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2001 Moto GP 500 World Championship, round 12 Valencia Grand Prix, Valencia - September 21/22/23 2001 Valencia - where Michelin's 16.5 got a grip on 500 racing Valencia is where Michelin's all-conquering 16.5in rear tyre began its reign of ...

2001 Moto GP 500 World Championship, round 12
Valencia Grand Prix, Valencia - September 21/22/23 2001

Valencia - where Michelin's 16.5 got a grip on 500 racing

Valencia is where Michelin's all-conquering 16.5in rear tyre began its reign of supremacy. Since Régis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) used a 16.5 to win the track's inaugural GP in September 1999, the tyre has all but taken over 500 racing, triggering a stunning increase in race pace.

Laconi's victory was achieved using an intermediate 16.5 for the damp race, so it was the surprise success of team-mate Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) at last year's season-opening South African GP that really encouraged other 500 riders to make the switch. Within months most teams had adapted their bikes to suit the 16.5, and by the end of last year more and more riders were racing the tyre.

This season the 16.5 has gained a real grip on 500 GPs. Each of the 11 races so far has been won with the tyre and the consequent increase in speed has taken everyone by surprise. Two weeks ago World Champion-elect Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) won the Portuguese GP and bettered the previous year's race time by a staggering 42 seconds. Indeed, of the five races run so far in comparable conditions to last year, all have been dramatically faster; Suzuka 2001 was 25 seconds quicker, Welkom 35 seconds, Le Mans 16 and Brno 32.

On Sunday former 125 and 250 king Rossi aims to win his eighth victory of 2001 to take him one step closer to his first 500 crown. The youngster currently enjoys a 43-point advantage over Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) who has vowed to keep fighting to the end, despite crashing at the last two races. After Valencia riders and teams head out of Europe for the season-ending series of flyaway races in Japan (for the Pacific GP), Australia, Malaysia and Brazil.

Valencia is one of the slowest circuits in GP racing and that, somewhat surprisingly, means it's very hard work for riders. The circuit is demanding because it's all corners, with only one straight worthy of the name. It's the kind of track that brings the intricacies of modern riding technique to the fore with riders exploring the very limits of grip as they enter and exit the circuit's many corners, modulating grip with throttle, brakes and steering input. Dancing on the edge of a precipice, as it were.

Local hero Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) explains it well. "Valencia is just one corner after another, it's not a place where a 500 feels like a 500, because you're riding the racetrack instead of the bike," he says. "You can't really use all the power, so you could probably lap almost as quick on a 250. What you need most of all is a bike that's easy to move around. And then you need a whole bunch of rear grip to get out of all the hairpins. It's a fun track but tricky too, because the slow corners can catch you out..

"I expect that this year's race will be a lot faster, not just a little, because that's the trend this year. Last month I got eighth at Czecho with a race time that would've won last year's race by 15 seconds. Much of this improvement comes from the 16.5. It gives more grip and lasts longer, but we've struggled this season because other teams can profit from the 16.5 better than we can. It's an engine thing, we don't have the right kind of power to exploit the extra traction.

"At Valencia you need a front tyre that gets you stopped and turned, so you can transfer weight to the rear as soon as possible. Through most of the track you don't need both tyres to grip together, because the corners are so short. You just need good weight transfer, from back to front and from front to back. For the rear you want a fairly soft construction. It may move around but that doesn't matter because you want to feel the tyre so you can open the throttle out of the turns and keep going forward, even when the tyre starts to spin. You especially need feeling because most of the corners are slow and that's where highsides can happen.

"As a Spaniard, home races are a real contrast for us - you get the enthusiasm of the crowd, but you also get the extra stresses of doing more media work, meeting more people and doing stuff for the fans. Spain has the best crowds in the world, I really mean that."

Following the drastically fast pace at the recent Portuguese GP, where the top eight riders bettered the previous year's race time and the quickest seven qualifiers were inside the 2000 pole time, Valencia is expected to be equally fast and furious.

The lightning-fast race speeds achieved this year have turned 500 racing on its head. Riders who were winning last season, like World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) and Valencia 2000 winner Garry McCoy have so far struggled to raise their pace to the required level, invariably set by Estoril winner and runaway 2001 series leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin). And the escalation of pace is forcing riders and teams to work harder than ever to improve their technique and equipment, as McCoy's race engineer Hamish Jamieson explains. "The races are so quick at the moment that it's a relief just to be some way back on the pace again," said the Scot after his rider's third-place finish at Estoril. "It's so competitive out there that when you arrive at a track you know that it isn't enough just to settle for last year's set up you have to be looking for a major improvement."

Even Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli admits to some surprise at the dramatic increase in tempo. "We go faster every race and I don't know where it's going to stop!" he says. "Rossi rode a great race at Estoril and I think he could've gone even faster. He is definitely one of the main reasons why the racing is much quicker now, he's really making use of the extra traction provided by the 16.5, especially over full-race The 16.5 has increased lap times and race times because it puts more rubber on the road at maximum lean for extra grip, cooler running and greater endurance. And there are even more advantages, especially at tracks like Valencia that feature a significant imbalance of left and right turns. The anti-clockwise circuit has nine lefts and five rights, and the 16.5 is very effective at coping with that mix of corners."

"The tyre has a broader operating area compared to our 17in rear slick," explains Morelli. "The 16.5 runs cooler, so you can run a softer compound for any given surface for improved traction, and its lower operating temperature means the tyre also lasts longer. That makes the tyre perfect for tracks like Valencia because it has the traction to give riders the grip they need through the few right handers, and it also has the longevity to handle all the lefts."

This year's 500 World Championship is the last in history. From the start of 2002, the 500s will be joined by 990cc four-strokes in the premier MotoGP class. The shift to big-bore four-strokes brings Grand Prix racing more into line with the global streetbike market, which is totally dominated by four-strokes. For emissions reasons, two-strokes find less and less favour with the world's motorcycle manufacturers.

The new class, which intriguingly pits the new 990 four-strokes against the current 500 two- strokes, offers new challenges to everyone involved in bike racing, from the factories to the riders, and from the teams to the tyre manufacturers.

Michelin is already deeply involved in helping the factories develop their new four-strokes, with Honda's RCV and Yamaha's YZR-M1 already well advanced, having run extensive testing programmes at racetracks around the world. And with Suzuki, Sauber, Ducati and Aprilia also joining the fray, the next few years will be a busy time in GP racing. With more horsepower - the engines are already producing in excessive of 200bhp - more torque, more speed and more weight, the new breed of GP bikes demand a lot more of their tyres. And Michelin is there to meet that challenge.

"We've already changed the design of our 16.5in rear tyre to suit the four-strokes," says Jacques Morelli. "We tested it on Yamaha's YZR-M1 at Brno during July and the tyre worked very well, with excellent lap times and race times. Plus we've also run the tyre with the new Honda RCV in Japan, most recently with Shinichi Itoh, and those tests were also very impressive."

"The main change from our current 500 tyre is a slightly stiffer construction and a different profile that puts more rubber on the road to cope with the four-stroke's extra power and torque. It's not a tyre that would work with the 500s. I think we've already found a good direction for the new four-strokes, but, of course, there's more work ahead as the machines develop towards, and into, 2002."

<pre> VALENCIA DATA Lap record Alex Crivillé (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) 1m 36.085s 150.054kmh/93.239mph Pole position 2000 Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) 1m 35.133s Recent winners of the Grand Prix of Valencia 1999 Regis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin), 53m 23.825s (damp race) 2000 Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin), 48m 27.799s.

Michelin's Partners - 500cc class (provisional list) No. Rider Nation Bike Team 1 Kenny Roberts USA Suzuki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 3 Max Biaggi ITA Yamaha Marlboro Yamaha Team 4 Alex Barros BRA Honda West Honda Pons 5 Garry McCoy AUS Yamaha Red Bull Yamaha WCM 6 Norick Abe JPN Yamaha Antena Tre Yamaha d'Antin 7 Carlos Checa SPA Yamaha Marlboro Yamaha Team 8 Chris Walker GBR Honda Shell Advance Honda 9 Leon Haslam GBR Honda Shell Advance Honda 10 Jose Luis Cardoso SPA Yamaha Antena Tre Yamaha d'Antin 11 Tohru Ukawa JPN Honda Repsol-YPF Honda Team 12 Haruchika Aoki JPN Honda Arie Molenaar Racing 14 Anthony West AUS Honda Dee Cee Jeans Racing Team 15 Sete Gibernau SPA Suzuki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 16 Johan Stigefelt SWE Sabre V4 Sabre Sport 17 Jürgen vd Goorbergh NED Proton KR3 Proton Team KR 18 Brendan Clarke AUS Honda Shell Advance Honda 19 Olivier Jacque FRA Yamaha Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 21 Barry Veneman NED Honda Dee Cee Jeans Racing Team 24 Jason Vincent GBR Pulse Pulse GP 26 Vladimir Catska SVK Paton Paton 28 Alex Criville SPA Honda Repsol-YPF Honda Team 41 Noriyuki Haga JPN Yamaha Red Bull Yamaha WCM 46 Valentino Rossi ITA Honda Nastro Azzurro Honda 56 Shinya Nakano JPN Yamaha Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 65 Loris Capirossi ITA Honda West Honda Pons


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Garry McCoy , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Alex Criville , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Sete Gibernau , Shinya Nakano , Kenny Roberts Jr. , Noriyuki Haga , Chris Walker , Olivier Jacque , Jose Luis Cardoso , Haruchika Aoki , Leon Haslam , Anthony West , Johan Stigefelt , Barry Veneman , Shinichi Ito , Laconi Régis
Teams Sauber