The 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season sees further steps forward for Michelin, as the French tire manufacturer looks to continue its dominance in the globe-trotting championship.
Sixteen of the 33 entries in this weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone are Michelin-shod, which includes newcomers Ford Chip Ganassi Racing with its Ford GT.
Sportscar365 caught up with Michelin’s Endurance Racing Program Manager, Jérôme Mondain, to get his thoughts on the developments for 2016 and look ahead to what next year will bring in the new-look LMP2 class.
Can you give us an overview on what’s new for Michelin in the WEC this year?
“Basically everything is new! In terms of the regulation, we kept the same as last year. So basically that’s not a big evolution in terms of tire design. It’s just an evolution to cope with the evolution of the cars, both in LMP1 and GTE.
“We worked with all of our partners during the winter to develop the new range, but really that’s to fit. The baseline is last year’s tire. The evolution is quite deep as we develop a new compound and also a new casing for all of the GT and LMP1 cars.”
There’s a new manufacturer to the GTE ranks in Ford. How have you been working with them in developing the tires?
“Actually as Ford came quite late in the year, they were able to choose the tire that they want based on the existing range. We tried to go in the direction of what we had based on paper.
“We started to test, more to have a knowledge of the car in the U.S. by the end of last year. Really the purpose was to have a good baseline with our tire. After some testing, if we would have seen the range that we proposed were not adapting to the car, we would have developed a specific range.
“But what we saw with the first tests were quite satisfying for us and for them, so we used an existing range for them, but one that was developed during the winter time. So that’s a brand new tire; it’s not a tire from last year.”
While having technical partner teams in ELMS, you don’t currently have a LMP2 team in WEC. How big of an objective is it to link up with a LMP2 team in WEC?
“We want to be back in the race. We worked quite hard this winter with LMP2. It was not a decision, but we had more contacts with ELMS teams.
“So we had partners, and that is a good way for us to improve and to come back at the level we expect to be. And after next year, we’ll see for the WEC.
“But the ELMS, for us, is the right school to be in. We are happy to have four cars in ELMS, and we will be at Le Mans with the same four cars, so that’s the opportunity to see how we are against the WEC cars as well.”
Has the LMP2 tire gone through further development?
“Based on the regulations, we have three different tires. We worked on all three specs, obviously. We weren’t able to do three loops of development. We elected to do it this way.
“It’s really the first year since 2014 that we are able to complete the kind of development that we expect to have, and to have enough information to go in the right direction.
“It seems like we made significant steps in terms of performance, now we’ll see in Silverstone where we are.”
You have competition this year in LMP1 and GTE, for the first time in a number of seasons, with a few teams having switched to Dunlop…
“We’re happy. We prefer to have competition. We are sad to lose some cars, but on the other hand we are very happy to be able to compete.”
How are the WEC tires different from the IMSA specification?
“We have the same specification, especially for the more demanding race tracks. We had for Daytona and Sebring a dedicated tire which fit to that kind of race track, which is a bit different from the WEC race tracks and also the rest of the season in IMSA.
“So we used two different specs to fit to these two dedicated races. After, we will use the WEC spec. Then it’s just the split between the compounds, but basically the range is the same.”
How will the LMP1 tire restrictions, proposed for 2017, impact things in the future?
“It’s supposed to be like LMP2 regulations. There will be three sets for the free practice and four sets for the qualifying and race. Obviously it impacts the design of the tire because any tire will have to [be] double stinted.
“Already this year, we have to double stint. For example at Silverstone, we have six sets for the race, but it’s seven or eight stints, so it means that we have to complete a double stint.
“But the teams will be able to choose when they do this double stint. It should be at the end of the race when there is more rubber on the track and it becomes easier for the tire.
“It won’t be completely different, but we have to take into account designing a range that will be able to double stint from the start of the race with a decent pace.”
There’s new LMP2 regulations next year. There was initial talk it would be a spec tire but it will continue to be open tire competition in the WEC and ELMS. How important is that for Michelin?
“It’s very important because we like to compete. We intend to have the same thing as a car manufacturer, so we like to have competition with the tires.
“Next year it will be a big change because the car will be more powerful. In terms of tire, we will also change the size of the front tire. It will be like a GT tire, so 680 mm in overall diameter.
“So we start from a white page, and it’s very important for us to be competitive this year to have a good reference and a good baseline.”