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A new era for tyres

A new era for tyres

Pre-season testing has allowed riders to draw their final conclusions before the start of competition.

Australian Jack Findlay crossed the finish line at the legendary Isle of Man and won the Tourist Trophy in 1973, handing Michelin their first Grand Prix win and starting 36 years of experience in the World Championship. After a brief farewell after 2008, Michelin return to the premier class in style for 2016 and beyond.

The iconic French tyre firm begins a new chapter in the World Championship as the sole tyre supplier for the MotoGP™ class; they will also be the title sponsor for the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in 2016.

The firm, based in Clermont Ferrand, has continued to work behind the scenes since their retirement in 2008 with a full effort put in in 2015 as they return to the forefront of motorcycle competition.

There have been many steps taken in recent years to evolve the product Michelin offer, including supplying and testing tyres in both the FIM CEV Repsol and the World Endurance Championship. Michelin’s presence in such series has served as a test bed to offer guidance to which direction to follow in development. Using the tyres in competitive series has also served to push the tyres to their limit, thus giving a better understanding of the performance and limits.

Michelin have always aimed to maintain their competitiveness in all series they participate in. In both 2015 and 2016 the Superbike class in the FIM CEV Repsol continue to use a specification of tyre very similar to those used in the MotoGP™ World Championship.

On the technical side, the main differences between the Michelin tyre and their predecessor in the premier class are: a change from 16.5 to 17 inches, intermediate tyres being brought in and an alteration in allotment during a weekend.

With the change of size, the dimensions of the tyres have also changed; this in turn alters the contact patch. The contact patch is the area where the tyre is touching the surface of the track; a smaller contact patch leads to less grip, less lean and most importantly less speed. Fortunately Michelin have managed to make their contact patch bigger, Bradley Smith openly praising their work after receiving the finalised tyre in Phillip Island.

The intermediate tyres are another major change for Michelin and have been developed primarily for when conditions are neither fully wet nor fully dry. This should allow riders to go out in these tricky conditions as opposed to simply sitting in the pits, though few feel they will be viable for a race due to fast wear.

Tyre allocation for the 2016 season will also change from 2015; riders will now be given ten front tyres and 12 rear tyres. For dry conditions the three basic compounds of soft, medium and hard still exist, with Michelin choosing two for each round. However, a medium tyre used in Qatar may have a different compound as to a medium used in another track.

After the first day of a Grand Prix weekend a rider and their team may pick up to seven rear and front slicks of their preferred compound for the weekend. Michelin will also bring the intermediate tyres to each round along with two compounds of full wet tyres.

During the first tests of 2015, when test riders from each manufacturer had their first run on the French rubber, the Michelin tyres offered more grip from the rear, while the front tyre did not have as much grip. This disparity in performance led the rear tyre to push the front causing many of the fast low-side crashes seen during the 2015 Valencia Test. Under braking riders also struggled as they felt they were not getting adequate feedback and the front was folding without warning.

This lack of sensation in the front was largely down to the Michelin front tyre being less rigid, resulting in greater deformation of the tyre under braking. When this deformation occurred, riders did not receive enough feedback and were subsequently unable to feel where the limit was until it was too late.

Many have highlighted a smooth ‘250cc style’ of riding, emphasizing corner speed and standing the bike up on corner exit, as the way forward. This is perhaps one of the reasons that double 250 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) has adapted to quickly to the new tyres.

The tyres, as well as the increase in fuel limit, have resulted in teams, such as Yamaha, experimenting with bike balance and tank positioning to improve handling.

During the first test of 2016 Michelin had already taken significant steps forward, the front tyre improving significantly. This change gave riders more confidence immediately with the front, reducing falls and allowing riders to push even harder.

Factory riders were given a new front tyre to try in Sepang, both Lorenzo and Pedrosa praising the improvements made as they felt they had more support at maximum lean angle. The tyre was given to all riders from the Phillip Island Test onwards.

Despite the changing weather conditions of the Phillip Island Test limiting track time and a number of crashes, especially on the final day, Michelin considered it another productive event. The rain and poor weather did allow several riders to try the intermediate and wet tyres. Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) enjoyed the wets and said they were of a high level already.

In the final official pre-season test in Qatar, Michelin focused on preparing for the first meeting of the year, conveniently held at the same track. The French tyre supplier was dedicated to testing the various compounds for the race with several riders performing race simulations.

It is clear that Michelin will bring their medium compounds for the first race of the year. The soft tyre, is effective for a fast lap but otherwise did not provide sufficient durability for a full run due to degradation and some graining on the right hand side of the tyre. Graining is usually the result of when a tyre is pushed too hard before reaching optimal temperature, causing the rubber to distort though it remains adhered to the surface of the tyre itself.

On the other hand, the hard tyre, provided sufficient strength for the entire race distance. Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing) completed successful race simulations. The only drawback, as stated by Lorenzo, was that due to the hardness of the compound half a second a lap was lost, more or less. The Clermont Ferrand brand will now bring the soft and medium rear tyre options to Qatar. Regardless of compound, the racing looks set to be as exciting and as close as ever.


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