With further tire limitations in LMP1 and GTE-Pro, Michelin has spent the off-season making developments to its range of tires for the FIA World Endurance Championship, while also working on enhancements in the other prototype categories.
LMP1 has seen a reduction to four sets of tires in each six-hour race, the same number which GTE-Pro teams will have to manage in the regular season races as well, all aimed to further reduce costs.
Sportscar365 caught up with Michelin’s Endurance Racing Program Manager, Jérôme Mondain, to get his thoughts on the changes, as well as explore the tire manufacturer’s initiatives in LMP2 and LMP1 non-hybrid.
It’s not just been the LMP1 class that’s seen a reduction in tire allowances, as GTE-Pro is also down from six to four sets for every six-hour race. What is your take on the changes there?
“It will not force them to do double stints all through the race but we will introduce the double stint strategy in GTE-Pro as well. It was also a big work to achieve during the winter. We followed the same philosophy as in LMP1, also in starting a bit earlier in the design.”
Do you think the tire reduction is a bigger challenge in LMP1 or GTE?
“It’s difficult to say. It’s a bit more challenging in GTE because we’re following the development of each car, but in the field of GT cars, we see more differences in the cars, in terms of design.
“The positioning of the engines are quite different so it means you have to adapt the tire close to the car. It’s really a different philosophy between the cars.
“The cars are also heavier and we know the GT cars are generally more demanding on tires, not in terms of load because LMP1 requires lots of technologies, but in terms of the diversity of the cars.
“We needed to focus on each car, and that was the most difficult thing.”
With different tires in IMSA this year, will those teams be able to test Michelin’s Le Mans-spec tire before the race?
“We’re working closely with Corvette and Ford as well, even though they obviously have a base in the UK. The drivers need to know the tire’s ability before and not just discover them at Le Mans.
“We already shipped some tires to the U.S. to be tested when they will have their own [pre-Le Mans] test sessions. They’ll be able to then optimize the tires during the test day at Le Mans. But they will not discover the car at Le Mans.
“Normally it was the same thing in the past, as the tire was sometimes different between the IMSA and Europe. It hasn’t changed that much in the way we normally do.”
How big of a step has Michelin made in the LMP2 tires for this year?
“We’ve been working a lot for LMP2 because we want to be back in the field. It’s true that we don’t have any cars in WEC so far but we have two partners in ELMS.
“We’re working a lot and are confident. I think some people saw the improvement we made over the winter.
“We have to prove it now. Who knows, maybe sometime during the year, one or two cars could switch. It’s possible from the regulations, now we have to show our potential.
“The proof will come from the track. Let’s see where we are for ELMS. The door is always open.”
Tell us about your new intermediate tire for LMP2…
“We changed a little bit of philosophy to adapt to adapt to the race conditions. We were very competitive with our full wet tire for a couple of years but we saw that it didn’t really stick to race strategy and how the races are managed.
“With the new cars and the new regulations, we started from completely [scratch]. We thought it was a good time to change a little bit of the strategy and to have an inter[mediate tire] to replace the extreme wet, when there wasn’t a real need right now.
Do you think it’s an exciting time for LMP2?
“The lap times are impressive. We’re seeing some of the characteristics of LMP1 cars from not a long time ago. It’s very fast.
“From our side, we had this to take into account for the design of the tires, but it seems like the drivers are having fun. We need to follow with the tire, obviously.”
There’s increased interest in LMP1 non-hybrid for next year. Would it be your plan to support teams in the subclass as well?
“ByKolles is back with us [for this year], so it’s good to be back in LMP1 non-hybrid. It’s a very interesting class as well.
“We’re happy to be here to learn what these kind of cars need, and what the main differences are, and to give them the right range.
“This year, [we’re using] developments what we know from LMP1 hybrid to have the right overview of everything and to grow further next year with ByKolles, and the new entrants as well, if they choose us as their tire partner.”