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Will teams run the entire race on one set of soft Michelin tires?

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Many things can change in the 100 minutes of racing through the streets of Long Beach during the second event of the 2010 American Le Mans Series season next Saturday, April 17. But, one thing that several Michelin technical partner teams may not change is their set of Michelin racing tires.  

Michelin technical partner prototype teams from Highcroft HPD, Aston Martin, Drayson Racing and Team CytoSport are likely to choose the highly acclaimed Michelin ‘street soft’ tires that have delivered victories at every American Le Mans Series street race since their introduction in 2008.

A closely bunched GT class field, including factory entries from Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, Corvette, and Jaguar makes the extra time required for a tire change costly as it could lead to the loss of track position. Under ALMS rules, teams cannot refuel and change tires at the same time. The Michelin outfitted Tafel Racing Ferrari won the class in the 2008 Long Beach race without a tire change.

Four tire makers have entries in the GT class for the second race of the 2010 ALMS season, so teams will be searching for every advantage. Running very soft compound tires may provide an edge in qualifying, but if the performance falls off, cars would be vulnerable to attack and risk excessive pickup on tires when forced off line in traffic.

“Michelin has worked very hard to develop tires that provide both very high levels of grip and extended wear for our technical partner teams,” said Karl Koenigstein, Michelin ALMS technical team leader.

The biggest single factor may well be the timing of any yellow caution flag periods. Two car teams may have the option of splitting their race strategies.

One thing certain to change is the grip level of the track surface. The ALMS first practice is very early (7:45 a.m.) Friday morning. “In the first practice, the ALMS cars will become the world’s most expensive street sweepers, as the circuit is cold and dusty and it takes a while to build up the grip level on the track,” said Koenigstein. 

The ALMS cars return to the circuit at 5:00 p.m. for practice and qualifying. By then the track will have evolved and is likely to be hotter and a bit slicker. There is no race day warm up for ALMS and the race starts at 4:40 p.m. so the track will have had a build up of rubber from other series events throughout the day on Saturday.

“Everyone will be looking for grip and soft tires are a good way to find grip, the question is the wear rate,” said Koenigstein. “This is the shortest race of the year, and there are 35 cars entered, so you have a lot of unknowns.”

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