Michelin has been supplying tires for sports car racing dating back to the first Le Mans winner in 1923. But Michelin didn’t appear in an IMSA race until 1998. That’s when a pair of Panoz GTR-1s, along with a Porsche GT1 from Champion Motorsports and a Porsche GT2 from Konrad Motorsport. took the start for the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Panoz of Andy Wallace and David Brabham captured the GT1 class win, while Nick Ham and Franz Konrad took the GT2 win. Thus began Michelin’s winning history in IMSA competition.
Over the next 20 years, Michelin-shod prototypes and GT cars reaped a bounty of wins. In many instances, the prestige auto manufacturers could have opted for tires from another company, but the rubber from Clermont-Ferrand become the de facto choice.
Starting in 2019, Michelin becomes the Official Tire of IMSA across the WeatherTech Championship, Michelin Pilot Challenge and the Prototype Challenge series.
“We’ve gone from five teams and nine cars in one class last year, to more than 100 cars in three series and seven classes,” says Chris Baker, Director of Motorsport, Michelin North America. “Everything has changed by an order of magnitude in terms of the numbers of transporters, support equipment and personnel. It’s been an exciting, yet fast, 16 months as we’ve prepared for this escalation to IMSA’s landmark 50th anniversary season.”
The GTLM class cars will use “confidentials” – tires that are specific to each manufacturer in terms of construction. DPi and LMP2 prototypes will use “semi-confidential” tires. The GTD class, both Michelin Pilot Challenge classes and LMP3 cars will use what Michelin considers as “commercial” tires, meaning the same tire that’s available for any racecar where Michelin has authorized race tire distributors.
Prior to the ROAR Before the Rolex 24, IMSA teams had six separate on-track testing opportunities at Daytona International Speedway, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Road America and Watkins Glen.
“The tests gave us the opportunity to begin building a working relationship, technically, with the teams from LMP3, TCR, GS, GTD and the Prototype category across a mix of cars to get some first-hand feedback on how our tires were performing,” says Ken Payne, Michelin North America Motorsports Technical Director.
“During this process, we uncovered a few things with the Prototypes. We’d envisaged that, since the DPis are more or less based on an LMP2-type chassis, we would just apply our LMP2 tires from the World Endurance Championship,” Payne continues. “However, we quickly determined that the tires in play in that series, which is an open-tire category, were really not optimized for the tracks and the temperature conditions that we run in IMSA. So we began work with our colleagues in France on a slight change that produced what will now be considered the ‘IMSA Medium’ and ‘IMSA Hard.’”
Hence, semi-confidential. Michelin, together with IMSA, will determine the tire compound for each race in both of the prototype classes.
With consumer road tires, Michelin’s reputation is for long-lasting tires – an attribute that will carry over into all IMSA series. Once Michelin acquires sufficient relevant data and experience with all of the competitors, we might see WeatherTech Championship teams experiment with double-stinting tires during the 2019 Michelin Endurance Cup races in particular.
In terms of overall performance, reducing the outright lap time has never been Michelin’s focus for IMSA. Instead, the goal has been to produce a tire that maintains its performance level over much of the stint.
“We want to provide a strong platform that allows drivers to race hard throughout the stint and produce exciting and entertaining races,” explains Baker.
IMSA race teams know how much is riding on their tires, and now each of them gets a chance at what they desire most – a photo with the Michelin Man in victory circle.