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GP Week : Issue 162
23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The arrival mid-season of a completely reworked factory Honda is not without precedent, but it is a rare event nowadays. And it marks full circle in the saga of control tyres for MotoGP. They arrived in 2009, after the long-term failure of protracted efforts by Dorna to cut back on increasingly expensive tyre wars, between Michelin and Bridgestone, with Dunlop on the sidelines. Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta tried many times to get the tyre manufacturers to find a formula to limit the expenditure, not to mention the unfairness when Rossi and one or two other favourites would get a special Sunday tyre. The costs had reached giddy heights. On the one side, Bridgestone were throwing science at the matter, making huge quantities of tyres that after ten years or so of effort had taken the high ground. The Japanese company worked in difficult circumstances, in that their factory was in Japan and only one race there, so everything had to be done well in advance, with lots of guesswork and even more airfreight costs involved. To the company’s credit, they came up with a generation of tyres that worked over a broad range of conditions and surfaces. They had to make a lot of them, however, to cover all the bases. Michelin spent vast fortunes in a different way, able in Europe to react to conditions race by race, finally tailoring track-specific tyres for favoured riders after the weekend had begun, and trucking them overnight from their French facility to wherever they were racing in time for Sunday’s race. It was an interesting time for tyre designers. They were custom made not just for different makes of motorcycle but for individual riders, tracks and weather conditions. Then came Michelin’s disastrous misjudgement at Laguna Seca, too far away for the night-shift to correct, followed soon after by the imposition of control- tyre rules. This changed the ground rules. Numbers and types of tyres for each race were strictly limited: two compounds front and rear. Tyres became more durable, broader in focus, and less grippy. Circuit best laps invariably date back to 2008, when one-lap qualifiers were available ... they have yet to be beaten, in spite of an extra 200cc. More importantly, it quite shifted the design requirements. Until now, tyres had been designed to suit different bikes. Now, bikes had to be designed (or redesigned) to suit the tyres. There is one significant reason for Honda’s big mid-season change to an all-new bike. It is the new soft- construction front tyre, which for the factory riders has resulted in horrendous chatter problems. They had, said HRC boss Nakamoto, all but solved the rear chatter from early in the season. This was a whole new dimension of the destructive harmonic vibration. The cure was to go back to the drawing board. Tyre design driving bike design – has somebody put the cart before the horse? OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor TYRES: ROUND, BLACK AND A FULL CIRCLE OPINION