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Interview: Pascal Couasnon, Michelin

Michelin’s motorsport director on developing tires for single-seater racing

by Graham Heeps

 

Michelin has hit the headlines this year by bidding to return as a tire supplier to Formula 1. It currently dominates in World Rally and the World Endurance Championship (WEC), but hasn’t serviced F1 since 2006. Central to any return would be a proposed switch from 13in rims to a much larger size; in the past year, 18in rims have been tested on a sub-F1 Formula Renault 3.5 single-seater.

“We are already pretty much at the same pace [as the 13in tire] after a year of development,” says Pascal Couasnon, Michelin’s motorsport director. “We are saying that you need a tire whose functioning status is closer to what you see on high-performance cars every day. It also gives potentially more freedom to the [chassis] engineers in the mechanical setup of the car, which could also be good for the show.
 


“In Formula E we’ve already switched to 18in and gone further by having a single tire for wet and dry conditions,” he adds. “That’s certainly interesting from a road point of view and could be used for smaller series – Formula 4 and Formula 3 – where the interest would be economic. It can be expensive for young drivers so this could be a way to help with a clever tire, not a cheap tire. We could use technology to decrease the budget.”

A second pillar of Michelin’s F1 contract bid concerns the racing spectacle. “Working with the teams, the FIA and FOM [Formula One Management], we could find a way to ensure the show,” says Couasnon. “If it makes sense to stop for tires two or three times, then why not, but we believe something can be done to do that while at the same time giving the driver the chance to drive to the max, as we do at Le Mans. When the drivers get out of the car, they should be tired and sweaty! It’s always a combination of compound, construction and profile, but we already have some pretty good ideas about what we would do. There would be a combination of what we do in Formula Renault 3.5, where the level is already pretty high, and what we do in WEC.”
 


Like everybody else, Michelin is making increased use of upfront modeling to test new ideas for its motorsport tires. “That takes you from about 100 solutions to about 10 that you will build,” Couasnon explains. “The second step is to test physical tires on machines – Flat-Tracs and the like. You’ll see whether there’s good correlation between the model and what you see in reality, and that the safety is there. There are then 3-5 that you might put on the car.”

His motorsport engineers are based a few miles away from the main R&D operation at Ladoux, France, but he says that the new technical center taking shape there will still be beneficial to his team’s work. “There is a lot of interaction between the two, so I see only positives,” he enthuses. “Collaborative working has been built into this new environment and when you see such a center, it may also be easier to attract new talent, to motorsport as well.”

More on Formula 1 tires in the October issue of Tire Technology International.

September 8, 2015

 

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