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IMSA Insider: Michelin Innovation Never Stops

A look at the development of Michelin’s ‘Street Soft’ tire used in American Le Mans Series…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Michelin’s long record of innovation continues to move forward since becoming the Official Tire of IMSA in late 2018.

With the responsibility to provide fast, consistent, long-lasting tires and support for five IMSA series, Michelin works continuously to support IMSA’s growing fields and diverse technical demands.

The latest example of innovative solutions will play out during this weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in a story that began more than a decade and a half ago.

Photo: Audi

A Surprising Problem

The revolutionary Audi R10 TDi diesel conquered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2006. But the powerful Joest Audi LMP prototype team did not enjoy its trip to the 2007 Long Beach Grand Prix.

They got beat, and not just by a little. The big Audi LMP1 struggled in the tight hairpin at turn 11 onto Shoreline Drive and trailed a half dozen of the lighter, nimbler LMP2 entries home.

Photo: Audi

Discovering a Solution

The street circuits of St. Petersburg and Detroit joined Long Beach on the 2008 American Le Mans Series schedule. So, Audi moved a fall 2007 tire development test from Europe to Road Atlanta.

There, factory drivers Allan McNish and Dindo Capello spent three long days testing and evaluating a myriad of Michelin tire constructions and tread compounds. This was during the era of open tire development.

Along the way, McNish noted that one unique tire construction could be a big benefit on the street circuits if combined with a soft tread compound. A single test set was soon produced, and hand carried by a Michelin engineer to the next test in Europe.

The test results were promising, and the new tire, informally dubbed the “street soft” was put into limited production as an option for 2008.

The Audi LMP1 of Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr successfully introduced the newest tire on the street circuit at St. Petersburg the following Spring. They claimed the win after securing the pole with a stunning lap of 1:02.825, less than eight-tenths of a second off the fastest IndyCar time of the entire weekend.

Despite starting sixth and seventh, the Audis then delivered a 1-2 finish at Long Beach.

A few years later, Michelin introduced a newer generation of “street softs” for the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Honda prototype. The team won the final three Long Beach pre-merger events.

All of which leads us to this week.

Photo: Gavin Baker/IMSA

Attack Today

To support IMSA’s major commitment to sustainability, Michelin created a new generation of tires to maintain consistent performance over extended stints. Race tire allocations were reduced by 30 percent for the exciting hybrid GTP class in 2023.

Now, as the GTP prototypes return for their second season at Long Beach, Michelin will provide them with its “soft” compound Pilot Sport tires.

The softs are designed provide quicker warm-up and extra grip on temporary street circuits like Long Beach and Detroit and give drivers more confidence at the start, on out-laps and restarts.

To help GTP teams to attack the 1.968-mile temporary circuit, IMSA has adjusted the GTP weekend tire allocation to permit use of three of the four allotted set tires in qualifying and the 100-minute race.

With quicker tire warm up, a more aggressive Michelin compound and a third set of tires now available, the GTP cars can choose to be on full attack for the entire race.

The IMSA GTD teams also have new tires for 2024. Allocations are reduced by 17 percent with the new Michelin Pilot Sport GT tires.

Whether in open competition, or as a single source supplier, the Michelin commitment to innovation never stops.

The latest news, photos and video features from the trusted Sportscar365 web staff.

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