Michelin find themselves faced with gripping issues as the French concern tackles the Japanese Sugo circuit in the fourth round of the World Superbike championship.

"Our main challenge at Sugo is grip," explains Nicolas Goubert, chief of Michelin's motorcycling competition department. "The track has about the same number of left-handers and right-handcorners. Traction is very important at Sugo. Both grip and traction are very important on the exit to thechicane just before the start/finish straight. If traction isn't good enough there, the rider will loose ground. He won't be able to overtake and that will end up costing him places. The track surface is different compared to other circuits we go to and that makes it difficult for us to find grip. To be fast at Sugo, riders have to be confident with the front, especially in the first part of the circuit. When it's cold, the first left-hander always creates problems. So we need tyres that warm up fast, that give good gripand that last long."

Despite his winning form this year Troy Bayliss isn't too confident or expectanat going into the fourth round: "Sugo, what a nightmare! I just don't like going to Japan. I love the circuit at Sugo but for some reason I never had any luck there as yet. So we are hoping to change that. I went there last year feeling good and having to do a good result, but really it didn't go so well for me. So I go again this year, hoping for a good result and hopefully I can get one."

Colin Edwards is not brimming with optimism either: "Sometimes I have a good day here whenever we come and test. But it just never seems to work out for the race. Last year we went testing after the WSBK race and we lapped faster than Tamada did when he won the race. I'm excited to come here and prove that Honda and Michelin can do well."

Ruben Xaus is another wary of the track: "This is a difficult circuit because it's very technical. The Japanese riders know it really well. We tested there last year after Imola and both the bike and the tyres worked well. I hope to get a good result. That may change my opinion of the track! The chicane is something else - very interesting!"

Opened in 1975, Sugo is 300km North of Tokyo, between Shibata and Murata. Built by Yamaha as a test track, it has a wide variety of corners, from chicanes to fast corners (250m maximum radius). It is 3.737m long and the uphill run up to the start/finish line gives engines a real workout. There is a 70m difference between the highest point on the track and the lowest. The start/finish straight is 704.5m long.

"Our biggest challenge is to beat the many Japanese riders using local tyres," adds Nicolas Goubert. "They know the circuit like the back of their hands. The Japanese championship takes them racing there at least twice a year."

"The difficult thing for us is that we are unable to test there as much and as often as we'd like," says Jean H?riss?, Michelin's Superbike manager. Michelin brings a total of 600 tyres (400 rears and 200 fronts), wet and dry, for this race. Sizes are 19/67-420 (16,5 inch) for rear slicks, rain tyres and intermediates. Front tyre sizes are 12/60-420 (16.5 iinch) tyres.