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Feb 22, 2007

Everything You Wanted To Know About Michelin And The 2007 MotoGP World Championship

MICHELIN EMBRACES CHALLENGE OF NEW MotoGP ERA

The 2007 MotoGP season begins a new era in the development of the world's most prestigious motorcycle racing series. Following MotoGP's hugely successful first five seasons, during which Michelin won all five World Championships, major changes to the technical regulations will ensure that 2007 is a whole new challenge for factories, tire manufacturers, teams and riders. And, as always, this crucial development work will filter through from Michelin's MotoGP project to its streetbike development department to improve the tires bought by Michelin's road-riding customers.

There are three major revisions to this year's MotoGP technical regulations - a reduction in engine capacity from 990 to 800cc, a limit in the number of tires available to riders at MotoGP events and new restrictions in the amount of testing that can be undertaken by MotoGP participants. All three of these changes represent a significant change in the way Michelin and its MotoGP rivals go racing, but Michelin is determined that it will continue to dominate bike racing's premier class, just as it has done despite other rules changes.

Michelin has largely dominated the last three decades of premier-class racing, ruling much of the two-stroke 500cc era from the company's first 500 GP win in 1973, then maintaining that supremacy when the sport switched to hugely powerful 990cc four-strokes in 2002. It commences the 2007 season having won a total of 351 premier-class GP victories as well as 26 of the past 31 titles, including a clean sweep of the last 15 crowns. An unrivalled record of genius performance at the highest level!

"This year is going to be a really challenging year for everyone," says Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's new director of motorcycle racing. "The bikes have changed a lot, so that's important for the teams, the riders and for us. The new tire rules give us an exciting new opportunity to move forward in MotoGP, creating tailor-made tires for each of our riders."

Not only has Michelin developed new tires to suit the new 800s, it has also developed new ways of working with its riders to get the best out of the new tire regulations. Each rider is now restricted to 31 tires per GP weekend (14 fronts, 17 rears), whereas before there were no restrictions in the number of tires used. This change demands a shift in approach from the tire manufacturers. Michelin's new policy is to offer tailor-made tires to each of its riders, according to individual riding style, machine performance and the character of each racetrack.

Michelin's nine MotoGP riders have every confidence in the French company's ability to continue offering race-winning tires. "Michelin doesn't enjoy all this success by being lucky, they put in the work and listen to what us riders have to say," reveals 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin). "Like in 2005 they gave us a wider-profile front tire, which gave me the confidence and the grip to start winning races. My results really improved thanks to that tire. It's the same with the 800s - they listen to what we've got to say, like we say these bikes have more corner speed, so we need more edge grip, so they give us more edge grip."

Former World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Michelin) has similar faith in Michelin's efforts. "Michelin always works step by step, and this is the clever way to work in MotoGP," says the Italian, who won the previous five premier-class crowns from 2001 to 2005. "They give us more edge grip from the rear, then more traction, then they give us a better front, so it's always step by step, improving the lap times, improving the race times."

Last year's MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin) is also enjoying working with Michelin to produce a new range of tires for the 800s. "It is a special experience working with Michelin's technicians; it makes you realize how much work and development goes into these tires," says the Spaniard. "I'm very much enjoying working on the 800 project, it's great to be involved in something from the beginning."

Hayden, Rossi and Pedrosa are joined by six other riders on Michelin in this year's MotoGP series. Between them the nine riders have won a total of 15 World Championships!



INSIDE MICHELIN'S NEW 16-inch MotoGP FRONT TIRE

Michelin's MotoGP stars will contest this year's World Championship with an all-new 16-inch front tire. The tire is another step forward in the never-ending process of progress which has helped Michelin win the last 15 premier-class crowns.

The new 16-inch front tire delivers several advantages over the 16.5, with which Michelin dominated the last few seasons of MotoGP. It offers lighter handling, more grip and improved confidence - crucial benefits to the new breed of nimble 800cc MotoGP bikes.

Work began on the tire early last year. "The aspect of performance that we particularly wanted to improve was the speed at which the rider can get the bike to maximum lean because this is a very important factor in producing good lap times," reveals Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "The new tire gives a slightly bigger contact patch between 40 degrees of lean and maximum lean which creates more grip, so riders have more confidence to flick the bike onto its side as they attack the corners.

"Also, the tire is slightly smaller and lighter so it creates less inertia, which allows faster changes of direction. But we believe that the better corner-entry and mid-corner speeds we are now seeing aren't only due to our new front, because the 800s themselves are faster through the corners."

Michelin riders were able to test the tire during the early stages of last season. Initial feedback suggested that Michelin engineers needed to do some further work on construction and it wasn't until the end of the season that Michelin were ready to continue testing the 16.

"The 16's profile is quite similar to the 16.5's but we had to make some big changes to the construction and we did this using different computer models. Once we understood what we needed to do we produced new 16s for the post-season tests and our riders immediately gave us very positive feedback. They said the tire was a big step forward from what they were used to."

Michelin continued to develop and improve the 16 as winter testing progressed, encouraging riders to carry out back-to-back tests between the 16 and 16.5 at a variety of circuits - Valencia, Jerez, Sepang, Phillip Island and Losail. "We have been to some very different circuits but although our riders switched back and forth between the two tires they always said the 16 was better, so there's no reason to go back to the 16.5," adds Weber.

Of course, work isn't finished on the 16 - tire development is never finished. "Our first major job was to get the profile and the construction right," explains Weber. "Now we are working on our range of compounds for the 2007 MotoGP tracks, and this is work which will continue throughout the season."

This isn't the first time that Michelin has used a 16-inch front tire for Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Marco Lucchinelli (Nava Olio Fiat Suzuki RG500-Michelin) and Franco Uncini (Gallina Suzuki RG500-Michelin) won the 1981 and 1982 500 World Championships riding on 16-inch front Michelins, while Freddie Spencer won the 1983 (Honda NS500-Michelin and Rothmans Honda NSR500-Michelin) and 1985 crowns with a 16-inch front. His 1983 bike also featured a 16-inch rear tire.

"But this is another world from 1982 - the stresses and temperatures are much greater now because the bikes are so much better and the riding so much more aggressive," says Weber. "Yes, we are using a 16-inch front again but everything is different from last time - the design, the construction, everything, and although we still mix rubbers, carbon black and various chemicals for the compound, the recipe is completely different."



HOW DO THE NEW RULES CHANGE MotoGP FOR MICHELIN?

Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's recently appointed director of motorcycle racing, considers the effect that MotoGP's new regulations will have upon the task of tire choice.


Does the 31-tire limit change the way you work with riders at GPs?

Yes, it changes a lot. In the past our policy was always to make sure that the same tires were available to all our riders, rather than making individual tires available to individual riders. From this season we have a different approach. Because of the limitation in the number of tires we can supply to riders we have to provide the best specification tires to each of our riders to make sure they all have the package that best suits each of them. So we will take advantage of the flexibility of our production plant to make tailor-made tires for each rider. Each rider will have his own development program with us; we will work in whatever direction necessary to give them the tires they need to get the best results. Of course, this doesn't always mean that all our riders will use different tires. At some tracks maybe all of our riders or most of them will use the same front or rear tire.


What will be the major differences in the tires assigned to each rider?

Usually the difference will be only compound and construction. During 2007 we aim to have two different front profiles and two different rear profiles, as we did last year, because having more profiles only complicates the task of bike set-up for the teams.


How big will the differences be between the tires made for each rider?

That will depend on the racetrack. We may have some tracks where the difference between all riders' tires is only 15 percent, but at other circuits the difference might be 40 percent.


With fewer tires available, will you have to work more carefully than before?

Over the last few years we sometimes had new tires delivered to the track during a GP weekend, so now we have to plan everything much earlier. We will have to create a weekend strategy to get the best out of each rider's allocation of tires. We must also work carefully to ensure no confusion with the new tire markings. All tires are marked with barcodes when they are handed over to the MotoGP technical director before the start of the GP weekend, so we must make sure that our own markings and the organization's markings correlate with each other, because if there is a mistake, riders can be penalized and sent to the back of the grid.


How many of the 31 tires will be qualifiers?

My recommendation is that each rider has two qualifying tires per weekend, but, like everything else, that will depend on the rider. If a rider is very happy with his rear tire, he might tell us before the next race that he's very fast and very confident with that tire, so he won't need a big choice of different rears, so he might ask for five qualifiers instead. But my recommendation is two qualifiers.


What do you make of the new 800s?

They have been quite a surprise because even last November they were almost as fast as the 990s, and sometimes faster! And because we are at the very early stages of development we can expect some rapid improvements, so we may soon see some major increases in horsepower, just as we experienced at the start of the 990 era.


From where do the 800s get their speed?

They seem to handle better and have more corner speed than the 990s. The bikes seem very compact and maybe the factories have changed weight distribution, center of gravity and so on to improve their handling and make them faster through the corners. In fact the rear tires we used last year worked very well with the 800s when we started testing with them but we've needed to work hard to give the riders more edge grip so they can exploit the superior corner speed.


So how different are your 2007 tires from your 2006 tires?

The rear isn't so different; we will probably retain the same size and work more on construction and compound. With less horsepower from the 800s we can currently use softer rears than we used with the 990s, though the difference isn't huge because the higher corner speeds deliver another kind of stress into the tire. The biggest difference for 2007 is our 16-inch front tire, which we have introduced for better handling and better grip. But the front tire compound will be only slightly softer than we used in 2006 because the braking forces are very high with the 800s.


What can you tell us about your new front profile?

During last November we began testing a new 16-inch front tire. All the riders who tried this tire immediately told us that they preferred this tire to the two 16.5in fronts we used last season. The 16 offers better maneuverability, better grip and delivers improved confidence, so riders can flick quicker into turns from brake to full lean, and they have more grip so they can hold a tighter line through corners. They all seem to have more trust in this tire.


How will the change in testing regulations affect your work?

We have to work very hard during winter testing to gather as much data as possible. There is still quite a bit of testing during the season but most of it is after races, which is very different because the riders have been stressed all weekend, then they only get a few hours rest after the race before they begin testing on Monday. They are only human! During winter tests riders are fresher and in a testing mood, so they can test a lot of stuff, but after races they are physically and mentally tired, so we can't put so much pressure on them. Also, we will have to work hard on our computer models so we can make better use of our data, extrapolating what we learn at one circuit to help us at other circuits. With less testing available there will definitely be more theoretical work to be done.



Jean-Philippe Weber
Michelin director of motorcycle racing
Born: October 18, 1968
Marital status: married, one son

Jean-Philippe Weber became Michelin's director of its motorcycle racing activities at the end of 2006, taking over from Nicolas Goubert, in charge since 1997.

Weber, a keen street and off-road rider, began working on Michelin motorcycle race tires in 2001, focusing on MotoGP, Superbike and Supermotard. He is a richly qualified chemist, with a masters degree in the science and technology of physical and chemical processes (Toulouse University) and a doctorate of organic chemistry (Louis Pasteur University, Strasbourg). After continuing his research into synthetic rubber and
adhesives he joined Michelin in 1999, initially working on truck and car development. The following year he joined Michelin's motorsport department, working in motorcycle racing and endurance car racing. Although his initial work focused on compounds he quickly began working on all aspects of tire development. His new job takes him from behind the scenes to a new position in the public eye.

"This is my dream job because motorcycles are my life," says Weber. "I own several streetbikes and dirt bikes but if I had 200 motorcycles I would still want some more!"



Michelin's 2007 MotoGP riders

Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V-Michelin)
Colin Edwards (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Michelin)
Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin)
Jeremy McWilliams (Ilmor SRT X3-Michelin)
Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda-Michelin)
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin)
Andrew Pitt (Ilmor SRT X3-Michelin)
Kenny Roberts (Team Roberts KR212V-Michelin)
Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing Team-Michelin)
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