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A lap of the Bugatti circuit

A lap of the Bugatti circuit

A lap of the Bugatti circuit

The 4.180 km Bugatti circuit at Le Mans has played host to the MotoGP World Championship for the past four seasons and has always provided a challenge to those wishing to take the ultimate prize. Le Mans is an archetypal stop-go track, with the added complication of one of the highest speed curves of any circuit on the calendar, just after the short start-finish straight.

Hairpins and chicanes abound, calling for not just balance and control under hard and repeated braking, but a neat and swift transfer from full braking to full acceleration on the exit of the corners. With nine right-handers, and only four lefts, the track is also particularly hard on one side of the tyres.

For the majority of the teams, existing Le Mans data may need to be modified if recent resurfacing work has ironed out some of the existing bumps, but nonetheless firmer than usual front fork settings and spring rates will be needed to handle the frequent braking demands.

In the past, changes of tarmac in certain areas delivered changeable grip levels, especially in the rain, but with the new surface there should be a more predictable level of grip and consistency, after its characteristics are discovered in the early sessions.

"Le Mans definitely needed resurfacing – the old surface was worn out – very smooth with not so good grip, especially in the wet," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "We don't really know what to expect from the surface. For sure the new surface should be grippier and more demanding on tyres. But you can never predict how a new tarmac will work; it all depends on its make-up.

Usually construction companies tend to use as much local material as possible, and we've known instances of seaside circuits using too much sand in the tarmac mix, and others using small, shiny pebbles that obviously offer very little grip. But nowadays generally most circuits do a good job of resurfacing.

"Le Mans is one of the less challenging tracks we go to. It's got many slow corners, so acceleration traction is important. We therefore work at maximising traction out of the corners, and because most of the corners are so short, edge grip isn't as important at Le Mans as at some other circuits.

"The 16.5in front could be good at Le Mans. It gives riders more confidence as they flick into corners and that's important at a circuit with so many short turns."

Tags:
MotoGP, 2004, GRAND PRIX POLINI DE FRANCE

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