Michelin's Biabaud provides insight on 2006 racing programs

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As Groupe Michelin's new director of competition, Frederic Henry-Biabaud will lead Michelin's competition programs in Formula One, the World Rally Championship, MotoGP and sports car racing.

Most recently he was deputy director of competition, overseeing Michelin's World Rally Championship and sports car racing efforts, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series. He replaces Pierre Dupasquier, who retired at the end of the 2005 racing season.

With testing for Formula One and other series beginning, Henry-Biabaud offered an insight to his view of the upcoming challenges this year. Groupe Michelin supplied this release.

Question: Michelin had tremendous success in 2005 competition. What do you see as the keys to that success and how will you continue to be successful in 2006 and beyond?

Biabaud: We must help our partner teams reach for each championship one race at a time. We cannot be disappointed if we lose some, as long as we reach the goal at the end of the season. We hope to continue our success this year and beyond by working with very strong partners in each discipline where we compete. In Formula One, we have Mercedes, Renault, Honda and BMW. In Le Mans endurance, we have Audi, Corvette and Porsche.

Question: What are the biggest threats to your continued success?

Biabaud: In Formula One, our partners may have difficulties adapting to the new V8 engine regulations in terms of reliability and performance. As far as tires are concerned, the gap we established over our competitors will diminish because of the new regulations. But we are confident we will be able to maintain an advantage.

While we are confident of continuing our success in endurance racing because of our strong partners, we do see an increasing threat for motorsports in general. That is, our tire competitors who are using financial sponsorships to secure deals with very strong teams with top drivers.

Question: Why are you withdrawing from F1 competition?

Biabaud: Michelin has decided not to extend its involvement in Formula One beyond the 2006 season. This decision is the result of profound differences between Michelin's long-standing sporting philosophy and the way Formula One is managed by the regulating authorities, which no longer provide a clear and sustainable environment to justify long-term investments. Michelin thrives on competition. If we cannot compete head to head with other tiremakers, then the series is much less interesting to us.

Question: How much did events at the 2005 United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis hurt you?

Biabaud: Interestingly enough, we have seen that consumers in North America and Europe respected our commitment to safety. We also have seen that our programs to reimburse ticket holders and to purchase 20,000 for the 2006 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis have reinforced our image.

Question: What steps have you taken to recover and how can you be certain that the problems won't return in 2006?

Biabaud: Competition is not an exact science. However, we have taken the necessary steps to minimize our risks. Our partners' 18 wins in 2005, taking both driver and constructor championhips, prove the quality of our tires.

Question: Pierre Dupasquier was a well-known figure in motorsports for many years. What should people know about you and how you may be similar to and different from Pierre?

Biabaud: I am passionate about motorsports, which might seem at odds with my business-oriented background. But let me assure you that it is not. I have worked with Pierre for three years and consider racing as an investment as long as we are successful with our partners and in the eyes of the fans.

Question: Why have you switched your World Rally Championship program from the Michelin brand to BFGoodrich tires?

Biabaud: It is a strong strategic move. We want to dedicate more and more of our motorsport strategy towards circuit racing for Michelin brand and rally (Rally Raid and World Rally Championship) for BFGoodrich Tires brand. There will be no competition between brands, and all Michelin group resources in rally will be put behind BFGoodrich Tires to establish a solid record of performance.

Question: How do you transfer your learning from motorsports to consumer products?

Biabaud: From a technical point of view, the fact that motorsport always searches for limits of performance does bring some technical breakthroughs. They can then be used on consumer products. Motorsports competition also brings a very strong enrichment of the partnerships with our original equipment customers.

Questions: Have you considered entering NASCAR?

Biabaud: NASCAR is a spec-tire series, and Michelin thrives on head-to-head competition with a strong technical challenge.

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