DragonSpeed team principal Elton Julian says that LMP2 has turned into a “legit” tire war following his and two other teams’ decisions to make the switch to Michelin for the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The American squad, which previously campaigned Dunlop rubber in the European Le Mans Series, steps up to the globe-trotting series this year with entries in both prototype classes.
Having evaluated options from both brands, Julian said its decision to go with Michelin was part of a search for a “deeper relationship” with a tire manufacturer.
“We did a lot of testing in the winter with them, and when we made the switch, we made the commitment to go that direction, which was layered,” Julian told Sportscar365.
“It had to do with LMP1, LMP2, gentlemen driver needs and things like that.
“We were also looking for a deeper relationship with a tire brand than you’d get at Dunlop, really. It ticked all those boxes.”
DragonSpeed has joined Racing Team Nederland and Larbre Competition on Michelin rubber in LMP2 this year, alongside returning LMP2 entries from Jackie Chan DC Racing, Signatech Alpine Matmut and TDS Racing, which have all remained on Dunlops.
While the category’s philosophy has remained with customer-grade tires, Julian believes the competition has upped the game for both manufacturers.
“It’s probably one of the most interesting aspects of the class right now,” he said. “There are efforts coming from both brands, which is cool.
“I think Dunlop has made quite a sizable step up. We saw the step up from Michelin and it’s also really good.”
Jerome Mondain, manager of Michelin’s endurance racing programs, said that it has “completely overhauled” its LMP2 range for 2018.
“Our aim was to improve their performance without detracting from their outstanding level of consistency which was their chief strength last season,” he said.
“Our technical department seems to have pulled off this feat because the initial results have been highly positive.”
Julian said being tasked with developing the Michelin package for DragonSpeed “feels like real racing.”
The team completed multiple tests during the winter to help refine the French tire giant’s new offerings, which will also be used in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Prototype class beginning next year.
“It was cool to be in a P2 category where you’re doing tire development through the winter for a company like Michelin,” Julian said.
“That was really starting to make us use our brains and being asked, ‘What do you want?’ – we don’t get that asked very often anymore!”
Mutual Improvements Made During Winter
Racing Team Nederland driver Giedo van der Garde suggested that Michelin’s re-entry into the class has prompted Dunlop to make significant improvements to its own package.
The Dutch squad was one of the remaining teams on the fence for its tire choice, having trialled both options during the winter months.
“Michelin is really involved with the teams, trying to push hard,” Van der Garde told Sportscar365.
“We are also trying to push Michelin quite hard ourselves. We’ve done quite a few full days of testing and I must say I was pretty happy with the performance.
“I think Dunlop also changed their tires quite a bit and I think they have also made a good step. To me, the Michelin is very close to the Dunlop.
“We saw some pace in the first race of the ELMS and the Michelin was quite similar to the Dunlop, so I think it will be tight in WEC.”
On the other side, Jackie Chan DC Racing driver Ho-Pin Tung said that the Dunlop teams are “keeping a close eye” on what Michelin is doing.
“We are very happy with the partnership that we have with Dunlop at the same time, and they’ve been giving us some really great support,” Tung told Sportscar365.
“I think Dunlop has a made big step compared to last year. There’s still more in the pipeline and we’re still learning about the tire.
“There have been a few significant changes compared to last year that has given the team a bit more to work with.”
“At Paul Ricard, it was quite hard to judge because of the new surface so I think here in Spa will give us the first test to see how the tires compare to each other.”
John Dagys contributed to this report