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Michelin Ready for a New Season

The 2008 Le Mans Series (LMS) gets underway on Sunday at the Catalunya Circuit. For Michelin this will be the first outing for the 2008 tyres under race conditions in Europe. The first leg of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) which took place on 15th and 16th March at Sebring, already gave some indication of what to expect from the 2008 tyres.

The 1000 Km of Catalunya will also be a chance to bed in new partnerships established with teams over the winter. With the teams that were already running at Sebring, it will be an easier task, because the first steps have already been taken and we will be able to concentrate on the race right from the start of practice. As for the others, there might be some who are a bit rusty, or the personnel has changed and old habits have been forgotten over the winter, reckons Matthieu Bonardel, the Michelin 4 wheels Competition Director.

For Michelin , the LMS championship events are indispensable in terms of preparation for the highlight of the endurance season, the Le Mans 24 Hours. Taking part in LMS throughout the year means we can make progress on the product front for the main event of the year, namely the Le Mans 24 Hours, insists Bonardel. You cannot hope to win Le Mans without giving it your all in the LMS championship. For Michelin, its a case of helping our constructor partners as well as the private teams in being as well prepared as possible for their main target, the Le Mans 24 Hours.

In Barcelona, Michelin will therefore line up its new 2008 tyres, which were tested in early March at Le Castellet and then at Sebring. The Sebring 12 Hours gave us a first insight into how our tyres will perform this year, continues Bonardel. It all went well, which is good news for us, as it means we dont have to introduce any changes to our range. This means there wont be anything particularly new in Barcelona.

"There will be two or three types of slick available for each category, plus two wet weather patterns in a choice of three compounds. Barcelona is a fairly hard-wearing venue on tyres and we can expect a detailed analysis from the teams of the usual options: either begin the race with a single stint on soft tyres, or else double-stint on mediums or hards. Strategies can of course change once the race has started, especially following a shift in the weather or depending on the car position. It will be important to monitor the amount of rubber that is laid on the track as the race progresses since this will make the surface less demanding, making it possible to stay out longer on a given set of tyres than at the start, or else opt for a softer compound."

Compared to the 2007 tyres, the new 2008 tyres supplied by Michelin have progressed in performance terms, with an estimated gain of between 1.5 to 2 seconds per lap over the Le Mans circuit, which is particularly long and they have also gained in toughness. As usual, an increase in performance must not come at the expense of safety, concludes Bonardel. In 2008, with cars going quicker, we have basically worked on tyre strength. Over the past four years, LMP1 lap times at Le Mans have tumbled by 20 seconds. This increase in speed is a sign that the tyres ability to stand up to the constraints and withstand aerodynamic downforce has improved. So, we spent the winter strengthening our product. But of course, a tyre is a delicate balance: if one adds strength at one point it can break at another. It has been a case of fine tuning.

After the Michelin victory at Sebring the tenth in a row the Clermont-Ferrand marque will do all it can to take another win in the 1000 Km of Catalunya. For the 2008 range, a victory will augur well for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

March 2008