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GP Week : Issue 20
TREADED racing tyres made a surprise come-back at Laguna Seca, when beleaguered Michelin runners switched to intermediate tyres in full dry conditions on the second practice day in a desperate attempt to find some grip and get some lap times. The French tyre company faced severe problems, after bringing a range of rubber unsuitable for the conditions. Based on the experience of previous years, engineers had catered for hotter conditions and poor surface grip, selecting a range of hard compounds. Riders found it would take many laps to get them up to working temperature, and sometimes this would hardly happen at all. The situation revived horrific memories of F1’s notorious ‘Indygate’ of 2005, when all 14 Michelin runners retired from the 2005 car GP at Indianapolis, leaving the race to just six cars on Bridgestone. Drivers pitted after the start, after Michelin advised them it could not guarantee the safety of its tyres, following failures during practice. The situation was not so acute on two wheels, but left riders fuming, particularly Nicky Hayden, who said a pre-test had been arranged, with a bike available and ex-GP racer Doug Chandler (from nearby Salinas) ready to take up duties, but that Michelin had not taken the opportunity. Hayden was flummoxed when he saw the choice available from which to pick his 18 front and 22 rear tyres on Thursday. “I said: ‘This is way too hard.’ And Michelin said: ‘Well, we don’t have nothing softer.’ They admitted they’d got it wrong,” said Hayden. The hard compounds were unable to get to working temperature. For the first time ever, Hayden said, the team had asked him to get more heat into the tyres. “Normally, it’s the opposite,” he said, adding bitterly: “I can’t say we’re surprised. This was our worst race last year and when you don’t come here and test and you don’t put in the work … it’d be like Honda having a problem, and not testing.” Switching to the cut slick/ intermediate tyres helped Hayden to place second on race tyres on day one, among a sextet of Bridgestone runners, but was never going to be a solution. Michelin’s race boss Jean- Philippe Weber accepted the blame, saying the company had been too conservative, erring on the side of caution in basing the tyre selection on extreme conditions from previous years. “We made tyres mainly based on the problems we had last year. We shouldn’t even have thought about this problem and then we would have been better,” he said. Frustratingly, they could have made tyres that would have worked. “I know we have the technical solution. And this is racing. Racing is mainly technology, but we see that it’s also strategy,” he said. As for the proposed Laguna test, the talk with Hayden had come “already too late to put the bikes in the box and also to send the tyres from Europe.” Michelin cops a beating in tyre wars “Mad” US circuit is good and bad LAGUNA Seca’s air fence took quite a battering on the approach to Turn Three, proving its value once again especially for frequent faller Anthony West and veteran Shinya Nakano, both of whom struck the inflatable barrier at high speed during practice. West’s Kawasaki ploughed into the fence behind him and ripped a hole in the side, and the session was stopped for 15 minutes while the section was replaced. It was an accident black spot at a notoriously tricky circuit, where vertical elevations add almost constant complication, and the shortest lap of the year keeps riders almost constantly busy. Wildcard Ben Spies had an almost identical crash at the same place. Others to fall in the lead up to the race, although at different places, were Kawasaki replacement rider Jamie Hacking, and satellite Honda rider and track debutant Alex de Angelis, who broke his thumb in a high-sider coming down the hill during qualifying, bravely returning the next day. Laguna generally elicits extreme reactions from first- timers, another of whom was Andrea Dovizioso. It was, he said, “a mad track – in a good and a bad way.” It was also Jorge Lorenzo’s first race there, and he cited the ultra-fast and completely blind Turn One as the most daunting corner, even over the notorious Corkscrew, plunging steeply downhill while flicking left and then right. The equally notorious bumps didn’t occasion the usual criticism, while Rossi (formerly a stern critic) praised the improvements made in safety since the first return to the track in 2005. Largely at the instigation of the Riders Safety Commission of which he is a key founder member, significant improvements are on the run up and over the hill towards the Corkscrew, where more run-off area and a better line of sight have been clawed back from the hillside. M oto GP news >> 13