US GP: Michelin preview

MICHELIN MotoGP MEN BACK IN THE USA Undulating Laguna circuit hosts premier-class bike racing for the first time since 1994 Grand Prix motorcycle racing returns to the United States on July 10 after more than a decade's absence. And American ...


Undulating Laguna circuit hosts premier-class bike racing for the first time since 1994 Grand Prix motorcycle racing returns to the United States on July 10 after more than a decade's absence. And American fans are in for a real treat -- last time they got to see premier-class GP bikes in anger, the fastest machines were well-silenced 500cc two-strokes, kicking out around 170 horsepower.

Nowadays MotoGP is ruled by a new breed of unsilenced four-stroke, the best of which push out 250 horsepower and can exceed 340kmh/211mph. Four-stroke MotoGP bikes were introduced in 2002, because two-strokes had been marginalised by environmental concerns that had their origins in California back in the 1970s.

MotoGP four-strokes have caught the imagination of fans all over the world, with TV viewing figures boosted further by the charismatic presence of reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1- Michelin), who has dominated the last four seasons of premier-class racing, always with Michelin tyres. TV audience figures of eight to ten million are not unusual in MotoGP's Italian heartland. Although biking's GP World Championship has been in existence since 1949, the United States has only hosted eight GPs. The first two were staged at Daytona, Florida, in 1964 and 1965, the last six at Laguna between 1988 and 1994.

Michelin riders won three of those six premier-class races at the Californian venue. Significant safety improvements have been undertaken in order to bring Laguna up to modern MotoGP standards. Michelin will air-freight around 1200 tyres to Laguna, some of which were only manufactured following the latest know-how gained during the Dutch TT on June 25.


The 2005 US GP is a big deal for Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) because it's his first race on home tarmac in almost three years. Hayden won the 2002 US Superbike title and then headed overseas to live his MotoGP dream. Now he's coming home for what should be the biggest race of his life so far. Like many riders, Hayden adores Laguna because it's a huge challenge -- a veritable rollercoaster ride across rolling hillsides a few miles inland of Monterey. Laguna requires inch-perfect riding and plenty of guts -- the ultra-quick turn one and the notorious Corkscrew are blind corners that require massive levels of commitment from riders.

"Laguna has always been special to me," says the 23-year old from Kentucky who scored his first pro-race victory at Laguna in 1998, riding a Suzuki GSX-R in the 750 production class. "I guess it's like the Mugello of the US. Me and my brothers went to the last US GP in '94. I was like 13, we flew out by ourselves and had a road trip. We were like gypsies, we got a ride here and a ride there, and we didn't have the right passes, so we were sneaking in!

"The fans are going to get pretty excited by MotoGP because I don't think they realise how quick and how loud these bikes are. It should be a real good weekend, hopefully the race goes off and is huge.

"I've always enjoyed the track, it's just a cool place to ride a motorcycle. I guess I like the Corkscrew the best. Why? Dang, just because it's the Corkscrew! It's really is a cool corner, it's just so blind and the track drops off so quick that it almost gets your belly like a rollercoaster.

"The track can be really good but really tough. Like Assen you've got to flow and put the corners together. Turn one is going to be big on a MotoGP bike and the bikes are going to be light and loose going up to the Corkscrew. As far as tyre wear goes, Laguna should be quite easy, there's not one corner that gets a lot of heat into the tyres.

"There's a few crucial corners like turn four, which is a pretty fast right that's got a bit of time in it, but you make the most time down the hill after the Corkscrew. The front tyre will be just as critical as the rear because there's a lot of downhill turns, plus you trail brake into a lot of the corners, like turn two where it's a double apex turn, so you let it drift up in the middle and then bring it back down.

"Michelin has made some amazing improvements in the last months, they keep coming up with better stuff. They don't win all these races by being lucky, they put in the work and take the information from the riders."


Michelin has won three premier-class GPs at Laguna, all of them with American riders. Californian Eddie Lawson (Marlboro Yamaha Team Roberts YZR500-Michelin) won the inaugural Laguna GP in April 1988, beating fellow Michelin men Wayne Gardner (Rothmans Honda NSR500-Michelin) and Niall Mackenzie (HB Honda NSR500- Michelin). Monterey resident Wayne Rainey (Marlboro Yamaha Team Roberts YZR500-Michelin) defeated Aussie Mick Doohan (Rothmans Honda NSR500-Michelin) to win the 1990 event. And Arkansas rider John Kocinski (Cagiva C593-Michelin) outpaced Brazilian Alex Barros (Lucky Strike Suzuki RGV500-Michelin) in the 1993 race, the penultimate US GP before the event dropped off the calendar. This weekend the French tyre brand aims to continue its unbeaten run of victories in the 2005 MotoGP World Championship.

"We're really happy to be taking MotoGP to the States for the first time,"says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "And Laguna is a really impressive circuit -- you always get good racing there. The track is a real challenge. We've had our ups and downs there, though we were strong during our last few visits in World Superbike. Everything changed when we started running our 16.5in front tyre because the front is very important at Laguna. There's a lot of downhill corner entries, even more than at Mugello, and the 16.5 gives you good feedback so you've got the confidence to really attack the turns. It's never that easy to find rear grip at Laguna, it's usually a bit slippery, but it shouldn't be a problem.

"Laguna isn't a new circuit for us, so it's not a totally new track like Istanbul, but it's been a few years since we've raced there, so the bikes and the tyres are very different. Our knowledge from previous visits will give us a few clues for tyre design but otherwise it's a new challenge, so we'll be taking a larger-than-usual range of tyres, so we have something to cover all eventualities."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Valentino Rossi , Alex Barros , Eddie Lawson , Wayne Gardner , Mick Doohan
Teams Repsol Honda Team