Michelin comes with grip at Petit Le Mans
Michelin and its technical partner teams head to a torturous track for the 10-Hour/1000-Mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, October 20, the final race of a highly competitive American Le Mans Series season, looking to close out a pair a major championships and introduce a radical car to American competition.
The Nissan DeltaWing, the most radical car of the past 40 years, will make its American competition debut in the event. Designed to race at half the horsepower, weight, fuel and tire use of conventional prototypes, the car captivated the fans and international media at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Michelin became the first major technical partner for the DeltaWing program announced at last year’s Petit Le Mans and created special four-inch wide front tires to enable the radical vehicle design. By comparison, Michelin front tires for the 2012 Le Mans winning Audi R18 e-tron quattro measure more than 14 inches wide. The car will race at Road Atlanta “unclassified” making it ineligible for points and awards.
Michelin and its technical partner teams lead the ALMS championships in both of the premier classes heading into Petit Le Mans. The Michelin technical partner Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Honda team earned six wins during the first nine ALMS events, and needs just a race finish classification to secure the ALMS P1 team, manufacturer, driver and tire championships.
“Road Atlanta is an incredibly demanding circuit,” said Karl Koenigstein, Michelin North American technical leader. “The teams add downforce to help the cars through the corners, but do not want to carry more aerodynamic drag than absolutely necessary as increasing downforce slows the cars on the long straightaways.”
Mechanical grip, especially tires, will be extremely important according to Koenigstein. “You can only get away with reduced downforce if the tires stay consistent, but if you lose grip as the run progresses, the drivers will have a more difficult time and the lap times will become increasingly inconsistent.”
That is where managing tire loads and temperatures, both traditional Michelin hallmarks, can make a big difference.
“Road Atlanta is one of the fastest and highest load circuits that we race on all year,” said Koenigstein. “This track offers the 'total package' from a tire's point of view — meaning the tire has to offer exceptional load capacity, temperature resistance, speed capability, wear life, and grip consistency. Miss on any one of those criteria, and your shortcomings will be on display for both the racers and the fans!”
Creating tires that can deliver maximum grip, consistency and long tread life is a challenge for Michelin and its rivals.
In the GT class, Michelin technical partner Corvette Racing has already secured the 2012 ALMS manufacturer, team and driver championships. Michelin teams have taken six GT class victories and 20 of 27 podiums in the nine previous events. Michelin technical partners Corvette Racing (4), Flying Lizard Porsche (1), Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari (1) and the new SRT Vipers will look to secure Michelin’s 13th consecutive ALMS GT tire championship.
“A race of 1,000 miles on a very demanding circuit like Road Atlanta is a fitting way to end the season,” said Koenigstein. “We have raced on a wide variety of courses presenting a number of technical challenges, in races ranging from 2 to 12 hours. The margins of victory are always very tight. Championships and wins in major races like Petit Le Mans, Sebring and Le Mans are always something to appreciate. You have to earn them every lap.”