Sunday 18 June 2017

Le Mans 2017: The Michelin Man and his tyres..

The Michelin Man or Bibendum to our French friends first broke cover when he was introduced at the Lyon Exhibition in 1894 where the Michelin brothers had a stand. He has become a classic icon here at Le Mans and this year is no exception. The demands of modern endurance raced have changed dramatically over the years and Michelin have continually been developing their tyres to keep up and try and get ahead.

© Kelvin Pope/

The race winning LMP1 car will cover around 5,000 kms over the 24 hours. It will lap the 13.629 kms circuit approximately 400 times. This year has been the hottest, driest one since 2000 and the cars are faster, with more downforce and as a final twist teams will be restricted to just seven sets of ‘dry’ tyres for qualifying and the race. Add to that the simple mathematics that an estimated 25 seconds can be saved each time the teams don’t have to change tyres and you will see that getting as many ‘stints’ as possible out of a set of tyres is crucial. The Porsche and Toyota teams are looking  at 13 laps per stint as opposed to 11 last year.

They have brought along around 5,000 tyres made up of a mix of three types of slick tyres..soft, medium and hard. There will be two types of wet tyres available described as ‘wet’ and ‘full wet’.  The ‘full wet’ is capable of clearing 120 litres of water every second! We will have to take their word for that since 2017 has been bone dry! There is also a very special ‘Hybrid’ tyre for the LMP 1 teams. This tyre won’t be needed either since it is designed for damp and drying conditions. It is interesting to note that it is not a grooved tyre, it looks more like a slick.

Like Dunlop, Michelin are also using RFID technology which involves a chip embedded in he tyre which communicates with the official timing system and race control.  

These tyres travel in an impressive fleet of 13 ‘semi trailers’. When they arrive there is an 800 -square meter covered compound. There is also a 600 square-meter workshop housing 45 fitters. There are also twenty specialists who work with the teams all the way through the event.

After the race all the used tyres are gathered up and returned to Michelin’s main base where they are dissected and then recycled.

It is a huge operation that has evolved over the years and it runs perfectly year on year.

Spare thought for Mr Bibendum as he supervises the teams in temperatures that soared upto at least 30°C