Black and round they may be but tyre performance is a major talking point at the moment, in both MotoGP and World Superbikes, with both Michelin and Pirelli having to work tirelessly – and answer a number of questions – in relation to their product.
The World Superbike Championship has seen two, high profile incidents at the last two rounds which will be of great concern to Pirelli and, obviously, the riders. Jonathan Rea’s rear tyre gave way on the high speed run down Craner Curves, which resulted in a high speed crash and one he was fortunate to get away with. That led to Pirelli withdrawing the harder SC1 option for the second race and making all riders run the softer SC0.
With a four-week gap until the next round at Misano, analysis was carried out as to why this had occurred only for Michael van der Mark to suffer a similar fate in the opening race in Italy. It denied him the possibility of claiming a debut WSB win and whilst both his and Rea’s were separate incidents in terms of different track condition and temperatures for example, there’s still clearly work to be done to ensure the Pirelli control tyre doesn’t fail again.
Rea’s rear tyre exploded whilst Van der Mark’s crash, a massive highside, was caused by a hole in the left hand side of the rear tyre. Also at Misano, the rear compounds also let down Rea, again, and Jordi Torres with the former stating afterwards he eased his pace with the possibility of another crash weighing on his mind.
Pirelli boss Georgio Barbier immediately stated that over the forthcoming days, they would be conducting the appropriate in depth investigations at their laboratories, an absolute necessity given the seriousness and ongoing issues, in order to resolve the problems.
“Our goal is to complete the in-depth analysis as quickly as possible in order to clarify the circumstances and causes of these occurrences. Our laboratories in Milan are already at work. Given the complexity of this analysis, a few days will be required to obtain results,” he said.
Pirelli will now only take tried and tested tyres to Laguna and not any development versions he added. The next round takes place on 7-9 July at Laguna Seca so, hopefully, the gap will give Pirelli the time they need as, clearly, no rider can ride fast or at their absolute maximum with the worry in the quality of material beneath them.
Michelin under pressure:
Meanwhile, in MotoGP, Michelin are facing a different problem in that their tyre performance is lacking consistency from round to round and across the manufacturers. Whilst temperatures at the recent Catalunyan round were extremely high, most riders went into the race facing the unknown in whether a) their tyres would last the full race distance and b) how quickly they’d go off. At one stage it was anticipated that lap times could drop by as much as three seconds over the course of the race.
Ducati and Honda fared best at Catalunya but seeing the factory Yamaha’s of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales outside of the top ten in qualifying and only eighth and tenth respectively in the race, clearly highlights an issue.
Vinales again experienced a return of pace in testing just one day after a disastrous race in Barcelona. The Spaniard was again at a loss to explain the turnaround in form after just one day but the same thing happened at Jerez where he laid the blame squarely at Michelin’s door.
The last thing MotoGP will want is the outcome of their races being determined by tyre performance. As we all know, this is often the case in Formula One cars where races are won and lost with tyre management and tyre strategy, both on the track and at the pit stops.
On the one hand having such unpredictable races is a good thing, particularly for the public as it keeps everyone entertained. Different winners and different riders disputing the lead have certainly added a new dimension to proceedings. However, the premier championship should see the best riders on the best bikes disputing the championship.
Michelin are only in their second season of being sole supplier so clearly have areas to work on as they re-acclimatise to being at the top level after several years away.
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Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.