A gripping season powered by MICHELIN

A gripping season powered by MICHELIN


“They also told me that Daniel and I have scored more victories on Michelin tyres than any other crew. Our score apparently stands at 34 wins, compared with 23 for Tommi Mäkinen and 20 for Didier Auriol. A look at the complete list brought back a few memories of my Michelin years…

“Back in 2004, we were quite strong on asphalt but the gravel rounds much harder for us. We needed to sit back and take a hard look at what we were doing if we wanted to rival with Petter Solberg and his Subaru/Pirelli. We tried to analyse the situation and we fed our thoughts back to our partners at Michelin. We knew it wouldn’t take them long to react…

“Their response was the new ‘BTO’ gravel tyre which was launched in New Zealand in 2005. We realised straight away that this was what we needed. The ‘BTO’ was an extraordinary tyre which ended up establishing a new order on gravel. It was incredibly flexible and absorbed everything to remain in contact with the ground all the time. We suddenly found ourselves with incredible grip, both in a straight line – under acceleration and braking – and laterally, too. It was also a very precise tyre. Of course, this flexibility was only possible thanks to the ATS ‘mousse’ which minimised the amount of time you dropped if you picked up a puncture.

“ATS was a revolution in its day… Its banning brought an end to extremely flexible tyres and forced the tyre manufacturers to return to side walls that were sufficiently thick and rigid to resist puncturing.

“In 2005, there was a big battle between the tyre brands. They all had a wide range of products and I have to admit that I enjoyed this period and the tactical considerations it brought. There was always a chance that a judicious tyre choice could overturn an awkward situation into a win. Today, having a more level playing field because there are fewer choices is fine, too, but it can make things much less certain.

“Having said that, the fact that we are authorised to carry one or two spares and also mix hard and soft compounds on the car gives rise to more options than people may imagine. Take running two soft- and two hard-compound tyres, for example. Depending on the stage’s profile, you can put the ‘softs’ on the front, the back, the left, or the right, or even stagger them diagonally. Each solution has its advantages and shortcomings. If you run hards at the back, for example, the car tends to respond like a fork-lift truck and turn of its own accord. I usually prefer to put the softs at the back and use their grip to make the rear end more stable. When I do that, I push my front hard tyres hard to keep them hot. Putting different compounds on each side of the car is another interesting possibility which we tried in Germany for the first time last year. In that case, it is vital to constantly have at the back of your mind the fact that the handling is going to be different depending on which way you turn…

“There are also cases where you fit the different compounds diagonally. On the Rallye Monte-Carlo, for example, you might need to combine two soft asphalt tyres and two studded tyres to give you bite on ice. This bite obviously needs to be at the front AND the rear to prevent understeer or oversteer. It’s not as risky as you might imagine. In icy conditions, you’ve got less grip anyway, so there is less lateral weight transfer. Whether the studded tyre is on the inside or the outside through a corner, it still helps you to keep the car on its line…

“Whether you’re talking about the big ranges of compounds and patterns we used to have or the different combinations we run today, tyres are always an interesting parameter which can often influence the battle for victory.

“The end of the RallyRACC spells a holiday for us. Very soon, though, we will begin to turn our attention to the Rallye Monte-Carlo. We’ll be back to talk about that very soon!”


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