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Old 11-29-2015, 03:30 PM   #1
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The Michelin challenge for MotoGP

The MotoGP field is still having trouble getting accustomed to the new Michelin spec tires, with plenty of crashes by numerous riders showing that there's still work to be done.

Every company has its own characteristics that together are what comprises its culture. A spirit which determines how it works, how its engineers design, and what its products feature. To understand what the return of Michelin to the MotoGP class means, you need to understand some facts behind the DNA of this global and long-time racing tire supplier.

The philosophy of Michelin when making its GP tires was always "the rear tire sets the times.” An approach that is not coincidental, since Michelin developed its GP tires during the era of the multi-cylinder 500cc two-strokes. And it was the demands of those bikes—the best piloted by the best—which molded Michelin’s philosophy of motorcycle racing tires.

Those pilots we refer to came from across the Atlantic—the Americans entered the corners as straight as possible, turned the bike as fast as possible, and then picked the bike up off the edge of the tire to obtain the maximum possible acceleration out of the corner. The 500cc two-strokes not only had tremendous power, but their power delivery was extremely aggressive, meaning the corners had to be taken with minimal time spent leaned over (and not only for maximum acceleration, but safety reasons as well). These needs led the French engineers to concentrate on rear tire design, relegating the front to little more than a supporting element under braking.

Bridgestone arrived to the World Championship with a philosophy developed in the Japanese domestic championships. With no dirt-track experience, the Japanese domestic 500cc class riders concentrated on the front tire from the moment they hit the track, and stressed the rear much less. Obviously, over its 13 seasons participating in MotoGP, the Bridgestone performance level has grown exponentially, but the front tire has always been the brand’s strong point.

Even Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez has had trouble getting a handle on the new Michelin spec tires for MotoGP, suffering three crashes already during testing as he tries to find the limits.

Thus, after six years of riding only on Bridgestones, MotoGP riders have basically become accustomed to pushing the limits of the front tire that were unthinkable with Michelin. In fact, in recent seasons the number of front tire crashes is very, very small. The Bridgestone rear, however, never really came close to the grip potential that characterized the Michelin rear (an example being that despite not racing in the MotoGP class for six years, nearly all the riders were satisfied with the performance of the Michelin rear spec tire from the start of testing). That difference in front tire design philosophy has been aptly demonstrated from the first day of testing the Michelins by the MotoGP riders: There have been more than 30 crashes.

The problem—which is not new—is that the traction balance is such that when the throttle is opened in a corner, the rear tire grips so well that the front cannot handle the subjected forces. Just ask Marc Marquez, who crashed out the first day testing in Valencia when he started to accelerate in a corner. Many riders have complained that the front tire lets go without warning.

Of course, it's not just the change in tire brand and design—the Michelin tires are also both 17 inches in diameter (the Bridgestones were 16.5-inch diameter, which allowed a fatter tire contact patch) as part of the company's desire to have the MotoGP technology more easily transferred to the company's production road tires. There's a lot of work that still needs to be done on the chassis geometry side to help with the grip issue as well.

At this point during the pre-season testing, the greater mental effort required to work with the Michelins is especially concerning for the riders. "When you ride a MotoGP bike," explained one rider in the championship, "you have to think about many things and think very quickly. If you remove a problem—and the front tire is one, a very big one—you have one less thing you need to pay attention to."

"With the Michelins, you have to focus a moment before everything happens, and that requires special attention. It’s an additional element that’s very important...especially because the problems are with the front. The rear, you can correct. The front, when it goes…it goes [and you cannot correct it], especially if you are accelerating."

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