Michelin teams top 100,000 miles in Le Mans race

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In the world of research and development, some days are more productive than others. Few, if any, days can match the scope of Michelin’s efforts in the world’s biggest race, the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 13-14, 2009), where the 41 Michelin technical partner entries in the 55-car starting field racked up a staggering 101,153 miles during the actual race.

Racing twice around the clock, Michelin technical partner teams from Peugeot, Audi, Aston Martin, Porsche, Mazda, Corvette, Ferrari and independent constructors racked up a total of 11,944 laps at the 8.469-mile long Circuit de la Sarthe during the 24-hour race.

Taking overall race honors for the 12th consecutive year, Michelin technical partner teams captured  the victories in all four race classes (Peugeot; Porsche; Corvette and Ferrari respectively), the MICHELN GREEN X Challenge award, and a sweep of the top 15 finishing positions overall. Teams at Le Mans are free to choose any tire and Dunlop, Pirelli, Hankook, and Yokohama also had entries.

The winning Peugeot 908 turbo V12 diesel prototype covered 382 laps or 3,235.158 miles, an average speed of 134.79 miles per hour for the 24 hours.

The technical challenges of Le Mans are considerable as the world’s premier automakers bring their most innovative new prototypes and GT models to Le Mans, providing Michelin with a wide range of front, mid-engine and rear-engine vehicles of various design, class, fuels, and power train. Michelin relishes the opportunity to work with the top engineers, designers, drivers and crews supporting each entry. Michelin assigns a tire engineer to each team to manage tires in the changing conditions, and gather tire performance data and insights.

Under the rules for Le Mans, teams are not allowed to change tires and refuel at the same time. New rules for 2009 reducing the number of air guns and crew members allowed for tire changes placed an additional premium on the ability to double-, triple- or even quadruple-stint tires during the race. Michelin technical partner teams were able to regularly triple- and even quadruple-stint tires, using the same set of tires for two and even three hours at a stretch while maintaining race pace.

“Can you imagine if you ever tried to create a similar development test, the costs of assembling these unique cars, teams, premier driver and crews at a mega track for a 24 hour race,” said Karl Koenigstein, Michelin American Le Mans Series technical team leader. “To be able to run all of these cars at the same time, on the same track under the same conditions provides a tremendous level of data and insight.”

“At Michelin, we always say that we ‘race to learn and we race to win’,” said Koenigstein. “Nowhere do we learn more than at Le Mans. In many ways, our success at Le Mans and in the ALMS is directly linked to what we learn from working with all of these incredible cars and teams.”

“We learn the most about tires by seeing them perform at the extremes and we feed everything that we learn right back into our technical centers for developing new tires for consumers as well as for our racing technical partners,” said Koenigstein. “When you leave Le Mans with all the trophies in hand, all of our technical partner teams happy and enough data to choke a supercomputer, you have had a great day.”

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