Michelin Test At Sepang - Secrecy Prevails But Times Suggest Work To Be Done

Though the riders competing in the 2015 MotoGP championship have all departed, the factories stayed on at Sepang for another day of testing. For the fourth day of the first Sepang MotoGP test was designated as a test day for Michelin, who are due to take over as official tire supplier from 2016.

The legal complications of the change from Bridgestone to Michelin mean that the tire test is shrouded in confidentiality, rather than secrecy. This test features only the test riders, all of whom have been barred from talking to the press about the tires. Times were not recorded, and definitely not released, though a handful of hardy journalists stood at trackside with handheld stopwatches (or smartphones) and tried to time riders that way. The secrecy is understandable: Michelin are at a very early stage of their development, and Bridgestone are paying Dorna a hefty sum to be official tire supplier, and want to reap the marketing benefits that should bring. 

Yet there were things to be learned from the Michelin test at Sepang today. Unofficial timing from people at the track suggests that riders were lapping somewhere between 1 and 2 seconds slower than they were on Bridgestones. Hiroshi Aoyama was the best benchmark, having ridden throughout the previous three days on a Bridgestone-shod Honda RC213V factory bike. His pace suggest that he is a little over a second a lap slower on the Michelins than on the Bridgestones. Given the newness of the project, and how much data and development Bridgestone have, Michelin appear to have done a pretty good job.

More worrying were the number of crashes at the test. Riders on Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis all went down hard at Turn 5, the fast left hander at the back of the circuit. Michelin had told the teams to take it easy through that corner, but the riders still went down. The problem appears to have been the front tire in that section, which was wanting to tuck through the corner.

The purpose of the test is to narrow down the selection of tires to bring to the next test at Sepang, when the official riders will get their chance to try the tires. Michelin manager Piero Taramasso told a group of reporters that they had brought seven different front tires and five different rear tires, with the objective of whittling that down to three fronts and three rears for the factory riders to use at the second Sepang test. The feedback from the factory riders will then help define the direction which Michelin will follow for their further development. The basic construction of the tires - casing, compounds, profiles - will be finalized in July. For 2016, Michelin hope to bring three different compounds front and rear for each rider to use at each Grand Prix.

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Comments

I think one or even two seconds slower is indeed suprisingly good, considering that all the bikes (especially the Hondas and Yamahas) are totally developed around the Bridgestone tyres, plus that most of the test riders are probably also used to the Bridgestones. And that is not even considering the fact that Michelin is only starting to work with these MotoGP bikes; in the past six years their tyres have only been used in national Superbike and Endurance.

Were there no Ducatis testing or did they not crash? In the latter case, It could be that that comes from the fact that the Ducati riders dare not push their fronts as hard as the others. (Or that the Michelins in this stage better suit the Ducatis, of course.)

Total votes: 103

^ Me too.

My focus is like Pvalve's - on which bikes and which riders get a boost and how. On how it changes the riding. We are getting lots of info that says the Michelin front will not be as sticky but will give better feel and feedback. This is not a high grip track. Problems w tires have been with durability on abrasive high grip surfaces.

The lap times are better than I anticipated. If we stay focused and patient this is going to be a fun year re news of developments around the new rules. Think about it just a bit...we as fans specifically here that so enjoy insightful consideration and discussion?

Happy happy happy...

I am all ears friends: which bikes/riders stand to gain/lose and how?

Total votes: 89

I've been looking forward to 2016 with great anticipation, as I believe the new tire may serve as a a reset in terms of bike setup and allow some of the newer factories to catch up.

However, I am quite concerned with this news of Michelin telling riders to baby the bikes through a fast corner. If the tire design is frozen in July, that doesn't give them a whole lot of testing time to fix what is obviously a catastrophic design flaw.

Rider safety is paramount in my books, and although I sincerely support Michelin's efforts, Dorna should make absolutely clear that if they can't produce a safe tire at the levels of performance demanded in MotoGP, then they should admit to this and not endanger any riders. Bridgestone can just do an additional year or two to give Michelin time to fix their design. This is not something a company can rush into.

Yes MotoGP is an excellent marketing platform, and Michelin wants its turn. But what if a rider is severely injured due to a faulty Michelin tire? The backlash will be immense, and I think Michelin will suffer far more bad press and in accomplish the opposite of what they set out to do by entering in the first place.

Motorcycle racing is very technically demanding, and there's no shame in admitting as a company that your design is not ready for MotoGP. Take your time Michelin, it's better for riders, customers and your bottom line in the long run.

Total votes: 101

It's February. Obviously there's work to be done. We don't even know what kind of track conditions they had. Maybe the surface was hot and greasy?

And as good as the Bridgestone front might be, it's not like they didn't have their fair share of problems in the past few seasons. Remember the asymmetric front tire that Bridgestone brought to Philipp Island? That's only been a few months ago. Apparently, experience can help a manufacturer only so much in producing a tire that is fast and at the same time safe. Changing conditions can always get in the way. You could argue that that tire might have endangered the ones who crashed while using it.

And then in 2013, when they took rider sedurity into account and shortened the race in PI because they feared that the tires wouldn't last, Bridgestone got quite the shitstorm as well.

This point has been made here several times before: As a single tire supplier, you can only lose really. If the tires work, nobody will talk about the one manufacturer having an advantage over another. If they don't, everybody will flame you for it.

I think this is why Bridgestone leave and I fear that Michelin will make the same experience.

Total votes: 82

Agree with you on all points. The last one is something I've been wondering from the very start of the single tyre rule: why on earth would a tyre manufacturer even want to be in a situation like this, in which you will only get negative publicity? There's no-one to beat and everything to lose. And then you have to PAY millions to be allowed to supply tyres for free..?? It's crazy. Does the title 'official MotoGP tyre supplier' really impress consumers? Are there actually people that don't understand it is just a commercial contract? That in fact they as customers will have to pay for those millions?

And as for the development: of course racing will result in research and development, but how much of that is still true in a single tyre situation? They'll win anyway. All Bridgestone (or anybody) really needs to do is make sure their tyres don't fall apart over race distance and that they have a decent warm-up performance, so riders don't crash in the first laps. And even these two targets were not always achieved, especially the warm-up thing, giving loads of bad publicity.

I really hoped that with the end of the Bridgestone contract, free tyre choice would be reintroduced again. It would give motorcycle constructors more of a chance to come up with something different design-wise, and become competitive by finding new ways. Also it would give more overtaking, because there will be less uniform cornering performance around the track. And it would give less uniform race results over the whole season, because there will be circuits that favor one tyre more that the other, just like it is with bikes.

Why on earth would you want all bikes and tyres to perform exactly equal? It will just mean that every race will give about the same result. It's much more fun when different tracks mean that sometimes other bikes/riders can excel and grab their chance. It would also keep their spirits higher. Now after a few races you know pretty much where you stand and that's it. And with so little freedom in engineering, there's not much you can do about it.

What the single tyre rule has done is bring the times of the grid as a whole closer together, but how much of a plus is that? The only real bonus I can think of is that it has removed the need for qualifiers. But since they decided some teams get extra soft tyres to choose from, even that good thing is more or less gone.

Total votes: 64

Bridgestone said recently they expected that this year would be the fastest MotoGP year. And straight away Marc sets the fastest lap of Sepang ever, decimating the old record. It seems to me Bridgestone are going all out to ensure that the inevitable comparisons between their tyres and Michelin's are very favourable for the Japanese company in 2016. While we all understand that Michelin will be starting from scratch and that Bridgestone will have had years of development, still the headline numbers will show that lap times and race times will be considerably slower all of a sudden with the Michelin tyres. BS won't be letting this opportunity slip by, I reckon we'll see lap records at virtually every dry race this year.

Total votes: 65

The basic design will be finalized by July. That means they will have a basic tire to work on, not that they will stop developing the tires. They just won't be going all over the place with development.

Total votes: 77

Given the fact that Michelin used to send special tyres overnight for race day, for their favourite riders, I don't think July is a problem for them to sort out their tyres.

Total votes: 69

"Riders on Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis all went down hard at Turn 5, the fast left hander at the back of the circuit."

Good news for Ducati! May be the only ones lapping at the end.

I'm sure they'll iron out the issues before next year.

Total votes: 78

Be careful drawing lessons from these lap times. For starters the track has had 3 days of data collection and prior constant use, laying down a good line of fresh clean rubber.
As for Marquez record setting lap, sure its a helluva lap, but in perspective it comes after days of unlimited setup time, instead of the typical couple of hours work, and at the perfect time of day.
If Michelin can already predict which corner riders should ease up on, it would seem to indicate a good understanding already of their current limitations - any by deduction, where future development might focus.

Total votes: 75

Excellent article! It's very important to understand the situation from all points of view.

Total votes: 73

If Colin Edwards were to ride one day with the Bridgestone I doubt he would be any faster than 2.00.9x

I think Michelin have done a great job in making a tyre who are capable of setting one fast lap but the Bridgstone can set 20 fast laps. in 2013 the fastest lap of the race often came at the end of the race so let see how Michelin can do that.

Total votes: 73

I don't think Dorna want the Michi to be 'as good' as the BS tyre. I feel the BS is huge negative for the sport, you could probably tour Europe on it and still have enough left for a couple of rounds at Snetterton. It requires completely new development. Personally can't wait for Michelin to turn up and it should, in theory, be easier for newer teams to get a handle on it.. Feel is a wonderful thing in a tyre I've never been overly convinced in a tyre that you just have to put faith in no matter if it is a 10th quicker. Of all the interviews there have been on BS tyres I don't think I've ever heard anyone say they enjoyed them.

Total votes: 69

The reaction of the riders to the announcement that Bridgestone was pulling out as single tire supplier was extremely entertaining. Up until that point, they had done nothing but complain that the tires didn't give enough feedback, didn't warm up fast enough, etc etc etc. As soon as Bridgestone announced they were out, the riders were praising the tires, praising the unparalleled grip and performance, fantastic warm up, fantastic grip, etc etc etc.

Two lessons can be drawn from this. The first is that you never know what you've got until it's gone, in the words of the old song. The second is that as a single tire supplier, all you get is criticism. Your tires are expected to be perfect, and anything other than perfection brings a hail of criticism. You can expect Michelin to be well received for the first six months of the contract, and then the complaining to start. The only reason you don't hear complaining from the World Superbike riders about the Pirellis is because they face a five figure fine if they dare open their mouths.

Total votes: 91

In addition to the changes related to new construction and rubber from Michelin, didn't this test also include the 17" wheels? That would potentially imply either different geometry (if the diameter changed) or shorter sidewalls that I would have to imagine feel different to the riders.

Total votes: 59