The Michelin Conundrum

The tire situation in MotoGP presents us with a rather puzzling situation. French tire maker Michelin has dominated MotoGP for many years now, taking every championship since 1992. Bridgestone has only started to compete seriously since the introduction of the four-strokes in 2002, and is now starting to be a truly competitive force. But Michelin continues to dominate the class, taking 13 of the 17 races last year. Kenny Roberts Jr only agreed to join his father's Team KR project on condition that the team got Michelin tires and Öhlins suspension. Ilmor paid a large amount of money to get hold of Michelin tires.

And yet, with all that experience, problems remain. Especially at the front end. Makoto Tamada, who won two GPs on a Bridgestone-shod Honda, was a mere shadow of his former self after his team switched from Bridgestones to Michelins. He complained continuously that he could not gain any confidence in the front end. Casey Stoner proved to be blisteringly fast this year, when he could stay aboard. But he pushed the front, and crashed out of five races in 2006. Each time, he lost the front end, his front Michelin suddenly losing grip. Since moving to Ducati, and, as a by-product, to Bridgestones, he has praised the feeling and feedback from his front tire.

Michelin is obviously aware of the problem, for at Sepang, they were testing a new 16 inch front tire. Valentino Rossi was one of the riders to put in laps on the tire, and afterwards, praised the improved feel. The French tire maker is obviously working flat out for more feel at the front end. Riders have previously complained that the front tends to let go without warning, making it hard to feel comfortable pushing the front as hard as possible.

So, why do I mention this? Well, Shinya Nakano, tired of never making any real forward progress at Kawasaki, decided to leave Team Green to try his luck on a Honda. With a better machine, he felt he had more of a chance to get onto the podium and compete for a win. His switch from Kawasaki to Japan Italy Racing, sponsored by Konica Minolta, meant that he would move onto the race-proven Honda, a safe bet in anyone's books. But the switch also meant that Nakano would also be using Michelins instead of Bridgestones, despite team manager Luca Montiron's rumored attempts to obtain Bridgestone rubber. But his choice may not turn out to be as fortuitous as he had hoped. For one thing, the Honda RC212V has proven to be much slower than everyone was expecting, posting times at the wrong end of the testing timesheets. And for another, according to Eurosport, Nakano is complaining of chatter and a lack of grip from his front Michelin.

So the mystery remains: why can't Michelin make a front tire as good as Bridgestone's?

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