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Michelin is no stranger to

Grand Prix racing, but it will

definitely require some time

before coming to par with a

breed of racing motorcycles

that have evolved

considerably since the last

time Michelin-shod bikes won

races back in 2008.

We should also not forget that

Dorna’s spec ECU wasn’t

available for testing until last October, so at least one year of

tire development was essentially carried out with the previous

generation of factory electronics. Are five months adequate to

come up with a product at this level of sophistication,

especially if it has to perform faultlessly on several different

motorcycles?

During the first testing sessions ahead of the new season

several riders – among them Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso –

noted that even identical-spec tires would occasionally display

different traction characteristics.

Then came Loris Baz’s horrific accident at the Sepang

MotoGP test last February. When his rear tire came apart

while his Avintia Racing Ducati was travelling at 290 km/h (180

mph) on the Malaysian circuit’s home straight, Michelin

immediately withdrew the specific compound for the rest of the

Malaysian test.

Although the first race of the season in Qatar was rather

uneventful as far as tires are concerned, the events of the

Argentinian GP proved to be the exact opposite. A

disintegrating tire on Scott Redding’s Octo Pramac Ducati

prompted Michelin to withdraw all the soft and medium

compound tires. Literally at the last hour, Race Direction

announced shorter race duration and included a compulsory

pit stop for fresh rubber to ensure no rider would find himself in

Redding’s place during the race. Perhaps serving as proof of

the inconsistencies that Dovizioso pointed out, Valentino

Rossi’s team still cannot understand what was that made two

identical motorcycles with the same setting and same tires

perform so differently before and after the mid-race bike swap.

Tires are quintessential in determining the outcome of a race,

and it is clear that Michelin’s rubber is still in development

phase. This practically means that unforeseen problems are

bound to arise and it will not always be a safe bet to rely on

tire performance when designing a race strategy.

As far as electronics are concerned, the issue raised by Dorna

in 2012 – when it started talking about enforcing a spec ECU –

escalated to a heated bargaining process behind closed doors.

The Manufacturers’

Association (MSMA) finally

conceded after drawing its own

red lines, starting with a five-

year freeze on the class’

regulations.

The spec ECU is made by

Magneti-Marelli, but this does

not include all the hardware.

The teams can still use their

own sensors and acquisition

devices, including the Inertial Measurement Unit, provided that

they have been submitted for homologation to Dorna. This is

essential in order to ensure there is no foul play, like a second

ECU masqueraded as a sensor – as Ducati’s Luigi Dall’Ignia

pointed out.

Based on the ECU that was used by the Open teams during

the last two years, the new electronic management is designed

to make things a little bit more even. The new Aprilia, Suzuki

and KTM bikes have been designed and developed with this

very ECU from the onset, while Ducati ran its team last year

under the Open class rules. Honda and Yamaha opted to

employ their satellite teams to gather data of the specific ECU

on their bike.

Several other rule changes introduced for 2016 include 22-litre

(5.8 gallon) fuel tanks for all motorcycles, 17-inch wheels

instead of 16.5, a total of seven engines per rider for the whole

season and setting the minimum allowed bike weight down

one kilo from last year to 157 kg (346 lb). The engine

development freeze is still in force, as well as testing

limitations that allow factory contracted riders to test their bikes

only on specific official events.

There are exceptions designed to favor new teams and those

that haven’t met success during the last three years. Factories

that haven’t scored a win (in dry conditions) since 2013 enjoy

the privilege of running 12 engines per rider, can test freely

with their contracted riders and are also allowed to develop

their engines. As soon as they start visiting the podium though,

concessions are gradually lost.

And finally there are the winglets. Ducati was the first to use

them in MotoGP’s modern era in search for a solution to the

front-end problems that have marred the Italian bikes ever

since they ditched the steel frames. Initially the aerodynamic

wings were all but laughed at, yet seeing them on Jorge

Lorenzo’s championship-winning Yamaha M1 and occasionally

on Honda’s factory bikes means that they actually do work.

Their task is to generate downforce that will help the front tire

find more traction, but they are also at the epicenter of some