Michelin MotoGP: Tech and Tires

Michelin, the sole provider of tires for the premier class of MotoGP, the crème de la crème of two-wheeled racing, has been beavering away all winter working on new stuff.  Since Bridgestone vacated the premises after the 2015 season, the French monolith has been in charge of rubber and seems to be running stride for stride with the manufacturers and riders entering Year Two.  Better compounds.  More choices.  Bells and whistles.

Along with the rubber work, Michelin has implemented radio technology in the tires which will display, in homes outside the U.S., which compound each rider is using.  The veddy British broadcast crew for the MotoGP video feed includes Dylan Gray working trackside.  Dylan is very good at his job, half of which has suddenly disappeared, as it was Dylan in recent years going on during the last half hour before the start about tire choices. Now, the compounds (three fronts and three rears available at every race) will show on the screen in real time, something of which Dorna is very capable.

With more choices of compound available, this decision by the rider becomes more difficult.  Nine possible configurations to choose from.  Throw out the top two and bottom two and he still has five configurations to figure out.  One hopes the riders will become less inclined to blame the tires for their dismal showing and instead blame themselves for having chosen the wrong tires.  That would be refreshing.

Michelin must be given credit for the resources–human, manufacturing and financial–they are throwing at this program.  The fact that lap times in 2016 were competitive, in the presence of the standard ECU, suggests Michelin was fairly well prepared for last year and totally prepared for this year.  No new circuits on the calendar in 2017, meaning they have data for every track.

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Unless you have a ridiculously spectacular seat at a MotoGP race, I would strongly argue you get much more watching the video feed.  The guys in the broadcast booth are knowledgeable, sure, but they are sometimes guilty of over-sharing.  And loveable Nick Harris is getting along in years.  But the camera work and the on-screen information–revs, lean angles, now tires–is hugely helpful to those poor folks who have to write about this stuff for a living.  I used to bring my laptop to the Indianapolis round and the AP guys would watch the race on my computer.

Thumbs up to Michelin IMO.  MotoGP demands more from riders than any form of automobile racing, and tire choice has become more important.  Michelin is doing their part to see that the two tiny tire patches–all that stand between riders and a sudden visit to the inflatable wall–are the best they can be.  Like offensive linemen in American football, anonymity is a good thing for the tire providers, since the only time you get noticed is when you screw up.  Now, if the riders would just man up.

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