This year’s Rally Mexico was eagerly awaited by the WRC fraternity since, as the first loose-surface fixture of the season, it tends to serve as a form-guide for the championship which predominantly comprises gravel rallies. Unlike other series which have suffered cancellations recently, the decision was taken to run the event as planned given that no cases of Covid-19 had been detected in Mexico’s León region, a city with a population of two million situated some 400 kilometres northwest of Mexico City. However, the speed at which the virus is spreading globally and increasing international travel restrictions prompted the organisers to bring their competition to a halt on Saturday evening instead of Sunday lunchtime, with three of the initially-planned stages still to contest.

 

Indeed, the 2020 Rally Mexico was originally scheduled to cover 325.28 competitive kilometres, but this distance was finally shortened to 269.20km.
In keeping with tradition, Thursday evening’s start ceremony was held in the colourful, UNESCO-listed town of Guanajuato, while Friday’s menu of six long and four short stages included classics like El Chocolate, Ortega and Las Minas. The second leg, on Saturday, was the longest of the week, with a competitive distance of 133.78km. As it turned out, however, it was also the last. Spectators were nonetheless treated to a fierce fight despite the cancellation of Sunday’s Otates, El Brinco and San Diego which the organisers will no doubt make a point of running in 2021…

 

Michelin’s WRC partners were able to choose between the hard- (H4) and medium-compound (M6) versions of the MICHELIN LTX Force H4, while their WRC2 colleagues were able to count on either the MICHELIN Latitude Cross S80 (soft) or H90 (hard) to compensate for the estimated 20-percent fall in the cars’ engine power as they climbed to altitudes of almost 3,000 metres above sea level. As a consequence, the lateral grip, traction performance, resilience and resistance to wear of the top crews’ tyres played a key role in enabling them to keep up a fast pace in spite of the occasionally rough conditions.

For the fourth time in its history, Formula E travelled to Morocco for the Marrakesh E-Prix. The city’s 2.971km-long, 12-turn Circuit Moulay El Hassan – one of the longest of the campaign – is divided into two distinct sections, namely a conventional racetrack and ordinary roads, including Avenue Mohamed VI and Route de l’Ouraki.

 

As a semi-permanent facility, it isn’t strictly speaking a street circuit and its varying grip levels always pose a challenge for the MICHELIN Pilot Sport, Formula E’s official tyre which had to cope with exceptionally cold weather at the same fixture in 2019. This time around, the event took place six weeks later in the year and the teams were greeted by warmer conditions as the thermometer climbed to more than 20°C for the race.

 

The Marrakesh E-Prix is particularly popular with the drivers. The track’s fast layout provides good overtaking opportunities which have tended to produce some entertaining racing over the years, and this weekend was no exception. On top of that, local motor racing fans were treated to three days of action, beginning with the first free practice session (brought forward from Saturday to Friday afternoon to benefit from better light), the e-prix itself on Saturday, and the additional draw of a Rookie Test on Sunday for drivers with no previous experience of Formula E.

After dominating Saturday’s qualifying session at Austin, Texas, USA, in all four classes, including in LMP2 where there is fierce competition between brands, and where the three fastest times were posted by Cool Racing, United Autosports and Signatech Alpine ELF, Michelin’s partners (28 of the weekend’s 30 entries) followed through by showcasing the French tyres’ potential in Sunday’s race which was marked by cloudy but settled weather.

 

In the wake of the fight for grid positions, the drivers were swift to praise Michelin’s endurance racing range, with G. Menezes, N. Thiim and E. Perfetti all underlining that “there was hardly any degradation, despite the circuit’s demanding nature”. The same tyres went on to provide further evidence of their performance and consistency during the entertaining fifth round of the 2019/2020 FIA WEC.

 

At short notice, Michelin’s manufacturing staff responded with a special effort to produce the necessary SOFT slicks in time for the 2020 Lone Star Le Mans which stood in for the originally-planned fixture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Indeed, the weather in South America would have been much higher at this time of year compared to Austin where track temperatures reached no higher than 25°C. This venue switch effectively overturned the original plan, while Michelin Motorsport’s logistics team responded at short notice to arrange shipment to the USA in time for the race. Given that every tyre is tracked individually throughout its working life, there was absolutely no margin for error.

 

Thanks to this collective effort, Michelin’s partners were able to choose between MEDIUM and SOFT slicks in all four classes.

 

The overall spoils ended up going to the N°1 Rebellion R13-Gibson of Senna/Menezes/Nato who delivered a perfectly-paced run that kept them free of pressure from the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids which completed the distance in second and third places with Buemi/Nakajima/Hartley (N°8) and Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez (N°7) respectively.

 

There was an entertaining scrap in LMP2, too, involving United Autosports, Racing Team Nederland and teams running on rival rubber, but Hanson/Albuquerque/Di Resta took advantage of their Michelin tyres to take the chequered flag in first position in the United Autosports-run N°22 Oreca 07-Gibson.

 

The podiums in LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am were also settled at a late stage, with Aston Martin and Porsche having the edge over the opposition to keep the Texan fans on their toes thanks to some impressive passing manoeuvres and chases. The British make ended up claiming the top prize in both categories with the N°95 Vantage AMR of Sorensen/Thiim (Pro) and the N°90 TF Sport Vantage AMR of Voluc/Eastwood/Adam (Am) respectively.

In keeping with a now well-established Formula E tradition, the fifth Mexico City E-Prix to be held at the city’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez delivered plenty of exciting entertainment.

Mexicans are notoriously big motorsport fans and a crowd of around 50,000 turned out once again to watch from the impressive grandstands of this atypical venue in the heart of the country’s capital which is home to almost nine million.

Despite having precious little snow and icy dirt to bite into, Michelin’s Rally Sweden tyres played a big part in allowing the normally wintry event to go ahead safely. They helped the WRC stars keep up their intense fight until the end, even though the format had been significantly shortened compared with the originally planned route.

The conditions were something of an unknown for everyone and the drivers were forced to find the most effective driving style for the stages which alternated from bare gravel to portions of ice, with no sign of the snow walls on which they tend to lean most years. In the end, though, spectators were treated to an entertaining week in Sweden’s Värmland and Norway’s Finnskog region.

The next round of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship will take teams to Leon, Mexico, on March 12-15.

The Rolex 24 At Daytona, the opening event of the 2020 WeatherTech Championship provided an excellent illustration of the breadth of opportunity, on and off the track, for Michelin to demonstrate its technical prowess and mobility solutions.

 

Michelin brought a new DPi/LMP2 tire into this season and, at the first and longest race, the tire and dedicated technical support helped enabled consistent performance and pace, contributing to a new lap and distance record of 833 laps and 2,965 miles completed.

 

It is this consistent performance, proven through endurance racing, that Michelin designs into its tires to support a performance made to last strategy that filters through its broad line of consumer tires.

The Rallye Monte-Carlo stands apart in the FIA World Rally Championship inasmuch as drivers get to choose between four different types of tyre to cover the unique variety of conditions competitors can encounter on the event, from clear, dry asphalt and temperatures in excess of 10°C to colder, damp roads with frequent portions of ice and snow.

The French tyre manufacturer has been involved in the sport’s topflight competition from Season 1 which began with the 1973 Rallye Monte-Carlo. That event was won by Jean-Claude Andruet in an Alpine-Renault A110 equipped with Michelin tyres and, over the ensuing months, the performance of the team’s four French stars – Bernard Darniche, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Jean-Luc Thérier and Jean-Claude Andruet – clinched the inaugural world title for the French carmaker. Forty-seven years on, Michelin boasts an unrivalled record at WRC level, with 29 Manufacturers’ titles and 27 Drivers’ crowns to its name.

 

The Clermont-Ferrand firm was successful on the world’s leading rallies well before that, too. The podium of the 1954 Rallye Monte-Carlo was an all-Michelin affair, for example, while Citroën chose the brand’s tyres to equip the DSs it ran in in the 1960s.

 

The 2020 World Rally Championship – which promises to see Michelin notch up its 350th world-class victory after the summer – features several important changes compared with recent years. In addition to new-look driver line-ups for Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT, M-Sport WRT and Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, and the absence of Citroën Racing, the calendar brings back three particularly popular venues from the past, namely Kenya, New Zealand and Japan, all of which will provide Michelin with stimulating new challenges.

 

In keeping with tradition, the campaign gets under way with January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, the most complex round of them all as far as tyre strategy is concerned. For this unique event, Michelin provides four different types of tyre (soft and super-soft asphalt tyres, plus a choice of studded and non-studded snow tyres), compared with just two for other rounds. Indeed, tyres count amongst the parameters that can and really do make a difference in the end result because the weather and the state of the roads have a habit of evolving all the time. For example, it is not uncommon to see crews leave service in bright sunshine, with the thermometer above 0°C, only for them to come across frost, snow and/or ice in the mountains where the stages take place. In the period of two hours or more that elapses between the moment safety crews cover the route and the official stage start, the conditions can shift significantly, making tyre strategy an extremely complex business. It is for this reason that the drivers almost always carry two spares in order to cover as many options as possible.

The 2020 Santiago E-Prix took place in a buzzing atmosphere, with packed grandstands in spite of the searing heat which didn’t deter fans from flocking into the Chilean capital’s Parque O’Higgins, the wooded recreational park in the city centre which hosted the circuit. A particularly popular attraction was the Allianz E-Village which allowed spectators to follow the race on a giant screen free of charge.

 

The event’s success provided further evidence of the South American public’s passion for world-class motor racing and they were rewarded with a highly entertaining race.

 

The weather forecasters’ predictions of temperatures of up to 35°C proved accurate as the mercury climbed to 34°C, while the track temperature peaked at 52°C. Although this fell slightly short of last year’s figures, when the thermometer soared to 40°C and the circuit’s asphalt reached 62°C, the 2020 Santiago E-Prix – the third to be hosted by the city – was as punishing as ever for the drivers, their cars and their tyres.

 

Despite these harsh conditions, lap times were significantly faster this time around and the drivers lapped the 2.3-kilometre circuit some four seconds faster on average.

After Rebellion Racing’s win in Shanghai, China, Toyota Gazoo Racing bounced back to secure first and second places in Bahrain with the N°7 and N°8 TS050-Hybrids of Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez and Buemi/Nakajima/Hartley respectively. Shanghai victors Senna/Menezes/Nato (N°1 Rebellion R13-Gibson) were third over the line.

 

A tangle between the pole-winning Rebellion and one of the Team LNT-run Ginetta G60-LT-P1-AERs on Lap 1 allowed the N°7 Toyota TS050-Hybrid to take command. The N°8 sister prototype was forced off the track to avoid getting caught up in the collision, but it was back up to second place within the opening hour. Switzerland’s Sébastien Buemi was helped as he warded off pressure from Ginetta and Rebellion by a double-stint strategy from the outset, which saved valuable time during his first refuelling stop.

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