FIA WEC – A Super Season and a new playing field for MICHELIN
Innovative as ever, the FIA-WEC Endurance World Championship straddles two years this season, 2018 and 2019, with an eight race program including two 24 Hours of Le Mans events. A real impact on tire design…
An endurance championship over two years… that is what the FIA is proposing with the WEC Super Season 2018-2019. This means that we will have to provide tires with technology and performance that are still up to the minute in over a year’s time. Whereas the cars will inevitably have upped their game. This is a major challenge for MICHELIN, which we are meeting with confidence, but also with a great deal of humility. Because, although we have always invested in technology for racing, and our long-term commitment to Endurance (at least until 2021 for FIA-WEC, and also in the Asian Le Mans Series and IMSA as from 2019) demonstrates our skill, we know that nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Some of the tires on offer during this Super Season 2018-2019 are completely new, notably the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2). Providing the right casing at the right time is an additional challenge for Team Technical Consultants. Because, although in WEC performance is an important factor, resistance to wear is just as essential.
Le Mans Prototype 1 (LM P1) category: adapted to the type of motorization
For the queen of categories, LM P1 with closed cockpit prototypes, this Super Season sees the arrival of new teams and a rich array of non-hybrid cars. LM P1 prototypes, whether hybrid or non-hybrid, use 31/71R18 size tires on both front and back. At least two weeks prior to each race, the teams have to choose two of the three specifications available - Soft, Medium or Hard – and have to adapt their strategy according to weather conditions. On the other hand, for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, MICHELIN makes its complete offer available: in addition to slick tires, partner teams can use MICHELIN Hybride tires (intermediate slick tire) for damp or drying track, as well as WET and FULL WET tires in case of heavy rain.
Differences between LM P1 hybrid and non-hybrid tires
In the LM P1 Hybrid category, cars are four-wheel drive, whereas they are propulsion only in the LM P1 non-hybrid category. Because of this, the work of MICHELIN Motorsport engineers has concentrated on the front tires, which are not subject to the same constraints. For its part, the LM P1 Hybrid category uses tires that are very similar to those used last season since race results and tests carried out pre-season were entirely satisfactory.
Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) category: all new!
Whereas MICHELIN was absent from this category in 2017, this time it is equipping several teams with entirely new tires. MICHELIN Motorsport engineers used data collected in particular during the Le Mans Series (ELMS) European Championship, and the good results obtained at the end of the season by partner teams acted as an excellent base for their work. Our engineers thus have been able to make progress on several of the criteria that comprise the performance of a competition tire. As in the other categories, the range comes in three rubbers, Soft, Medium and Hard, with two rain tires, as required by the rules for this category (whereas the number of rain tires is not limited in LM P1). The first is an intermediate rain tire, with a slightly notched tread, to be used in the same way as the hybrid tire of category LM P1, although that one is completely slick. The second is more conventional and meets the casing criteria for difficult conditions. All the cars have the same tires for the whole season, their sizes are as follows: 30/68-18 for the front and 31/71-18 for the back. As in previous seasons, the rules demand in LM P2 the use of “non-confidential” tires, i.e. not protected by industrial secrecy.
Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance car (LMGTE) categories: a different tire for each car!
In this category, each car has a tire that is adapted to its own morphology. Many tests had to be carried out for this, particularly since new teams, such as BMW Team MTEK and Aston Martin Racing, have this year joined Ferrari, Ford and Porsche, bringing completely new cars with them. Due to the scale of the challenge and the number of manufacturers involved, MICHELIN Motorsport staff have worked all winter long. Thanks to the special relationship that MICHELIN enjoys with its partners, both on the track and road, it was possible to carry out this work in complete serenity. The marathon season has already begun and the new MICHELIN Endurance range boasts even higher performance, whatever the temperature or severity of the track.
MICHELIN Motorsport is also doing something new in the LM GTE AM category.
Whereas the cars were using the tires used the previous season by the LM GTE Pro, the two series this time have the same casings. This technological equity results from the fact that the cars are now qualified for several years, and that they are relatively similar from a technical point of view. Once again, the principle of three rubbers is used: Soft, Medium or Hard. However, the provision of tires usable for races is not the same for all categories.
3 questions for
Jérôme Mondain, MICHELIN FIA WEC Manager
What does the Super Season change for MICHELIN?
Our work schedule remains the same; we work permanently on our tires and our procedures. The preparation process before the start of the season also remains identical. On the other hand, the fact of having two 24 Hours of Le Mans events in the same season generates very high expectations and means that we have to work harder to be ready. A good range of tires is necessary to take part in two Le Mans races, one of which will be held in over a year’s time. It’s a real challenge.
What does the Super Season change for MICHELIN?
Absolutely. And in fact, with the exception of the LM P1 Hybrid category, the rules ban any kind of technical developments on the tires. There is no joker to be played. If a manufacturer were to suffer from a lack of performance, it could make a request for changes to the FIA. But for such a request to be accepted there would have to be competition between manufacturers, and yet in the LM P1 Hybrid and non-hybrid categories, and in LM GTE Pro and Am, entrants have all chosen to use MICHELIN.
Could the rule change, which now allows wheels to be replaced while the fuel tank is being filled, have an impact on tire strategy?
We provide our partners with tires that enable them to double or even triple the relays. The new rule will inevitably have consequences for MICHELIN, it will encourage teams to change tires more often than they did in previous years, notably in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and therefore to use more. Consequently, there will also be an impact on the race strategy.
MICHELIN at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
27th victory (21st consecutive)
On 16 and 17 June 2018 the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans Auto was held on the legendary track in La Sarthe, France. Once again, this year the cars fitted with MICHELIN tires were particularly successful. In the queen of categories, LM P1, the Toyota TS050 Hybrid N°8 driven by Fernando Alonso, and his co-drivers Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the race. In LM GTE Pro and Am, Porsche dominated the race with N°92 (Christensen/Vanthoor/Estre) and N°77 (Campbell/Ried/Andlauer). The next event, held in Great Britain on 19 August 2018, is the 6 Hours of Silverstone. We will be back in Le Mans on 15 and 16 June 2019 for the final race in this Endurance Super Season 2018-2019.
Season WEC 2018/2019
6-7 April 2018: Prologue – Paul Ricard
5 May 2018: 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – Belgium
16-17 June 2018: 24 Hours of Le Mans – France
19 August 2018: 6 Hours of Silverstone – Great Britain
14 October 2018 : 6 Hours of Fuji – Japan
18 November 2018: 6 Hours of Shanghai – China
17 March 2019: 1500 miles of Sebring – USA
4 May 2019: 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – Belgium
15-16 June 2019: 24 Hours of Le Mans – France