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Michelin, Roberts, Edwards talk testing.

MotoGP is all about racing and winning but success during the summer racing season can usually be attributed to behind-the-scenes work during winter testing. Indeed riders cover many more laps during winter tests than they do actually racing.

Here Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing - then Kenny Roberts Jr and Colin Edwards, two of Michelin's best MotoGP test riders - explain how the French company goes about its winter testing programme in order to be best prepared for the next MotoGP World Championship - which, for 2007, means adapting to new 800cc machines...

How does the Michelin winter testing programme work?

Nicolas Goubert:
We try to concentrate first on tyre profile and size, because these are the most difficult factors to change and because they need to be confirmed as soon as possible so the teams can tune bike set-up. The first thing we do is give the basic dimensions of a new tyre to the teams so they can set up their bikes – ride height, gearbox and so on. Then we start work on tyre construction and finally we look at compounds. So the main focus points during the inter-season are profile, size and construction because when you work on compounds you are only really working for each individual racetrack, so we continue working on compounds even as we go from track to track during the season. When we do work on compounds during the inter-season it is more likely to be more experimental, trying something very different.

How do you decide on tyre profile and size?

Nicolas Goubert:
From the feedback we get from our MotoGP riders and teams during the previous season and from our own simulations and bench testing. We start off with computer simulations. Say, for example, we wanted to increase the size of the tyre contact patch at medium lean angle as the rider is leaning into corner. We create a virtual tyre and look at the contact patch that profile would give us at 25 to 40 degrees lean angle, as well as what force that profile would create. Once you're happy with the results achieved by the computer simulation you build a tyre and test it on a tyre dyno to make sure you get the same kind of results you were aiming for in the simulation. If the tyre works well on the dyno you then try it on a motorcycle on a racetrack. We usually start this programme in the late summer, so we have already had a lot of races at a lot of different racetracks, which means we've got a good idea of what we want for the next season.

What about this winter, with the new 800s on the way?

Nicolas Goubert:
This winter will be a bit different because everyone is using new bikes for 2007. Our MotoGP partners Honda and Yamaha have given us an indication of where they want to go with the 800s, what kind of character they expect from their bikes, plus an indication of horsepower outputs. We take all that into account plus riders' comments from the season. Then we decide on a direction, so we are ready as soon as possible to test in November. We are looking forward to the first serious 800 tests once this season is over, then we can look really carefully at what kind of profiles will be best suited to the bikes.

How many different tyres do you test during a typical winter?

Nicolas Goubert:
We don't actually test many different profiles because making a tyre takes a lot of time and money, that's why we do so much work on computer simulations. Last winter we tested two different rear profiles. And we quickly decided which of those two we would race with, following comments from different riders with different bikes.

Q:Once you've started testing, how long does it take to produce a new profile?

Nicolas Goubert:
It could take maybe a month to produce a new profile, so you could do that during the winter, though if you wanted something drastically different it might take much longer. We have some programmes that go on for ages, maybe a few years.

And how long to produce a new construction?

Nicolas Goubert:
Again, it depends on how much you want to change things. If you were making just a small adjustment to a construction you could do it in a few days, while a major change could take one or two years.

What is the process once you start testing?

Nicolas Goubert:
You always work by comparison. You bring the previous season's profile to the early winter tests, in a compound that has worked well during the GP at that track, then you make comparisons with different riders. Even the first four or five laps with each rider can give you a good first impression of what the tyre is like. If the riders are happy with the tyre and there's no problem with tyre temperature or wear, we quickly move on to race-distance testing, because endurance is always the key, that's where the results come from. It may be easy to find half a second a lap with a new profile, but that's of no use to us if tyre performance drops off after a few laps. If the endurance results are good, we move on to try the same tyre at other racetracks before we can really decide if we are moving in the correct direction. Just because a tyre works well at one track, doesn't mean it will immediately work well at others. And if it works really well at one track but doesn't work at the next two or three, then we have to put it aside.

How do you work with your riders?

Nicolas Goubert:

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