Rally of Great Britain: Michelin preview

The Michelin Z BTO rises to the challenge of the Welsh forests After the recent brief foray onto asphalt in Germany which saw Loeb and Michelin collect their eighth win of the season, the World Rally Championship contenders return to gravel...

The Michelin Z BTO rises to the challenge of the Welsh forests

After the recent brief foray onto asphalt in Germany which saw Loeb and Michelin collect their eighth win of the season, the World Rally Championship contenders return to gravel for Wales Rally GB, formerly known as the RAC Rally. The twelfth round of the season also marks the return to the limelight of the Michelin Z BTO tyre which took a record-breaking six straight wins out of the box following its launch in April's Rally New Zealand . Pipped to the post last year by a mere 6 seconds in the forests of South Wales, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen -Michelin) will out for revenge this time round, while Colin McRae makes his return to world class rallying in Skoda- Michelin colours.

At the end of the day, what does it matter if it is known as the RAC Rally or Wales Rally GB? If it comes at the end of the championship in November or takes place in September? If it strikes as far afield as Yorkshire and Scotland or sticks to Wales? The fact is that Britain's round of the championship will always be an event apart in the world of rallying, with muddy tracks in deep forests, with fog in the valleys or on higher land and omnipresent flasks of hot tea to keep the enthusiastic fans warm. This is a rally where bravery and self sacrifice really count; a rally which all drivers dream of winning one day-- even in bright sunshine !

Michelin's most recent Rally GB success dates back to 2001 when the two-times World Champion Marcus Gronholm and his Michelin-shod Peugeot 206 WRC enabled the Peugeot- Michelin team to secure its second world title at the end of an intense, season-long duel with Ford. "Last year's result was frustrating for us. But although we didn't win, we don't believe we entirely lost either," says Michelin Competition's Rallies ManagerAime Chatard. "Loeb and Solberg were engaged in a thrilling battle throughout the three days and victory only swung in the Norwegian's favour at the very, very end-- and in a way that has yet to be explained technically."

Another fierce fight is to be expected this year between a Gronholm who is hungry for victory, a Solberg who would love to equal Hannu Mikkola's record of four RACRally wins and a Loeb who has the Drivers' title in his sights and on whomCitroen is counting in its bid to defend its Manufacturers' crown . Not to mention Toni Gardemeister (Ford-Michelin) who has prepared particularly thoroughly for the British round thanks to an intensive test programme which lasted right up to the last minute. "In a way, Rally GB is the gravel equivalent to the recent Deutschland Rally. It is possible to find big differences in temperature and the stages feature a wide variety of surface types, from cold mud to packed, dry terrain which can be hard wearing on tyres," points out Aime Chatard. "Once again, the exact make up of the drivers' individual quotas registered before the start and the task of re-cutting the tread patterns by hand at service parks once the event has begun promise to be decisive."

Winner out of the box when it was launched on last April's Rally New Zealand, the Michelin Z BTO (Braking & Traction Optimisation) went on to take a total of six victories in a row thanks to Sebastien Loeb and his Citroen Xsara WRC. After its inaugural success in the southern hemisphere, the association of Loeb, the Michelin BTO and Citroen went on to triumph in the four Mediterranean rounds (Sardinia, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece) before adding a sixth consecutive win in Argentina in July to break the previous record held by Didier Auriol since 1992. The latter event was held in the clutches of the southern hemisphere winter, and the combination of the soft compound and the very soft compound Michelin Z BTO (Z8 and Z8-) contributed to Loeb's victory overGronholm and Solberg in a straight fight. This weekend in the Welsh forests, the same two versions of the BTO make up the bulk of the choice of Michelin's driver-partners whose ranks include Colin McRae.

The youngest World Champion in rallying history has effectively chosen his home round to make his come-back at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia WRC-Michelin after an absence of nearly two years during which time he competed in rally-raids with Nissan-BFGoodrich and in the Le Mans 24 Hours (3rd in the LM GTS category driving a Ferrari-Michelin). "I am really amazed by the new Michelin Z BTO," admitted the Scot after a three-day test session in Scotland. "I was able to do back to back tests with the former generation tyre in both wet and dry conditions. The Z BTO was systematically quicker and more consistent. I can't wait to use it on an event." Colin McRae will team up with the former RAC Rally winner Armin Schwarz (1996, Toyota-Michelin) who recently announced his decision to retire from the WRC at the end of 2005 and who will be looking to conclude his career on a high note.


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Active in the World Rally Championship since the creation of the series in 1973, the Michelin Group's presence in the sport will continue next season via its brand BFGoodrich.

"The passing of the baton has called for a great deal of work, but we are keeping to schedule," says Michelin Competition's Rallies Manager Aime Chatard. "Negotiations with our partners are making very swift progress. At the same time, Michelin's rally staff and BFGoodrich's sales and marketing teams are currently working on plans for the future development of BFGoodrich rally tyres, as well as the marking and future appellations of the WRC range. The annual sales meeting of BFGoodrich national Brand Managers from twelve European countries will this year take place during Wales Rally GB, which underlines the commitment of the brand's management to this new technical and sporting challenge."


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Sébastien Loeb , Armin Schwarz , Toni Gardemeister , Hannu Mikkola
Teams Citroën World Rally Team