Last month when IMSA and Michelin announced that Michelin will become the Official Tire of IMSA in 2019, attention naturally focused on the impact Michelin will have on the DPi, LMP2 and GTD classes of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, even as the French tire giant continues to do battle in the “open” tire GTLM class. Observers were quick to imagine significant — if not dramatic — improvements in speeds given Michelin’s unparalleled commitment to developing close working relationships (ie “partnerships”) with its professional race teams.
Less obvious, perhaps, is the scope of a commitment to IMSA that will also see Michelin supplying tires to the newly-named Michelin Pilot Challenge and LMP3 IMSA Prototype Challenge series. It’s a commitment that Chris Baker, Director of Motorsports for Michelin North America, says will necessitate bringing “five to six” times more tires to IMSA races next year than in 2018, not to mention a similar increase in service and support personnel.
“We’ll be bringing three times as many freight trailers and infrastructure assets to races,” said Baker, “and we’ll be producing an additional 20 types of tires for the Prototype, GT and customer car classes. Plus our testing load will explode…”
In the case of the GTLM program, which Michelin considers part and parcel of larger overall partnerships with manufacturers like BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche, Michelin has traditionally “embedded” its tire engineers with teams. The idea is to, in effect, customize Michelin tires to the performance characteristics of the various cars (be it a naturally aspirated, front engine Corvette CR.7 or a turbocharged, mid-engined Ford GT) not to mention maximizing the rate and quality of technology transfer from the track to the street.
Baker expects Michelin’s engineers to play a different role with their “customer” tire programs in Prototypes, GTD, the Michelin Pilot and LMP3 Prototype Challenge series.
“Where we’re used to seeing a Michelin engineer with every GTLM team at tests and races, that will not be the case with the customer teams. Jackson Motorsports, which services our customer tire program, will be at tests mounting and balancing tires, along with maybe one or two Michelin people to provide teams with ‘tire prescriptions’ (eg air pressures, alignment, etc).
“We aren’t shooting for (quicker) lap times, although they may come,” he continues. “We’re out to deliver consistent performance and help the teams adapt their different set-ups to our tire characteristics. In that respect, our biggest challenge will not be working with the additional teams in the ‘pro’ classes.’ We’re going to be putting more attention to the Michelin Pilot and LMP3 IMSA Prototype Challenge series where we’ll be working with true privateers; teams and drivers perhaps coming from SCCA Nationals and other sportsmen-level classes that have grown-up racing in an environment where there is no technical or engineering support from their tire suppliers.
“Our goal is to deliver the most value to these new customers, and we’ll do that by developing relationships that enable us to help drivers and teams solve problems where they’ve never had that kind of help before.”