Michelin, asphalt masters since 1998 The Deutschland Rally, the eleventh round of the sixteen-round 2005 WRC calendar, sees the series return to asphalt, a type of surface that hasn't been used since last January'sMonte Carlo Rally. For...
Michelin, asphalt masters since 1998
The Deutschland Rally, the eleventh round of the sixteen-round 2005 WRC calendar, sees the series return to asphalt, a type of surface that hasn't been used since last January'sMonte Carlo Rally. For Michelin, it marks the return to the limelight of its FP range of tyres, a generation of asphalt products first employed in the 1998 Sanremo Rally and which has won every asphalt WRC round since except one. Provisional leaders of the 2005 Drivers' championship standings with a total score of seven wins, Citroen- Michelin's Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be looking for a fourth consecutive win on this somewhat atypical event. The Citroen- Michelin team itself has not been beaten in Germany for the past four years and its objective this time round will be to regain its lead in the Manufacturers' standings .
The launch of Michelin's FP -generation asphalt range (FP for Fort Potentiel) in 1998 marked a major turning point in world class rallying. The grip and strength of these tyres were such that teams' engineers had to up -rate the rigidity of their chassis by between 15 and 20%. For the first time, it was necessary to adapt the car to the tyre and no longer the other way round. Over the past seven years, Michelin tyres are practically unbeaten on asphalt and have won in all types of conditions, both wet and dry.
"The Michelin TA wet weather tyre won all the 2004 Deutschland Rally stages that took place in the wet. The same tyre has also won in atrocious rain, such as the conditions encountered in the 2003 Rally d'Espana," recalls Aime Chatard, Manager of Michelin Competition's Rally Programme. On the dry, the Michelin N has gone unbeaten since 1998, its most recent win being this year's Monte CarloRally with Sebastien Loeb. We have a competitive solution for all conditions. That said, tyre choice promises to be decisive this weekend in Germany and decisions will have to be taken at the service park for stages that are scheduled to start up to three hours later. That's a big gap for an asphalt event."
Michelin tyres: competitive in both the wet and dry
The Deutschland Rally first counted toward the World Rally Championship in 2002 and stands out as an extremely atypical asphalt event. First of all, it is atypical through the wide variety of stages it features, from the narrow lanes that twist up and down the Mosel Valley vineyards, to the wide, fast roads of the Saarland forests and the cut-up concrete tracks of the Baumholder army ranges. "The combination of asphalt, concrete and stone is very aggressive on the tyres and calls for a tyre that provides strong resistance to puncturing. The roads are cut-up by the continuous passage of military vehicles, while the risk of damage to rims is increased by the presence of cement blocks situated either side of the road. This event is a big challenge for tyres."
This event is atypical too through its traditional changeable weather and the late-summer storms that frequently break out over the Saarland and Hunsruck regions. The weather is so fickle that tyre choice can be a big problem, a nightmare even. A low temperature tyre for the damp will degrade very quickly on dry roads, while a dry weather tyre is a big handicap in the wet or damp. "Deutschland Rally competitors are can be likened to single-handed yachtsman who rely on information supplied by their land-based weather routers who monitor wind changes to calculate the ideal itinerary. This weekend, victory will be a driver's victory influenced by the judiciousness of the choices made from the six or seven available options when nominating their individual lists before the event, and also by the best choices made in the service park by the driver, his engineer and Michelin technician. It's very much teamwork," emphasises Aime Chatard. "But then we might have bright summer sunshine and clear blue skies to 'simplify' things."
The 2005 World Rally Championship enters its final phase with three gravel events and three asphalt rounds still to come. The stakes have changed with rumour and talk of driver transfers for next season rife. As in 2004, Loeb enjoys a healthy lead of close to 30 points in the Drivers' championship, while other drivers will undoubtedly be eager to profit from the event to showcase their skills. This is notably the case of asphalt specialists like Alexandre Bengue (Skoda -Michelin) and Roman Kresta (Ford-Michelin) who have been chafing at the bit for the past six months. On the Manufacturers' front, Citroen -Michelin - which has never lost in Germany since 2001 - will be looking to pull back ahead of its French rival.
With numerous national manufacturers and importers, the German tyre market is highly competitive and very important for Michelin which has had a presence in this country since 1906. Today, Michelin employs a staff of 8,300 in Germany, including 220 at its factory in Trier, the Deutschland Rally'shost town.