Michelin Men Ready For MotoGP Rollercoaster

Michelin's roll call of GP legends has won five times at the US venue

Michelin's seven MotoGP riders face one of the most thrilling challenges of the World Championship season at Laguna Seca, the rollercoaster Californian racetrack that is the first of the sport's two Stateside stops this year. In September the MotoGP circus returns to the US for the inaugural Indianapolis motorcycle GP.

Laguna has been hosting GP racing on and off for the past two decades, the circuit loved by most riders for its challenging, undulating layout and its unique Corkscrew, a daunting left-right chicane on a steep hillside.

Michelin has won two of the three recent US GPs at Laguna, with Kentucky hero Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) sending the crowd wild with delight in 2005 and 2006. The company also won three of the six 500 GPs run at the track between 1988 and 1994, with Eddie Lawson (Marlboro Yamaha YZR500-Michelin) winning in 1988, Wayne Rainey (Marlboro Team Roberts Yamaha YZR500-Michelin) in 1990 and John Kocinski (Cagiva C593-Michelin) in 1993.The track is not dissimilar in character to the Sachsenring, venue for last weekend's German GP. Laguna was resurfaced for the last two US GPs in 2005 and 2006. Last year's race was 45 seconds inside the race record, thanks to new asphalt that offers incredibly high grip.


"We know Laguna will be a big challenge because this year's pace is even faster than last year's, so the stress on the tires will be high," says Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's chief of motorcycle racing. "Last year the grip level at Laguna was very high, different to all the other tracks, so much so that there wasn't much of a difference in lap times with race tires and qualifying tires, both for us and for our competitors.

"Last year there was no chance to test the new surface before the race and the new asphalt was very aggressive on tires. We had to use the hardest compounds we had which still weren't hard enough, so we suffered from a lack of performance. Therefore the compounds we will use this year will be much harder.

"Of course, we don't know exactly how Laguna's grip characteristics have changed since we were last there, but we expect the surface will still be demanding, though probably slightly less so. The circuit gets used quite a lot for driving schools and so on, but there's not so much top-level motorsport there due to local noise restrictions.

"In some ways the track is quite similar to the Sachsenring because it is tight and undulating. The constructions we use are similar to the Sachsenring but due to the aggressive surface the compounds are harder.I would say that the left side of the tires get a similar amount of stress as the right side gets at Catalunya. The track's up-and-down nature also affects tire compounds because the uphill sections mean more stress for the rear and the downhill sections more stress for the front.The track isn't so demanding on the right side. The track is asymmetric, but not as asymmetric as the Sachsenring. Laguna isn't as tough as Sachsenring for the front tire but it's tougher than Catalunya.

"Traction is really important at Laguna, like everywhere now. Recent developments in machinery allow riders to open the throttle quite wide even when they are at full lean. This is due to development of the bikes and the electronics, so our job is to give our riders as much acceleration traction as possible, even at maximum angle.

"After Laguna we get a bit of a summer break but the work goes on at Michelin. I don't think the tire manufacturers ever stop working. After the next race in the Czech Republic there's an important test session at Brno, so we have to prepare for that as well as for the Brno race."

Recent winners of the United States GP
2007 Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici), 44:20.325
2006 Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 45:04.867
2005 Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), 45:15.374

Laguna Seca: 3.610km/2.243 miles
Lap record: Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici), 1:22.542, 157.447km/h (2007)
Pole position 2007: Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici), 1:22.292

Michelin MotoGP riders 2008
Randy de Puniet (Honda LCR RC212V-Michelin)
Andrea Dovizioso (JiR Team Scot Honda RC212V-Michelin)
Colin Edwards (Yamaha Tech 3YZR-M1-Michelin)
Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V-Michelin)
Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin)
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol HondaRC212V-Michelin)
James Toseland (Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1-Michelin)