Preparations for Michelin’s expanded involvement in IMSA have continued, with the completion of recent track days for teams and the finalization of tire selections for the 2019 seasons.
The French tire giant will become the official tire of IMSA next year with the exclusive supply in the DPi, LMP2 and GT Daytona classes of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, as well as the newly named Michelin Pilot Challenge and LMP3-only Prototype Challenge series.
With four ‘On Track Opportunities’ already completed for teams to sample Michelin’s lineup of tires, next month’s next-to-last opportunity on the Monday following the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans, is expected to see increased participation, according to Michelin North America motorsports director Chris Baker.
Michelin has added an on-track opportunity at Daytona for Dec. 11. Unlike the previous track days that was open to one car per manufacturer, the Oct. 15 and Dec. 11 opportunities at Road Atlanta and DIS will be offered to one car per team.
“We expect a much bigger subscription to those opportunities,” Baker told Sportscar365.
“Subscription rates for our track opportunities have been modest. But that will be different for the [October] 15th and [December] 11th track days.
“We expect to see a larger number of prototypes and see more GT Daytona and GS cars.”
Baker said he’s been pleased with the feedback from teams that have taken part in the track days so far, with very informative outings at Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Road America and Daytona.
While having been an established and trusted partner with teams and manufacturers in the GT Le Mans class — which remains an open tire category — the on track opportunities have oftentimes been Michelin’s first chance to work with many of the teams in the other classes.
“The feedback from teams there has been pretty good,” Baker said. “It’s what we strive for in the design and conception process, but you never know what you’re going to get until you put tires and cars on the track.
“You can simulate until you’re blue in the face but you don’t capture everything and you certainly can’t get the subjective driver feedback that you need.”
Tire Selections Getting Close for 2019
Baker said the IMSA tire selections have more-or-less been set and features a mix of WEC-spec and commercial tire options depending on the class.
DPi and LMP2 may feature up to three different compounds over the course of the season, with potentially a WEC-spec medium compound and IMSA-specific medium and hot/hard options.
GTD teams, as well as the GS and TCR-spec machinery running in the Michelin Pilot Challenge, will have two different options from the ‘M’ range of customer race tires, in the S8 and S9 compounds.
The same family of S8 and S9s, meanwhile, will be equipped on LMP3 machinery in IPC.
As is currently the case with Continental, a single compound for all classes outside of GTLM will be designated prior to each event, although Baker indicated that certain cars may run with a “fixed mix” for optimized balance. Nothing has been set in stone as of yet.
“I’ve said publicly a number of times, we’re interested in offering different tire options at some point, but as we’ve discussed with our partners at IMSA, we will work closely together to keep things simple in the early going,” Baker said.
“We’re going to be around for a while and this gives us the opportunity to experiment with some stuff that enables the teams, in a creative way, to execute different race strategies, something that maybe makes the show better, as we have seen in other motorsports disciplines in which we participate.”
While largely new to teams in North America, Michelin’s S8 and S9 compounds are the same used in championships across Europe and Asia, including the European Le Mans Series (LMP3), Michelin Le Mans Cup (LMP3/GT3) and Asian Le Mans Series (LMP3, GT3).
Baker said the track days have been crucial in proving the line of tires on some of the high-demanding circuits in the U.S.
“While we have a ton of simulation data and we have good experience outside of North America, our tracks on the IMSA schedule are different,” he said.
“It really matters. These old gnarly natural-terrain courses which largely populate our schedule are not like you find in Europe and in Asia. We have to adapt in some cases, extending the range of our WEC offer, for example.
“The very gratifying news for us is that there seems to be a universal theme [from teams], whether it’s a TCR chassis, a GT4 car, a LMP3 car or a GTD car, that they’re multi-dimensional tires.
“You can brake and turn. You can lay down driving torque and turn. You don’t have to get everything done in a segregated way and that helps us out from a raceability point of view.”