|Michelin men Valentino Rossi
(Camel Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda
Team RC211V-Michelin) go into the season-ending Valencia GP fighting
for the last MotoGP World Championship of the 990cc era. This is the
first time in 14 years that the premier-class title has gone down to
The pair are separated by just eight points, Rossi ahead for the first time all season following the recent Portuguese GP, during which Hayden was the innocent victim of a mid-race collision. Last year at Valencia Hayden beat Rossi, but if the American is to wrest the MotoGP crown from the Italian, so far undefeated in the MotoGP series, he will need other riders in the mix on Sunday. Only one thing is certain – that the scene is set for a classic confrontation. Tyre choice will, of course, be crucial to the outcome of Sunday’s race and therefore the World Championship. For example, Rossi and Hayden use different Michelin front tyres, which offer contrasting advantages that will add an extra dimension of interest to their duel.
Michelin has dominated all five years of the 990cc MotoGP era, taking all five world titles and winning 74 of the 81 races so far. Michelin has also won all seven-premier class races since the track hosted its first GP in 1999.
MICHELIN’S RESPONSE TO THE CHALLENGE OF VALENCIA
“It is obviously going to be an interesting and exciting weekend for everyone!” says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin’s director of motorcycle racing. “Nicky has been strong at Valencia since the beginning. He scored his first front row start there in 2003 and he finished just a fraction of a second behind Marco (Melandri, Fortuna Honda RC211V-Michelin) last year. Coming from the US he’s used to tracks with a lot of slow corners and he is also used to turning left from his dirt track days. On the other hand, Valentino says he’s not a great fan of the track, though everyone knows he will still be very strong. He got third at Valencia last year, even though he started from the fifth row of the grid.
“The championship situation doesn’t change anything for us, we will do our job to the best of our ability as we always do. As usual we will make sure each rider gets the best tyres, although that doesn’t mean they will all use the same tyres because different riders choose different tyres according to their riding styles and the requirements of their machines.
“Nicky uses our wider profile front while Valentino has always preferred our narrow profile front. I think the performance of these tyres will be similar at Valencia even though they should offer different advantages in different parts of the track. The narrow profile is slightly lighter through direction changes, while the wider profile gives a bit more grip into corners, especially downhill turns like the final left-hander, which could be useful if the race for the title goes down to the last corner or the last lap!
“Valencia has always been quite a tough track. The layout is very asymmetric, the ground temperature can be very cool and there are some long corners, especially the last fast left which tightens into a very slow turn. This kind of corner prevents us with a very different challenge to the last fast left at Phillip Island, which opens up rather than tightens up. They thus require different tyre characteristics. At Phillip Island the priority is traction for hard acceleration, at Valencia riders need maximum edge grip to get them through the tight final turn as fast as possible. Our 2006 rear, which delivers a bigger footprint for extra edge grip, should improve performance at Valencia, especially through that last corner.
“But the biggest challenge at Valencia is finding the best combination of compounds for the left and right sides of the rear tyre. You need good warm-up on the right, because there are only five right-handers and because the track temperature could be as low as 15 degrees if the weather is cool. On the left you need a much stronger compound to cope with the heat generated through the nine left-handers, especially that long, fast left at the end of the lap.”
MICHELIN IN SPAIN
Spain plays a vital role in Michelin’s motorcycling successes. Around 9000 people work for Michelin in the country, and the company’s massive Lasarte factory produces the bulk of Michelin’s global motorcycle tyre output, around 1.5 million tyres per annum, though MotoGP tyres are still made at the company’s Clermont-Ferrand base in France.