CLERMONT-FERRAND, France - Michelin's motorcycle racing director Nicolas Goubert reveals the secrets behind Michelin's MotoGP qualifying tires:
What is the difference between Michelin race tires and qualifying tires? Do you only change compounds?
The main parameter we change is compound, but we do also change construction. Qualifying tires aren't designed to last for very long, we know that our riders will only do one or two fast laps with them, so we don't need to worry too much about tire temperature or the endurance of the compound and carcass.
Describe the rubber used in qualifying tires. Is it merely softer?
First of all, we should say that talking about soft rubber and hard rubber doesn't actually mean much because everything is related to the temperature of the rubber itself. You can have rubber which is hard at low temperatures but becomes very soft at high temperatures, or you can create rubber that is soft at low temperatures but evolves less at high temperatures, so it will end up harder than the other tire. What you need from a qualifying tire is very quick warm-up performance, plus rubber that will be soft and grippy straight out of the tire warmers, at around 90 degrees.
How does the construction of a Michelin qualifying tire differ from a race tire?
Usually, qualifying tires use a softer carcass because our aim is always to create the biggest contact patch possible, and you'll get a bigger footprint if the carcass flexes more. In these circumstances that's okay, because the durability of the carcass isn't a real concern. Of course, you can't go drastically different because that would require changing bike settings and teams don't have time to do that in qualifying. So we play a little with construction but not too much.
How long do Michelin race tires and qualifying tires take to reach full potential?
Obviously this depends on track layout, surface, weather conditions and so on, but on average we would say that a race tire takes one or two laps before it reaches its maximum potential, while a qualifying tire reaches its maximum potential after maybe three corners. If we give a rider a really soft qualifier we ask him not to give 100 per cent during his out lap. To save the tire, we ask him to give 100 per cent only a couple of corners before the start of his first flying lap. It's important to try hard through those corners to gain maximum speed down the start-finish on his fast lap.
Do teams make any settings adjustments for qualifying tires?
Most don't, purely due to lack of time. Perhaps if someone was really focusing upon qualifying times, maybe they would change settings a little bit here and there, but most of them don't take the time to do it.
As MotoGP grids get closer and as the tire war heats up, will qualifying get more and more important?
I wouldn't say more and more important. It's quite important but this isn't car racing, so riders can still win races if they don't start from the front row. We've seen that with Valentino (Rossi, Camel Yamaha YZR-M1-Michelin) and we saw it in Turkey earlier this year when Marco (Melandri, Fortuna Honda RC211V-Michelin) won from the fifth row. Of course, it is psychologically important for the rider to be on the front row but positions can totally change within a lap or two.
What aspects of performance does a Michelin qualifying tire improve?
The extra grip available maybe improves corner entry a little, but the main differences are grip at maximum lean angle and, most of all, corner-exit traction.
Some riders are better than others at exploiting qualifying tires. Why is that?
I would say that using qualifying tires is a very specific exercise. Some riders don't like to fully exploit their bike/tire package from the very first lap. Usually it's these guys who aren't the best on qualifiers, they prefer to ease up to maximum speed. Valentino is a good example. I'm not saying he's not good on qualifiers because he's good everywhere but when you see what he can do on race tires, you would think he would be unbeatable on qualifiers. But he doesn't like to give 100 per cent until he's comfortable with the bike and track conditions. There are a few guys who seem to gain an advantage with qualifiers, maybe Loris (Capirossi, Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici) and it seems like Casey (Stoner, LCR Honda RC211V-Michelin) has the potential to do this. Whenever Casey goes out, whether it's on qualifiers or race tires, you can be sure he will use the tires' maximum potential right away.
Why doesn't Michelin produce rain qualifying tires?They would be easy enough to produce. Maybe some of our rivals have already made rain qualifiers! But we have no plans to do that.And what about front qualifiers, will we
Why doesn't Michelin produce qualifying rain tires?
They would be easy enough to produce. Maybe some of our rivals have already made rain qualifiers! But we have no plans to do that.
And what about front qualifiers, will we see them in the future?
Here again, it wouldn't be that difficult to build a front qualifier, but riders would need time to get used to it on different circuits and to be fully confident with it. Riders always find it more tricky to exploit the full performance of a front tire. We have never used front qualifiers but Capirossi used to use the softest front race tire available during qualifying when he was riding 500s for Sito Pons. He had confidence in that tire because he had raced with it once or twice. But if riders wanted to use front qualifiers and had the opportunity to get comfortable with them, for sure it would be an advantage. We have never wanted to put too much emphasis on qualifying tires. In fact we've never really been happy with the whole concept of qualifying tires. They may improve lap times during qualifying but they also reduce the amount of time available to riders to work on race set-up, which is much more important. We use qualifiers because to be competitive we have to, but they don't improve the show for the fans and they do raise safety issues; if a rider is out on a qualifier which he knows will only do one good lap, he will do just about anything to overtake any slower riders on that lap.
When did Michelin start using qualifying tires?
We first started using them in World Superbike, after the introduction of Super Pole (which allows riders just one qualifying lap). We didn't need them in GPs until some of our rivals started using them. We started using qualifiers in 500s in 1999.
How many qualifiers do you give each Michelin rider?
We started with two tires per rider per event but then we realized that some of our competitors were feeding their riders more qualifiers, so we had to follow suit or risk not getting on the front row. Since the middle of last year we supply each rider with three qualifiers, though not all riders always use their full allocation. Sometimes we may supply a qualifier to a rider who's looking to see if some extra grip will help him solve a problem or give him more information. At the Spanish GP we gave Casey Stoner a qualifier on Saturday morning, simply because he had never even used one before, so he needed to see what it would be like.