Seven years after relinquishing MotoGP’s first ever control tyre contract, Michelin is back in the paddock and supplying all things rubbery to the premier class. It wasn’t exactly a smooth reintroduction into the GP paddock (neither was Bridgestone’s to be fair), with numerous riders chucking it down the road during initial testing following years of Bridgestone’s unflappable front-end grip. And Baz and Redding’s tyre failures ensured the French firm became unjust fodder for social media’s sheep.
Any control tyre manufacturer is faced with a glutton for punishment – particularly serving thoroughbred prototypes – endeavouring to accommodate different bikes and riders, working parameters and individual prerequisites, but lap records are being broken in 2016.
Nicolas Goubert is the man who heads Michelin’s efforts in MotoGP. There’s more chance of pulling the Queen than extracting juicy technical nuggets, but we caught up with Mr Goubert in Qatar earlier in the year and quizzed him on the transition.
1 – Bridgestone left behind a legacy in the GP paddock – that front tyre that every rider relished. Was that help or hindrance when developing new rubber?
“At least it was clear in the beginning what we had to do. For me, it wasn’t only due to the previous tyre brand, but it was what the riders asked for as well. If I look at the bike from seven years ago to today, the lap time is not that different but they are faster to stop the bike – where they gain the most is in the braking area. Not only was it clear but it was also a challenge because it’s something you can learn in superbike racing. Coming up with a front tyre that would handle all that additional stress that we didn’t have in MotoGP seven years ago.
2 – After seven years away from MotoGP’s elite class, what base did you begin with?
“Our starting point was made of two things: basically the tyres we have from World Endurance and national championships, and then the knowledge we have from the past in MotoGP. We made four different front profiles to come to the point we are at now, and the rear is the same profile but with obvious variations on compounds.”
3 – How did you cope with the additional workload? More staff?
“Not that many. We redirected some of the staff but the very big change was in the factories, because to build the number of tyres for MotoGP, it’s nothing like what we’re used to for national championships. 18 races and 21 bikes, we take 1400 tyres to every race weekend.
“Straight away we knew that we had a team competent to do the job because, although we stopped MotoGP, we continued in World Endurance and national championships: we have technicians to design the tyres, we have technicians to follow testing, and we have knowledgeable people who understand 2-wheel race tyres. The support we need from the research centre is a lot more than what we need for national racing.
“There are about 20 in the motorsport department at every race: eight technicians to take care of the teams, tyre designers and chemists, plus the fitters, so around 20 people at each event. Most of the people back in France are in the factories but they don’t only make MotoGP tyres. They make racing tyres, sometimes GP, sometimes WEC.”
4 – Aside from lacking the outright performance of other brands, Michelin’s supersport presence in the UK has been hindered by Pirelli’s BSB monopoly. Will we see genuine MotoGP technology filtered down to benefit Rodneys like us?
“Yes, but it will take time. We want to push on the commercial side and we’ve put more effort into the technology transition. The reason we chose 17-inch over 16.5-inch tyres is linked to technology transfer to commercial tyres. The closer you are to road tyres, even in size, the easier it is to use that technology. That’s why we talked to Dorna to see if we could use 17-inch wheels because that’s what every sportsbike on the market uses. It’s been like that for years and years, and it will be like that for years and years.”
5 – How different is a Spanish CEV national tyre and a MotoGP tyre?
*Awkard pause* “Very different! The front is a lot stronger and can handle a lot more stress. The rear is also very different.” *Another awkward pause*
“MotoGP wet tyres are less different to those in other classes. We don’t need tyres that work in 5 degrees – the working range doesn’t have to be extreme like it does in WEC for example, although they have to cope with a little more power.”