Le Mans 24 Hours : A doubly vital test for Michelin
For Michelin, which is this year targeting an 11th straight win in the French endurance classic, the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours has already begun with the production of some 8,000 tires for the world's greatest motor race. This weekend, Michelin will be at Le Mans for the traditional preliminary test day which is organized before each year's 24 -hour competition. As far as tires are concerned, these tests are of significant importance since they give the 40-plus teams running on Michelin's products their first chance to test the rubber that the French tire firm will be making available for the weekend of the race (June 14-15).
|Start of 2007 24 Hours of Lemans|
Victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours, which uses a circuit that is opened only for the race and the official test day, calls for tires that are able to cope with speeds of up to 330kph and also take average speeds of more than 215kph in their stride. Above all, they must be capable of delivering consistent performance over three or even four stints, which represents a distance of more than 500km.
The Manager of Michelin Competition's Four-wheel Programs Matthieu Bonardel explains why the preliminary test day at Le Mans is so important:
Factories in Clermont-Ferrand are working at full capacity "Given the quantity of tires we need to produce for the Le Mans 24 Hours, we cannot afford to wait for program results of the preliminary test day before giving the green light for production to begin. The final specifications have already been decided and our factories in Clermont-Ferrand are working at full capacity to produce the 8,000 or so Michelin tires that we will be making available at Le Mans to cover the different possible scenarios.
Three or four different slicks for each category "That said, we will have samples at the preliminary test day of all the products we have produced with a view to giving each of our teams one or two sets of each type. We will have three or four different slicks for each category, so with sixteen different slicks in total it promises to be a busy day for Michelin. If it rains, our program will be just as active because we will also have three or four different types of rain tire for each car…
Understand the difference between different tires and adapt the set-up "For our partner teams, this test is of significant importance on two accounts. To begin with, it allows them to understand the differences between all the different tires that are available. It will also enable them to begin adapting the set-up of their respective cars to these tires since their specifications are the same as the products they will have for the race itself.
"Meanwhile, our technicians profit from the test day to determine the situations in which they will be able switch from one type of tire to another. For example, they will seek to establish the temperatures at which they can pass from a hard to a medium compound, or from a medium to a soft compound.
"Given the little amount of time we have to carry out all this work, we need to produce a plan in association with our partner teams, especially when it comes to estimating the number of stints a particular set of tires is capable of covering. For this sort of work, we often switch tires from one car to another in the course of the day."
"In an ideal world, we should be able to say after the preliminary test day how many stints each car can cover, and also know at what temperatures thresholds the teams should be looking to change from one compound to another."
Michelin tires unbeaten at Le Mans since 1998
The 1978 race saw Michelin notch up its first Le Mans success of the modern era with Alpine-Renault. This result highlighted the value of the close, long term working relationship it enjoyed with the French carmaker. Since then, Porsche, BMW, Sauber-Mercedes, Peugeot, Toyota, McLaren, Bentley and Audi have all placed their faith in Michelin tires in their successive bids to win this unique race. In association with these prestigious partners, Michelin has won the Le Mans 24 Hours on 16 occasions, including an unbroken sequence of 10 consecutive victories since 1998!
Le Mans 24 Hours preliminary test day
Friday May 30:
10am-6pm: administrative and technical scrutineering (at the circuit)
Saturday May 31:
9am-3pm: administrative and technical scrutineering (at the circuit)
4pm: drivers' and team managers' briefing
Sunday June 1:
9am-1pm, and 2pm-6pm: 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours testing