At the MotoGP round for which they are title sponsor, Michelin announced that it has extended its contract as official tire supplier to MotoGP for a further five years. As such, the French tire manufacturer will continue to be the sole tire supplier until the end of the 2023 season.
The news did not come as a surprise. Dorna has made no secret of how happy it has been with the job Michelin have done for them, in helping to make the MotoGP series a much closer and exciting championship.
During the press conference held to announce the deal, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta lauded the fact that there had been nine race winners in 2016, saying “this is a championship of bikes and of riders”. Ezpeleta added “We are happy Michelin has helped the competitiveness of the championship.”
Extending the contract with Michelin brings stability to the championship, something the factories have been keen to maintain, as it allows them to focus their development on making the tires work with their bikes without worrying that tires would change if a new manufacturer came into the series.
Dorna was particularly pleased with the way Michelin had responded to problems and to requests from the riders and from Dorna, Ezpeleta said. Ezpeleta noted the expansion of the allocation from two to three rear tire compounds as an example.
For Michelin, the extension of five years was a welcome show of confidence from Dorna. The French tire manufacturer sees many benefits from racing. In the press conference, Director of Michelin Motorsport Pascal Couasnon explained their motives for going racing.
“We race for two main things,” Couasnon said. “Obviously, the association of racing with the brand is important. But technical improvement is also important. When you race, you are in extreme conditions and you learn quite a lot. Learning about grip, learning about constant performance with longevity are key areas which we want to transfer very quickly.”
Those technical developments were one of the reasons Michelin had asked Dorna to switch to 17-inch tires when they took over from Bridgestone as official tire supplier.
Asked for examples, Nicolas Goubert, Michelin Racing Technical Director cited research into compounds, which was starting to make its way into production slicks.
“Compound technology developed here is going into a range of commercial slicks available from next year,” he said. “Some of those were available at the Bol d’Or this year. But have to wait a bit longer for real production tires.”
Technology transfer is one of the reasons Michelin had no interest in providing qualifiers, Goubert explained. “We do racing to develop technology for the production tires. That’s one of the reasons we asked Carmelo to go to 17-inch tires, to be able to transfer technology very easily.”
“We made the point at the beginning of the season, when Carmelo’s team asked us to bring more tire specifications especially on the rear, to make sure we would not bring a tire only made for qualification.”
“So we made sure that all three specs could do the race with at least a few riders. This is what’s happening, and it’s what has made the racing closer in some cases. If we go to qualification tires, we go far away from technology you use on the street. So it’s not within our objective to come back to that.”
It was also a question of budget, Pascal Couasnon added. “At the end, you have a budget, which is signification but reasonable. What we want to do is use that money for something very useful.”
“So we prefer to use that to bring a third a spec for the rear than to bring a qualifying tire. Because we believe that’s more useful to give an opportunity to as many riders as possible to win.”
There have also been problems with the Michelin tires, especially with respect to quality control. Riders have consistently complained that two tires with the same specification can feel different when they get out on track.
Riders have also regularly referred to hoping to be lucky in getting a ‘good’ tire when it comes to race day. Identifying the precise cause of a problem can be difficult. With tires that are so supremely sensitive to temperature, even small changes in handling can have a big effect.
The way tire warmers are used, the amount of time a tire is left uncovered in the pits, riders riding slowly on sections on the track can have an effect.
Temperature sensitivity is an issue, but for the first time, both Michelin and Dorna acknowledged their had been problems with the consistency of the tires.
Carmelo Ezpeleta named quality control as the main focus for Dorna and Michelin going forward. In response to a question about quality control, Nicolas Goubert went into some detail on the issue.
“Quality is key in racing, and it’s key for production tires as well,” Goubert told the press conference. “It’s part of the Michelin image to be able to provide high quality tires at very high standards. And of course we are doing everything to deliver the same here.”
“As was mentioned, the technical challenge was very high to come back here and I think after two years we made tremendous improvement. Most of the teams now are asking for stability for the type of tires we bring, but as Carmelo pointed out, we still have some work to do in terms of quality issues.”
“We’ve improved a lot compared to one-and-a-half years ago, but sometimes today we still have some criticism or requests from the riders, saying that the performance of such-and-such tires are not the same.”
“Sometimes it’s not always true, but sometimes it is true, so we have to make everything possible to find out where it comes from and to stop it from happening again.”
“We’re working very hard with the factories to control that and make sure that everything single tire of the same specification offers the same performance for the riders.”
Michelin was focusing on the details of the production and handling process in an attempt to eliminate the differences, Goubert explained.
“Fine tuning the process, making sure that every component is exactly the same, that everything is done in the same way, basically putting everything we can under control,” he said.
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.