Identifying tires has always been something of a dark art. Ever since MotoGP went to a single tire supplier, identifying which tire a particular rider is on and when has become ever more important. Fast laps mean a lot less when a rider sets them on soft rubber.
So far, identification has been done visually, by colored stripes painted on the sidewall of the tire. That worked fine when Bridgestone was still tire supplier as the colors they used - red, white, plain, and green - based on their corporate colors were easy to spot, and applied in a big thick stripe. It got more difficult with Michelin, as their corporate colors - blue, white, and yellow - are more difficult to spot from the side of the track. Journalists and fans were mostly reliant on the eagle eye of Dylan Gray, pitlane reporter for MotoGP.com, to spot who was going out on what and when.
Identification is to become a lot easier in 2017, with the introduction of an automatic identification system. At the Sepang test, Michelin boss Nicolas Goubert explained how the system will work. As part of their job as official tire supplier, Micheiin already maintain a list of which tires have been allocated to each rider. Since last season, each wheel rim is also fitted with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), which communicates electronically with the ECU to log tire pressures, and ensure that they are never too low.
From 2017, when each Michelin fitter fits a tire to a wheel rim, they will note both the barcode of the tire, and the ID of the TPMS of the wheel they fitted the tire to. That information will then be passed back to Dorna and race control.
When a rider exits the pits and crosses a timing loop for the first time, the ID of the TPMS will be sent back to race control (and Dorna) by the ECU via the transponder. When race control and Dorna receive the ID of the TPMS, they can look up which tire is fitted to the wheel using that TPMS, and display that information on TV for users.
The system has just one minor drawback. The information is only passed to race control after riders exit the pits and cross one of the timing loops. As each track has between 12 and 20 timing loops fitted, the delay between exiting the pits and the tire information being displayed will only be brief.
Michelin had initially looked into a system using RFID gates at the exit of pit lane, but Dorna had rejected that on the grounds of safety, Goubert told us. Having physical gates partially obscuring pit lane exit were a potential cause of injury. That persuaded Michelin to devise this alternative system, which is much safer.
Test were run at Sepang, with a few teams trialing it successfully. Not all of the teams were ready to try it, as it required some code to be added to spec ECU to pass the information through to the transponder. But Goubert was hopeful the system will be up and running at the first race in Qatar.
The one question many race fans and teams will have is whether each riders tire choice will appear on the results sheets. Currently, that information is not published, but it should be a simple addition to the program used to generate the results to add it in.