Michelin has checked off several “firsts” in the first half of the 2019 IMSA season, before the break for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The latest “first” comes with Michelin’s return to The Raceway on Belle Isle Park in Detroit this weekend, for the first time since 2008 (pictured above).
While not a “new event” in the traditional sense – Belle Isle has hosted sports car racing in 2007 and 2008, and continuously since 2012 – it is largely a new event for Michelin.
The last time Michelin was here was with the American Le Mans Series in 2007 and 2008. Those races ran on a different circuit configuration and with previous generations of tires, prototypes and GT cars. But even without racing here, Michelin has still explored Detroit behind the scenes.
Small Field, but Still a New Event to Add
Before Michelin could even begin to make a presentation to IMSA to become its new Official Tire for 2019, Michelin had spent months researching each step along the path to be certain that it could commit the technical resources, production capacity and logistical support necessary to meet IMSA’s growing needs.
Michelin had to estimate the quantities of tires that would be needed. Where Michelin GT Le Mans class teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship used roughly 2,200 to 3,000 tires in competition and testing during an IMSA season, Michelin’s estimated total for all of IMSA 2019 approaches 30,000 race tires.
Only when those resources were confirmed could Michelin make its presentation to IMSA.
Detroit is one of the smaller events in terms of tires needed, with just the WeatherTech Championship DPi and GT Daytona class cars entered for the one-hour, 40-minute race. The DPi cars receive nine sets and GT Daytona six sets for the weekend.
Site Visit Ahead of 2019 Race
Michelin utilized the 2018 Detroit weekend to prepare for 2019 on the ground.
Several Michelin North America motorsport team members attended the 2018 race to get an understanding of how the event runs. Similar to the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Detroit race is a shared weekend where both IMSA and IndyCar are on the docket.
Long Beach has a smaller paddock and pit lane whereas Detroit’s paddock and pit lane are more aligned with a normal IMSA venue.
Ken Payne, technical director, motorsport, Michelin North America, explained the importance of the site visit last year.
“It was helpful to pay a visit to the event last year, and it’ll be refreshing for a street race to have so much space on pit lane,” Payne said.
“(Detroit has) something that is much more resembling a racing circuit pit lane in terms of space. Operationally, that’s better.
“But it’ll be a little challenging… there is not an abundance of paddock space. Nevertheless, from a trackside operations standpoint, it will be far more like a normal (IMSA) event rather than the unique nature of Long Beach.”
Michelin and the Automotive Industry in Detroit
A big part of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA is tied to its relationships with the car makers.
So, with General Motors headquarters in plain sight, it has been painful for Michelin to simply watch the races here in Detroit for the past several years while its Corvette, Ford and other GTLM teams are off to Le Mans.
All that changes in 2019, as MICHELIN is here with both the DPi and GTD cars.
Michelin and IMSA already had a significant event in Detroit earlier this year. At the North American International Auto Show in January, Michelin highlighted its increased partnership with IMSA at its display and for its annual press conference.
Cadillac was the highlighted marque, and Wayne Taylor Racing displayed its No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R show car.
Somewhat fittingly, the No. 10 Taylor Cadillac then won its first race with Michelin to open the 2019 season at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Cadillac enters Detroit having won the last two races at the track in 2017 and 2018.
Finding the Grip on Another Street Course
Long Beach and Detroit are street courses, with concrete barriers lurking at every turn. And that’s where the similarities end.
“The temperatures are all over the road map,” Payne said. “It’ll be one where we’re paying attention to data as we gather it in real time, and with teams figuring out adjustments and where they need to go on cambers and pressures within our permitted operating windows.”
“It’s a brand-new race for us. We get fairly limited track time sprinkled throughout the day, so the time of day for practice and qualifying might not be as relevant to the race.”
The semi-confidential IMSA Medium tire premiered at Long Beach for DPi competitors.
But this race is the first street course event for GTD competitors with MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport GT S8M (medium) commercial tire. Some Long Beach data transfer is translatable to Detroit, but not all of it.
“We’ll have learned a bit from the performance of the semi-confidential product prototype range, learnings which can be applied in a limited way to the commercial range GTD tire at Detroit,” Payne explained.
“It’ll be a steep learning curve for us for us for the first time in ages. For the bulk of our team supporting the race, the majority won’t have been to the street race at Detroit before.”
So there it is. Detroit is a different animal of new in a year of firsts and newness for Michelin in the 2019 IMSA season.
But it is still a place with successful history to build on, in the last event before the post-Le Mans madness when the pace and frequency of IMSA race intensifies.