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.