One of IMSA’s greatest strength is its tremendous roster of automakers. That roster holds great appeal and opportunity for Michelin and race fans.
As the paddocks at Road America fill for this weekend’s festivities, it may look like a car show has broken out in addition to the races.
While IndyCar features Chevrolet and Honda and NASCAR has Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota, there are 17 automaker brands competing in either the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Michelin Pilot Challenge or both.
Incredibly, heading into Road America, 14 manufacturers have already taken a class win and all 17 have scored at least one podium in IMSA competition this year.
The Road Less Traveled
Indy teams use either a Chevrolet or Honda IndyCar engine and the Dallara chassis, which has been used since 2012.
NASCAR teams all race on the new Next Gen car with Chevrolet, Ford, or Toyota power.
Providing a tire for use by identical cars is far different than the challenge Michelin faces in IMSA where there are 27 different chassis and engine combinations in 2022 competition.
“There are lot of variables with so many different combinations,” said Hans Emmel, Michelin’s IMSA WeatherTech series manager.
The Right Series
Michelin was traditionally reluctant to enter single tire specification series other than single maker series, like Porsche or Formula E.
The company preferred open competition to challenge its engineers and teams and to demonstrate its tire technical superiority on track.
The process of developing proprietary tires for each manufacturer, while very demanding, provided insights and deep relationships.
But in recent years few competitors were willing to enter or remain in open tire competition. Tire makers sought out series where they could focus their technical and marketing resources with no competitors present.
Michelin saw IMSA, with its alignment with the ACO and Le Mans, and a wide variety of cars, tracks, event durations, and conditions as the best opportunity in North America for Michelin.’
The Right Tire
Being the sole tire provider to the top IMSA championships is not without risk. “When you roll out the designated tire the first challenge is not to have advantaged or disadvantaged one or more of the manufacturers,” said Emmel.
With so many different chassis and engine combinations, there can be an outlier.
A car maker or team will not be happy if their cars are struggling while competitors are setting records. Michelin met that challenge with its Michelin Pilot Sport S8M and S9M commercial range of racing tires.
Preparing the Paddock
To help facilitate the switch to Michelin as the Official Tire of IMSA in 2019, the company hosted “on track opportunities” through the 2018 season and the non-points Encore at Sebring.
For 2019, Michelin flooded the IMSA paddocks and pit lanes with Michelin race tire engineers and Motorsport Tire Specialists to help teams optimize their performance with the Michelin tires.
One thing that Michelin did not do was to provide an unworthy tire. During the first full season of competition in 2019, Michelin broke more than 90 records. That number has grown to 211 entering this weekend.
“Seeing big fields and great fan attendance, every manufacturer having success, records being broken, and great competition is good for the sport and for Michelin,” said Emmel.
“Our culture is based on being a valued partner to the series, manufacturers, and teams, and to help deliver quality races for the fans.”