Michelin Speaks: Piero Taramasso On 2016 Tire Allocations, Front Tires, Intermediates, And Performance

The change of official tire suppliers for MotoGP, with Bridgestone departing and Michelin arriving, is arguably the most significant change to the class since the series went to a single tire in 2009. Changing tire manufacturers has a massive impact on everything, from bike design to rider preference, and Michelin face a huge challenge to get everything ready in time. Bridgestone helped by staying on for an extra year to allow Michelin to properly prepare, and the tires which the French manufacturer have been developing are looking very promising.

Their preparations have not been helped by conditions. Test days have been hit by rain, with testing severely hampered. This was also the case at Brno, when the majority of the MotoGP field was due to get their first outing on the Michelins since Sepang, though the factory riders had a chance to test after Mugello. The rain did give a group of journalists a chance to grill Piero Taramasso, Michelin's manager of two wheel motorsports activities.

Had the weather affected their plans for the test at Brno, we asked? "The plan was to test in dry condition so it looks like it will be not the case," Taramasso replied. "We brought some new solutions for the front. For example we had the same profile with two different casings and three different compounds. For rear tires same profile, two different casings, and two different compounds. So this was the plan."

The return of intermedates

The weather did give Michelin a chance to test some of their wet weather solutions, including an intermediate tire. "We came also with some wet and some intermediates because so far we didn’t have the chance to try, just did a few laps in Jerez and Barcelona the Monday after the race but it’s not enough data. So anyway we tried this morning, we did a few laps in intermediate, a few in full wet, but it is very difficult because the conditions change every lap, every lap. So far it was not a very conclusive test."

Though many will welcome the return of intermediate tires, Taramasso does not expect them to be used very often. "The reason was because it was asked by Dorna, they asked us to bring intermediates. The reason is for the Friday, Saturday when it’s qualifying, when it’s mixed conditions the riders don’t go out. For the spectators it is not very fun so they ask us please bring an intermediate so when the condition are not wet, not too dry, so they can do a few laps for the spectators. So we decided to bring it and the location will be three front, three rear, per weekend, per rider."

The intermediates basically use the hard wet tire compound, but with a lot less rubber cut away than on a wet tire. They are aimed at providing grip without wearing too much in half-wet, half-dry conditions. "Intermediates are designed to start in wet or damp track and then you can use it until the track is drying out. It’s quite a large window but I don’t think they will be using during the race. In the race will be all slick or wet."

Allocations increased

The size of the tire allocation will be increased from the current situation, Taramasso said. Each rider would get seven front and seven rear wet tires (two more than the current allocation), as well as three front and three rear intermediates. The allocation for slick tires will change only slightly, with Michelin bringing an extra rear tire, making it ten front slicks and twelve rear slicks, with a choice of two compounds (with the Open class disappearing in 2016, the softer rear will no longer be available). The extra rear tire was a request from the teams, Taramasso said. "The teams and the riders they complain about this year, last year, that the allocation is too short, too small. And sometimes they have to use a used tire so they complain. They ask and because we are gentle we agreed..."

Though the riders will only have the choice between two slick compounds at each race, those compounds will change during the season, though Michelin was yet to make a final decision on which compounds would be used where. "We didn’t decide yet," Taramasso said. "We are still testing, so we need to go in Phillip Island, we need to go in Silverstone, need to go in several tracks we didn’t test. So we have to go there and then we will decide."

The ideal would be to have just a single specification everywhere, but that would clearly be impossible, Taramasso told us. They would strive to have as few as possible, however. "I guess probably to give you an idea three, four front and five, six rear," he said. The construction and profile of the tires would be the same, the only thing that would change would be the compound.

As for intermediate tires, there would only be a single specification used, which would be good enough to be used everywhere. Wet tires would have two different compounds, a soft and a hard, but with the same tread pattern.

Was Michelin still on schedule to be ready for the start of 2016? "The weather didn’t help," Taramasso admitted. "We are following the plan, even if we had no help from the weather. But at this moment we say we are still in the plan. Because rear construction is almost fixed, front and the rear profile are fixed already, so just we need to tune the compounds for some race track that we didn’t test. And we’re still working on the front, so we still have a couple of months to work, a few tests to do."

Fixing the front

One of the biggest complaints at both the Sepang and the Mugello tests was that Michelin's front tire was not up to coping with the extra loads being generated by the exceptional grip at the rear. It was pushing the front, and causing a number of crashes, the front washing out. Michelin has done a lot of work since then on improving the front tire, and this had been one area they had been hoping to test. "The rear tire, the grip is good. It’s easy, very good," Taramasso told us. "That’s why the performance, the lap time is more than acceptable I will say."

But Michelin had seen some problems, Taramasso admitted, but these were being adressed. "We had some problem, I would say it’s the balance about the front and the rear grip," he said. "Right now it looks like it’s going better and better and there’s two reasons. One reason is because we worked on the tire, we improved the front tire from Sepang to Mugello. Official riders, they told us we made improvement in the right direction, so that helps. Also the teams now they start to understand how our tire is working. So the setting, every time we test with them the setting is always better and better. The rider also they understand how to use it versus different tire, so you have to ride differently. Everything you put together, the rider, the setting, technology improvements, so everything is going in the right direction. And all the balance, grip front and rear balance is much better."

This change in set up would be crucial for the future, but it is something which the teams will only really start to focus on once this season is over. "After November, after the testing in Valencia, I’m sure that the teams will move the setting in the right way towards the Michelin, how our tires are suited," Taramasso said. The current testing schedule had not helped. "What didn’t help was that we do every time a one day test. So like you say, the teams they arrive, so the bike setting for the current tire supplier [Bridgestone - DE]. Just in one day you cannot do setting, tire test, long run. So what we do is just a few laps, do the best thing on the bike and then test, test, test. But of course it’s not the optimum condition."

One circuit where there had been problems was at the Sachsenring, where the fast right hander of Turn 11, at the top of the Waterfall, follows a long sequence of left handers, allowing the right side of the tire to cool down. It was a notorious place for crashing over the years, but Taramasso was confident of Michelin's performance at the track. "Here we went to test and luckily it was a good test for us. The tire, the compound we bring to Sachsenring, they worked well, so I hope this problem is solved but that’s why we try this year to go once to each track to try. The winter test is going also in a good direction because the winter test will be Sepang, Philip Island, Qatar."

Happy factories

One challenge which Michelin faces is in building a tire which suits a wide range of motorcycle designs, of V4s and of inline fours, but that had not been as hard as Michelin had expected, Taramasso told us. "I was surprised because I was thinking the choice going in very different direction, three, four, five. Actually no, all the time we converge to the same. So this is good for us because we know the direction is more clear. We know what we have to do." The long history of the single tire in MotoGP had already caused some convergence. "I was thinking that on that choice, Yamaha choice, Ducati choice, went like this where the biggest difference we see is between the choice from the test rider and the choice from the official rider," Taramasso said. "It’s the speed which is the deciding factor. But all the time we go to the same."

How would the Michelins stack up in terms of performance? "I don’t know. It’s not our priority for the first year. For 2016 our priority is to give a safe tire that you can do safely on the race and a tire that is suited well for and works well for Honda, for Yamaha, for Ducati, for Marc Marquez, for Valentino. This our goal. Try to make a more usable, polyvalent tire for all the riders. 2016 will be learning and then for 2017 I’m sure we will put more effort in the performance."

Cui bono?

Taramasso was clear about the strongest point of Michelin's tires. "It’s rear grip. The rear grip is the thing everybody’s saying. Especially Pol Esparago, he smiles and he says, wow, this is impressive. It looks like a qualifying tire. So this is a very good point. I think it’s the one that came up all the time. Consistency also. The tire is quite consistent. It can do 25-30 laps without a big drop off."

Would this emphasis on rear grip favor some riders and not others? "Yes, I think so," Taramasso agreed. "I don’t know who, but for sure when you do a major change like this I’m sure some riders are able to adapt quickly and they can take advantage. Some others they will need more time. So for sure you will move the actual ranking. And also you have some riders maybe like Valentino, Dovizioso, they already run with our tire, so maybe come up to the speed quickly. They have experience how to run, how to use." But the tires are not like the Michelins used to be before the introduction of the single tire rule. "[Valentino Rossi] said it’s different," Taramasso told us. "He said for him it was much better now. And also Stoner, Casey Stoner he test with us in Motegi last year. He also said the same thing. He said we improved."

The introduction of a new tire also meant that the winter test schedule would be changed. Instead of going to Sepang twice, preseason testing will kick off in Sepang, before heading to Phillip Island in Australia, and then on to Qatar ahead of the first race of the season. The test schedule had been set by Dorna and IRTA, though, and not by Michelin. Taramasso approved, however. "For us it’s good. I know some teams they prefer go twice in the same track, just to evaluate the progress, see if they improved. But this was the proposition from the IRTA. For us this is very good. This is my personal idea. I think it’s because maybe the IRTA and the Dorna, they recognize Phillip Island as a very demanding track so they prefer, say okay, let’s go there. So for the race we can be ready, will be easy for sure."

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more options already, better rear grip, hopefully they'll sort the front. Can't wait

Can anybody explain how the extra rear grip will affect setups for 2016? Does it, for example, tend to favor riders who like to maintain high cornering speeds or something?

High corner speed relies heavily on the front tire. higher rear grip, especially with a front that is not as grippy as the Bridgestones, favors the point and shoot style. Honda riders must be excited.

Yes and no -

Yes on the drive out, get it up earlier and on the gas earlier. Also it is a 17 instead of a 16.5, so less time leaned over is better right?

More complicated than that (and thank goodness, should be much more interesting!). Think about the Honda under braking (esp 2015 design and Marquez). And Rossi style vs Lorenzo. The Honda (and Rossi style) is to smash the front tire with lots of hard braking. The Bstone is STIFF. And offers lots of grip. This will not work with the Michelin.

Also, the Michelin offers more "feel," rather than demanding that you just trust it to hold. What sort of rider and what bike have sensitivity to front end feel? And don't overload the F in braking? Yamaha and Lorenzo. Another consideration is to wonder which riders are likely to get along naturally with the characteristics of the Michelin. And THEN, which ones are more willing and able to change and adapt? Remember the downfall of Elias as a result of not adjusting to the tires?

To square off a corner into a V shape to point and shoot, they have to be able to load the front hard in braking towards the apex first. The Michelin won't let them. The 2015 Honda is built around exploiting a very aggressive Marquez who smashes the front, floats the rear, and has the bike moving all over the place.

The drive out by the Honda is managed by electronics. Which will be less sophisticated and less ironed out. Absolute power delivery advantage (like say Honda compared to Suzuki) can't be exploited as much by electronics and instead will be (relatively) more mechanical. Meaning chassis and suspension. Meaning again "by feel" by the bike and the rider. That has been the hallmark of the tuning fork. And now Suzuki. The Aprilia has been sweet too. The Honda on exit would waggle back and forth, the Ducati would pump up and down, and the Yamaha? It sits still. And the rider will need to have feel and sensitivity with their throttle hand. Stoner comes to mind as exemplary there in recent years.

Also the Michelin will offer the better grip it initially has for a longer time that the Bstone. What you can get on the edge of it on lap 3 will be much the same on lap 13. The Bstone has a drop off much earlier. The problem here may be that when Michelin DOES experience a drop in grip level it may not give the rider as much notice (as in "stick stick stick BOOM as a reader put it).

Overall I think Honda has the bike with the biggest challenge in designing a 2016 bike for the Michelins. They already have "point and shoot" problems THIS year relative to the Yamaha w the Bstones due to their design! Honda are not known for flexibility in the engineering dept, but they are known to put tons of resources into it, so they could well pop out a winner at Qatar. Personally I see the bikes on the 2016 grid having by far the toughest time w the Michelins being the 2015 Honda that will go out to customers. It over reached in development to exploit the Bstone front even for Marquez and the Bstone. No way to fix that w set up. Sorry Jack Miller!

Is this tire switch and the introduction of spec electronics a game changer ? Are we going to see Bradley smith or Suzuki winning races?

Will this be a game changer? Yes and no. It will favor some riders over others. But it won't suddenly turn the grid upside down. The laws of physics and money will still apply. Suzuki will still be 30 horsepower down, and will lose out on the straights (though they might have bit more power by next year). Smith will still be in a satellite team, with one data guy, one crew chief, and a few mechanics. All great people, some of the best, but the factory teams will have a room full of data people as well as a group back at the factory dedicated to optimizing what they have. The factory riders will still win, because their teams will have the most resources to do the best job and finding the last few hundredths in every corner, which will end up making a couple of tenths per lap.

Obviously the Suzuki is missing out on power, but 30 horsepower? That seems quite a lot to me, looking at the speed differences on track. At Catalunya's long straight, Vinales even overtook Scott Redding's Honda RC213V. Redding may be taller and sure Vinales was taking advantage of his slipstream, but with 30 hp less that seems impossible to me. We're not talking F1-amounts of horsepower here, so 30 hp is a lot, relatively speaking. Even taking into account the exponentially increasing amount of extra power you need to go faster at very high speeds.

I've read somewhere that the top bikes make around 260 hp again like they were doing in the (less restricted, with more fuel, bigger bores or more cilinders) 990 days, so the Suzuki would only be making 230 hp? That seems a bit meagre compared to the 200-205 hp that completely standard 1000cc road bikes with a two-year warranty already make.
Just my impression of course. I would love to know all the actual figures and power curves...

David, your boss is making you work on a Sunday off? What a jerk!

Re your comment, good start...now how about which bikes and riders to benefit and struggle w the change? We appreciate your take on things as you are neither a sensationalist nor wedded to any one player. Come on now, cough it up mate!

which bike? wel with alot of traction yamaha wil be even faster out the corners. and if they fix the front yamaha wil be even faster the whole corner. GO michelin!

I'm hoping for a return in a more forward biased bike design. From a purely aesthetic perspective, I hate (yes, hate) the bulky rear/tail of the current bikes. I loved the sleek style of the 03/04 M1.

However, if that does occur, I wonder if the M1 will encounter heating issues again as they did previously with the Michelins.

Quote Neil Spalding on Cooling...

"Yamaha M1 is the hardest MotoGp bike to cool. Compared with the
narrow V4s and the old V5s, its across the frame four reduces airflow
through a large area of radiator, and forces the of narrow exhaust

*This gave Yamaha a lot of trouble in the 990 years, particularly when
their M1 got stuck in the hot, turbulent wake of another bike. Rossi
famously crashed a Sachsenring in 2006, desperate to get past De
Puniet and into some cool, undisturbed air."

"It was only the arrival of Bridgstones tyres in 2008 that saved the
situation when Yamaha adapted by moving their engine back in the
frame, they got more room for the radiator and the ducts that
shovelled its hot air away"