Michelin returns to MotoGP racing in 2016

The return of Michelin is unquestionably the biggest change in MotoGP in 2016. Coupled with the shift from 16.5-inch tyres to 17-inch, every team, rider, mechanic and bike will have to adapt or be adapted, so the co-operation of all parties in Michelin's testing program throughout 2015 has been crucial in ensuring everyone has started working to get prepared for the new season with all these changes in mind.

Having been absent from motorcycle racing's Grand Prix class since the introduction of the single tyre-supplier rule in 2009, Michelin is re-entering a discipline in which the French brand has made a real mark over the years. With 360 Grand Prix victories and 26 World Championship crowns, Michelin is a rich and illustrious heritage in the sport, and from slicks to dual-compound technology and radial tyres, there are countless technological evolutions that Michelin has pioneered through motorcycle racing.

"We are very proud to bring Michelin back in MotoGP, on the 40th anniversary of our first 500cc World Championship with Barry Sheene," says Pascal Couasnon, Director of Michelin Motorsport. "Michelin is synonymous with motorcycle road racing and, after an absence of nearly a decade, it is with great pride that we return as the Official Tyre Supplier to the sport's premier class."

He added: "Today, we're at a crossroads for the future of mobility. Racing has a crucial role to play, to uncover the next generation of innovations. It's a great time to be part of it all, and we welcome you to join us in this new and exciting chapter in our motorcycle racing story."

A return to GP racing
"Our participation in the WRC taught us that even without direct competitors, it is still possible to develop products that can be useful to road tyres," says Nicolas Goubert, Deputy Director, Technical Director and head of the Michelin MotoGP group within Michelin Motorsport. "The fact that from 2016 the regulations will reintroduce 17-inch tyres to MotoGP - as is already the case in endurance racing and national championships - will enable us to develop technologies that will benefit a broad spectrum of motorcyclists."

In 1973 when Michelin entered the premier class of road racing, the race tyres were essentially standard road tyres benefitting from race compounds. Claude Decottignies was the sole Michelin representative at Grands Prix. "In 1973, the only tyres available to us were derivatives of commercially available products, which Michelin distributed to everybody who asked for them. I travelled in a Citroen Type H, carrying with me the wheel balancer, tools and equipment, nitrogen cylinders and around 70 tyres in different dimensions."

Much has changed since those early days, all those victories and World Championships ago, but today MotoGP is more relevant to tyre development than ever, especially with the shift back to 17-inch tyres. Michelin has proved the value of road racing with its multitude of technological innovations over its long and rich history in the sport, including slicks, dual-compound technology and radial tyres, and this new era of road racing enables a stronger transfer of race technology to the road. The return didn't come without its challenges though.

"I realized that I already knew a lot of the key players involved," says Goubert. "For me, two of the top four riders were already there 10 years ago as well as most of the staff of the teams. The bikes are more powerful and more efficient under braking. Indeed, the riders rely more on the front end and some of them have got into the habit of sacrificing corner speed because of that."

"From the start of our development program to our return, we were well aware of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of us. For the riders, the feeling is evidently different with Michelin tyres. It is important that all parties involved in this project - competitors, chief mechanics, bike factory engineers and tyre engineers - make the necessary modifications to successfully develop a bike/tyre package that the riders can easily adapt to," he added.

"It was not easy to ask factory riders - in the middle of their season - to test with different tyres and settings to those that they had been using as recently as the previous day, but it is their commitment to the cause that has enabled us to make the first successful steps in our development plan to meet the challenge that awaits us in 2016," he continued. "The feedback supplied by the sport's leading competitors throughout a 2015 of testing was vital for us and, thanks to that, we were able to identify early on that we needed to make more progress with the front tyre in terms of its braking power when entering corners."

As always in bike racing it is the front end of the bike which is key to give riders the confidence they need to push to the limit. It has always been and still is our main focus to try, with the help of the bike engineers, to give riders that confidence. According to Piero Taramasso, Manager of the Two-Wheel Motorsport group: "The riders and engineers all need to adapt to 17-inch tyres, while we need to work hard to make the front tyres more forgiving."

"MotoGP is extremely important for us because the races have a very high profile," continues Taramasso. "Much is expected of us after a long time away from the paddock, but by the same token, there is no pressure - our experience and expertise within this domain mean we can return calmly and with confidence. The tests ahead of us from now on to the last pre-season test in Qatar will give us valuable information to fine-tune the tyres to the series' needs."

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