one of the most enjoyable circuits we use because there's a good variety of corners and you're working with the bike all the time. It's exciting." Checa is delighted with this year's change in technical regulations because he prefers racing big-bore four-strokes to the 500cc two-strokes he'd ridden since joining the premier GP class in 1995. He believes his awesome YZR-M1 is much better suited to his gloriously aggressive riding style. "I prefer the M1 to my old YZR500," he says. "You had to ride smooth and clean with the 500 but you can be more aggressive with the four-stroke, riding more with the rear tyre, and that's the way I like to ride."

But although he loves riding the M1 he admits it's harder work because the bike is more powerful and heavier than a 500. Not only that, Michelin's latest 16.5in rear slick, which has been specially developed to handle the four-strokes' higher power output, offers much improved grip. And when a rider has more grip at his disposal, he can ride faster through the turns, which means he has to work harder. There's no such thing as an easy ride in bike racing-- "This isn't car racing," he smiles. "In bikes the rider has to work all the time, he has to move around the bike into the corners, through the corners and out of the corners. It's all about giving your machine the best balance at every point of the track, and you do that with the throttle, the brake and with your body position. I love it, it's big fun."

MICHELIN TYRES AND JEREZ

If the MotoGP riders know Jerez very well, Michelin's tyres technicians probably know it better than anyone. The venue's popularity as a test venue ensures regular visits from the company's Clermont Ferrand technical crew, but, like the riders, Michelin doesn't have a great deal of knowledge of the circuit's new surface.

That means there will be no specially tailored compounds prepared by Michelin's chemists for this weekend's racing. Instead Michelin will bring a large variety of more standard compounds to Jerez, giving their riders a good range of choices to suit their machines and individual riding styles.

"We know less than usual this year because of the new surface," explains Michelin Grand Prix manager Emmanuel Fournier. "We've only had one brief test session there, with Honda at the end of November, so we're not really sure of the grip level or the surface's abrasiveness. That's why we will take a broader-than-usual range of tyres to this year's event. They will all be fairly 'standard' construction and compound, rather than tyres that have been specifically designed to suit a particular type of circuit. But this is okay; Jerez is a medium kind of a circuit for us, it doesn't have any acute characteristics with respect to tyres."

Michelin's new S4 profile 16.5in rear slick is the dominant new tyre in GP racing. All Michelin's riders, both four-stroke and two-stroke, like that tyre.

"We designed the Michelin S4 for the four-strokes but the tyre is just as well suited to the 500s," adds Fournier. "This profile gives us everything we want from a rear tyre: good handling, good endurance, good sidegrip and good driving traction. Both types of machine seem to be very close on tyre wear, the difference is not so much between the two-stroke and the four-stroke as between the different riding styles and different makes of machine. But we still have a lot of development work to do with this tyre, particularly as the four-stroke bikes are evolving all the time. In racing, development is never finished!"

Jerez Data

Lap record
Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500-Michelin) 1m 43.779s, 153.429kmh (2001)

Pole position 2001
Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500-Michelin) 1m 42.739s

Michelin's 2002 MotoGP Partners (Provisional)

Repsol Honda Team-Michelin (4S)
Valentino Rossi
Tohru Ukawa

Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin (4S)
Max Biaggi
Carlos Checa

West Honda Pons-Michelin (2S)
Loris Capirossi
Alex Barros

Fortuna Honda Gresini-Michelin (2S)
Daijiro Katoh

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin (2S)
Shinya Nakano
Olivier Jacque

Antena 3 Yamaha-d'Antin-Michelin (2S)
Norick Abe
Pere Riba

-michelin-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Shinya Nakano , Daijiro Kato , Olivier Jacque , Pere Riba
Teams Repsol Honda Team