Michelin’s future in the FIA World Endurance Championship was solidified last weekend, with the French tire giant confirming a new three-year partnership extension with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It takes Michelin’s involvement in the WEC through at least the 2020/21 season, in providing tires on a non-exclusive basis to teams in all four categories of the championship.
Sportscar365 caught up with Michelin Motorsport Director Pascal Couasnon to get his thoughts on the extension and provide insight into the series’ future amid changes.
How important is it to continue in the FIA World Endurance Championship?
“We are very happy because for us what’s important is to look at the overall strategy of Michelin.
“Obviously endurance, but there’s the total portfolio, we are present in MotoGP, we are present in rally, and endurance is very important for us because it’s a way to develop some specific aspect of the tire, very high grip and constant performance for many, many hours.
“If you look at what kind of series really helps you to develop this discipline, there are not too many. Endurance is really the only one.
“Being a partner with the ACO, being a partner with WEC, being able to continue to try and win Le Mans, it’s already 20 in a row, is important for our engineers and for the brand overall.”
There’s lots of changes for LMP1 next season. How do you see it from Michelin’s perspective?
“Sometimes I’m asked the question, ‘does it make sense to renew when there is a little bit of questions?’
“I think when you use motorsport as a lab, you cannot think short-term. There is a transition.
“The good news is that we’ll have many cars, maybe more LMP1 cars next year than this year. Obviously it’s always nice to have major brands to fight against each other. But again I take it as a transition.
“I would not be surprised to see with 2020 rules some interest again from major brands to come back.
“For us again, endurance makes sense. It’s a wonderful piece of our puzzle overall. We believe in endurance racing, it makes sense. There is a transition.
“It will be continuing a good lab for us next year. I see some interesting possibilities for the future.”
Is the plan to offer tires to LMP1 privateer teams?
“Of course. The key thing for us, and we had some discussions also with the FIA, for the top categories, so LMP1 or GTE-Pro, if you want really to be true to your idea of a lab, it needs to be what we call confidential tires.
“When you have confidential tires, it means that you can trust the fact that nobody is going to be able to copy you, and then you can really put your best technology, your best ideas.
“You can try and test whatever you have in mind. Next year, LMP1 will continue with confidential tires. I’m sure we will have some pretty good drivers, so the feedback will be interesting.
“If we do that, it will be fine. If you would have said that whatever great brands, but without confidential tires, it would not be interesting to us. It’s much less interesting to us.”
Are you confident overall in the overall health of the championship?
“It depends what you use to say whether it’s successful or not. If it’s number of cars, I’m sure we will have many cars. In LMP1, we’ll have a good number.
“The GTE category is in great shape. The arrival of BMW, you must not forget that, it will be a great fight. So from that side, pretty interesting.
“In terms of great media opportunities with great brands, again, GTE, no problem. It will be a transition for LMP1.
“But again, I think the rules are pretty clever for 2020, and I would not be surprised to see some car makers to say ‘maybe it makes sense to again have an interest in the championship’.
“Endurance [racing] is tough, to test and advertise some technology.”
It looks like GTE-Pro could see all teams on Michelins. Are you happy with that or would you prefer competition?
“First of all we are not quite sure we will be alone next year. But I think there is something very important.
“You will see in our renewal for three more years, we have not asked for a closed category. We push for the category to be open. Now it’s not because we want competition that we will leave the opportunity for others to enter.
“Our goal is to be as good as possible, to do our best work possible. If we do a good job, it will be difficult for the others to be there.
“But I won’t give the opportunity for others to come by making some bad tires. It’s not because we work hard because we are against competition. Competition is tough, it’s tough for us, it’s tough for the others.
“Do we prefer it? I like to have competition. But I like also the teams to recognize the work of Michelin. Everybody can come.”