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Competition at the highest level

The French combination between the world’s most famous endurance race and the equally famous tire manufacturer pushes competitions to the highest level. Leading-edge technologies on an extreme test track, to fine-tune future productions

Duilio Damiani

With its history marked by victories, the Clermond-Ferrand based company adds yet another triumph to its already rich list of victories. Just two years after the official foundation date, Charles Terront won for Michelin its first trophy, in the longest cycling race of the time, the 1.200 km long Paris-Brest-Paris in 1891, showing the validity of the removable tires patented by Michelin by winning with a 9 hour margin on the rest of the field. Since then, the famous French tires have probably travelled more kilometers than anyone else, following closely the technological progress of bicycles, motorbike and automobile sectors. Both on roads and racing circuits, the favorite developing ground for materials and technology.

The close relationship between tire and vehicle was demonstrated by the recent victory, celebrated last June on the historical Paul Richard circuit, in France, where the world famous Le Mans 24 Hours has been raced since 1923, and currently part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The Audi-Michelin combination took first place for the sixth consecutive time  (the 17th consecutive out of 23 total wins for Michelin), despite a very competitive field.


Arm in arm with speed


In the field of motor sport, the Endurance Championship is one of the few still not characterized by a mono-tire regime, leaving the participants free to choose the preferred equipment. In reality, apart from Michelin, very few producers today are able to ensure the high quality standards required for racing cars, ensuring the best grip and handling in one of the most exhausting motor marathons in the motor racing calendar. A frantic week, including practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself, in the most diverse situations, such as to put men and machine to the test. Changing weather conditions, with alternating sun and rain, incredible loads imposed on the tires, here engaged on the hardest possible testing conditions. High temperature ranges between day and night, extreme friction on the asphalt with a very inconsistent grain size along the 13 miles long circuit, unimaginable pressure (the negative lift caused by the aerodynamics of these prototypes would be enough to keep them glued to the ceiling of tunnel), which persist for the duration of the whole event, reaching maximum speeds of around 330 km / h, are the factors that technicians exploit to acquire a large number of data, improving compounds and structures which are later developed for everyday use on normal motor vehicles.

As race regulations are updated, with LMP1 class prototypes radically different compared to the last editions, at this year’s 24 Hours Michelin arrived with several new tires: the teams had three ranges of tires available, slick tires with two compounds, Soft and Medium, rain tires in Wet and Full Wet versions, and intermediate tires, for damp track, completely redesigned and now a couple of inches narrower and 2 kg lighter, though able to guarantee the same performance level as the previous models, being able to stand four stints without significant pace reduction.

Main Michelin partners, during the 82nd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, were the favorite Audi R18 e-tron Quattro – Hybrid, and the challengers Toyota Racing, Rebellion Racing and Porsche Team, in the same order as the end result of the race. As many as 12 different tire models, size 31/71-18 both for front and rear wheels (instead of the 36/71 and 37/71-18 used last year), with new characteristics: “Michelin has radically changed its tire ranges for the 2014 FIA WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours “, says Jerome Mondain, Michelin Motorsport Endurance directors; “based on the technical information received from our partners, during the development of their racing cars, we’ve made thousands of simulations on computers before finalizing the whole work on a race track to find the best solutions for the car/tire package”. The debut of the new tires in the premier class was followed by the usual supply of tires for the lower LMP2 class, where vehicles equipped with Michelin tires could draw on the huge know-how developed by the French tire manufacturer, with two slick and two wet compounds, size 30/68-18 front and 31/71-18 rear. Furthermore also the GTE class (Pro and AM) had the option of two new rain designs, Wet and Full Wet, 30/68-18 front and 31/71-18 rear, completing the presence of the French tire giant at the Le Mans 24 Hours evident by the deployment of 100 employees, between engineers and technicians, 1.500 LMP1 tires, 1.000 LMP2 tires and 4.500 GTE tires.

During the French Endurance race, Michelin opened its new web site dedicated to motorsports. On the web site, photos, videos and daily reports on the most popular races in which the French tire maker has an interest, like rally, Endurance and the future Formula E world championship, reserved for electric cars.



The new sport range


Vocation and investments in premier motor sport competitions aimed at transferring the technological progress made on circuits on products designed for normal road use. Technology that, when transferred on normal roads, allows having tires adequate for the demanding requirements of the most exclusive sports cars, dealing with everyday conditions and not just with smooth track surfaces. A choice already awarded by the most prestigious sports cars manufacturers, among which we must remember Bugatti, that for its exaggerated Veyron 8 Litre W16 – the most exclusive sports car in the world – has commissioned Michelin to create a set of tires able to guarantee the necessary control for a car with an output of 1.200 hp and a declared top speed of 415 km/h. All this created the basis for the new Pilot Sport Cup 2 range, which already equips vehicles such as Ferrari 458 Special, Porsche 918 Spider and Mercedes SLS-AMG.

The technology borrowed from motor racing is clearly seen in the exclusive characteristics now available on road vehicles, when in the recent past these where seen only on race tracks. Created in the same production plants used for competition tires, we find on the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2, a bi-compound tread with different compounds between the inner and outer part of the tread, able to guarantee maximum grip in dry conditions and driving precision on wet roads. Aramid fibre stabilizer belt, five times more resistant than steel, given the same weight, supplies extreme rigidity to the tire structure, maintaining a constant contact patch which results in great handling at high speed, while the use of Track Variable Contact Patch 3.0 technology – an evolution of the previous 2.0 version already found on the old Pilot Super Sport – optimizing the tires footprint at all times, especially when cornering at high speed, just like the Le Mans racing cars.

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