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Michelin IMSA Insider: Fast and Slow

A look at Michelin’s record-breaking start to its tenure as Official Tire of IMSA…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

The opening rounds of the 2019 IMSA season have gone by quickly, perhaps in more ways than one. Now in its first season as the official tire of IMSA, Michelin has helped teams set new lap records in each of the first three event weekends.

One of the first records to fall was a big one, as Mazda Team Joest’s Oliver Jarvis broke the WeatherTech Championship Daytona International Speedway lap record by nearly 2.4 seconds, to take down the 26-year-old all-time lap record of Dan Gurney’s All American Racers Toyota Eagle in the process.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Everyone Plays

The good news for teams and fans is that the records aren’t falling to just one or two cars.

At Daytona, and again at Sebring, nine of the 11 DPi entries bettered the old qualifying and race lap marks and that improved to 10 of 11 cars at Long Beach.

Acura Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves shaved 1.59 seconds off the previous Long Beach qualifying mark of 1:12.922 and Action Express Cadillac’s Pipo Derani took 1.56 seconds off the race lap mark.

“Michelin this year came with an amazing set of tires. So far everywhere we are going, we are so much faster than last year,” Castroneves said.

“The construction and technicality is there with the difference between last year and now at Daytona, Sebring and Long Beach. We can go anywhere from one to two seconds (faster) depending on the circuit.”

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

GTs Also Quick with Michelin

The commercial range of Michelin slicks are featured in the GT Daytona and the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge GS class where all 23 GTD cars bettered the race lap record at Daytona.

In MICHELIN Pilot Challenge competition at Daytona, 32 of the 35 GS cars beat the old race lap mark and records also fell in the front wheel drive TCR class.

“It was encouraging to see the progress that the GTD and GS teams made at Daytona and Sebring between the race and qualifying,” said Ken Payne, technical director, motorsport, Michelin North America.

“The TCR guys all asked to run our hard tires and reduced both tire sets and lap times.”

“Change is hard and some of the teams have been more receptive than others to providing data and working with our motorsport tire specialists and engineers, but the nature of racing is all about change and when you see the other guys going quicker, eventually teams become more open to a slightly different approach.

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Times Not the Target

Ironically, the powerful, factory backed GT Le Mans teams, all longtime Michelin technical partners, have seen smaller, one-half second per lap improvements at Daytona, Sebring, and Long Beach where the previous records had been set with Michelin.

“We didn’t go into the IMSA season looking for records, and we certainly don’t expect records at every race,” said Payne.

“We were, and are, far more focused on building relationships and experience with teams to develop consistency and optimize tire related vehicle performance. Our experience is that if we can help teams optimize tire performance, then lap times may eventually follow.”

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Nothing for Granted

“There is a long way to go in the season, and we take nothing for granted,” Payne added.

“We are still learning every day. Each track is unique in its demands and the most technically difficult circuits are still ahead. We don’t spend any time thinking about records.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about how to help dozens of teams that we have never worked with before optimize tire performance at some of these circuits.”

“Away from the track and in the paddock, we try to slow things down and take it one car, one lap, one race at a time.”

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