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Old 02-08-2016, 04:00 PM   #1
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MotoGP: The Sepang Michelin incident—too tight a margin?

motogp michelin sepang baz tire incident?itokx52yw2Bc Photo by

Although its analysis of the rear soft compound tire that failed and caused Loris Baz's massive crash at the Sepang test is still ongoing, Michelin is inferring that low tire pressure might have been to blame. And the incident overshadows the huge leap forward in performance by a new front tire that was introduced to the riders on the last day of the test.

Loris Baz’s frightening crash at nearly 300 km/h when the rear tire on his Desmosedici blew out midway down the ultrafast straight is one of those things that will be etched into the history of MotoGP. Fortunately, it will be remembered only as a spectacular technical fiasco—and close to miraculous—as Baz slid for almost 300 meters between the two walls surrounding the front straight of the Sepang circuit and incredibly walked away with just abrasions to his right arm. In fact, later that afternoon, the French rider of the Avintia Team returned to the track and continued testing all the next day.

The incident was a major blow to Michelin. They immediately withdrew the soft compound that was in use at the time of Baz's accident, which was the softer of the two compounds brought to Sepang. From that moment on riders had only one type available to them, the harder and less effective compound. This of course completely changed the dynamics of the second half of the test...but somehow served to separate the wheat from the chaff.

In the absence of an analysis of the problem causing the accident, Michelin explained that the same compound was used extensively before without incident “up to 100 units [of this compound] have been used without the slightest problem,” we were told. During this conversation we learned that the same rider, Baz, had detected a problem with a tire of the same compound in his previous outing that day. It was replaced and he went out on the track for the next session...and what happened has already been told.

“In that first tire, we detected that the pressure that was being used was below our recommendation; the tire involved in the accident we cannot say anything for obvious reasons because the internal pressure gauges such as those used on the official teams are not compulsory," explained Michelin chief Nicola Goubert, shifting the suspicion to the technicians of the Avintia Team.

According to Michelin, the tire pressure in the earlier tire was not at the recommended 1.5 bar (21.75 psi) but 1.45 bar (21.03 psi). The team for their part mostly denied any fault, stating that the Michelin technicians were to only ones to have handled the tires. In any case, despite who eventually is to be blamed, what happened causes concern. If indeed just 0.05 bar (0.72 psi) may be the margin between a tire exploding or’s something to think about for the riders and teams.

This unpleasant incident unfortunately ended up overshadowing the fact that a huge step forward was taken by the French manufacturer with regard to the front tires made available to pilots since the end of last season. This was following the crash-fest which caused the riders who were on the winter vacation to be very, very concerned.

At the end of Sepang, the concern had turned into generally positive comments. Moreover, the third day in the afternoon a new front tire was made available to the riders that allowed for a big step forward, and in the case of Jorge Lorenzo, had them saying that with a softer compound they would have lapped within their best times with the Bridgestones.

So Michelin has once again demonstrated that their skill, ability and knowledge are unquestionable. The Michelin may be different than the Bridgestone, different, but not worse. As for what happened to Baz, without denying the gravity of the situation, we can compare it to an incident that happened with the Bridgestones in 2004 at Mugello with Shinya Nakano. Fortunately, both times luck was on the rider’s side...

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