American Le Mans Series (ALMS)
Despite competition from five other tire companies, Michelin-fitted teams have dominated American Le Mans Series (ALMS) competition since the series debuted in 1999, winning 63 of 66 races and dominating the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1998. In the 2005 ALMS competition, Michelin teams claimed 30 of a possible 31 class wins.
In order to maintain it’s winning form in 2006, Michelin will have to adapt to new teams, new cars, and new drivers. Michelin motorsports Technical Team Leader for ALMS, Karl Koenigstein, talks about the upcoming season:
Question: Why is Michelin the tire provider of choice in a sportscar and endurance racing?
Answer: The short answer is “results,” and the keys to the results are technology and innovation.
Question: Does Michelin dominate ALMS competition because it partners with the top teams, or do the top teams win because they partner with Michelin?
Answer: The answer to both is “yes”. Top teams typically have the best technology, top drivers and crews, and the best operational practices. They are passionate about racing and winning. Many of the top teams have sought out Michelin to be their technology partner. They know that Michelin has the best technology, the greatest push for innovation and that we share their passion. They know that Michelin wants to win just as much as they do. We help each other to succeed.
Question: Do you have any new teams or new cars for 2006?
Answer: Yes, we have new teams and existing teams with brand new cars. On the Prototype side, Michelin is pleased that Audi has chosen to continue with us as their technical partner with the new Audi R10 diesel. We have certainly had great success together with the Audi R8s. Dyson Racing has new Lolas for 2006 and the Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyders are very exciting.
In the GT classes, the Corvette C6-Rs are stronger than ever and Lexus, Ferrari, and Porsche have chosen Michelin for their new cars in the GT2 class.
Question: What are the biggest differences teams typically find when they choose Michelin?
Answer: On the track, the Michelin-equipped teams tell us that the cars tend to have more grip and better stability under braking and that our tires are more consistent. The real test comes in two areas: lap times, which can improve as much as one to two seconds per lap depending on the car and track length, and in the ability to double-stint or race the same set of tires for two fuel loads. In the pit’s, they recognize that we have an engineer assigned to each team, a wider range of tires and that our Michelin culture is very passionate about continuously improving performance.
Question: What kind of technical challenges do you find in the ALMS?
Answer: Michelin sees the ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans as providing exciting challenges for developing tire technology. There are really three main areas: the cars; the tracks and the nature of the races; and the tire designs, construction, and compounding we need to meet the challenges.
Question: What are the technical challenges with cars?
Answer: First of all, the cars are all different. We are working with several different types of cars, everything from the new Audi R10 diesel to the Dyson Lolas and Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder prototypes to the GT-based Corvettes, Porsche 911s, Ferrari and Lexus. They all have different power and torque, different aerodynamics, and different wheelbases and weights. Every car is a new technical challenge.
Question: How do the various tracks pose different challenges?
Answer: ALMS has a wide variety of circuit’s from a temporary circuit in Houston to some of North America’s best known permanent road circuits like Sebring, Road America, Laguna Seca, and Mid-Ohio. Each track has different corners, elevation changes, braking and acceleration factors, and unique track conditions.
How do race distances pose different challenges?
Answer: We race everything from short sprints (2 hr. 45 min.) to 10 and 12-hour endurance (Road Atlanta and Sebring) marathons. The sprints take place in the afternoon when weather and track conditions are relatively stable. The enduros require more frequent changes to tire pressures and compounds in order to make sure we’re maintaining performance as the track cools off after dark. Question: What is the biggest variable going into an ALMS race?
Answer: The weather is a big factor. The hotter the weather and more direct the sunlight, the slicker the race track gets. Plus, we race rain or shine, just like people in the real world drive. For Michelin, that means we need to be ready for anything. We love to race in the wet but that isn’t much fun for the fans.
Question: From a tire-makers perspective, what is the difference between a spec-tire series like NASCAR or IRL and an “open” series like ALMS?
Answer: In a “spec-tire” series there is one tire supplier and everyone runs the same tire. That makes sense for driver-development series like the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Michelin or Formula BMW USA, where we are the spec tire. Michelin strongly believes there is much more opportunity to learn and to test new technologies and innovations in series like ALMS. There are five other tire companies competing here in ALMS and at Le Mans. We welcome the competition. We are all trying to win. It means that just like the teams, we all push ourselves to improve and to learn.
Question: Does Michelin pay its teams?
Answer: No. Michelin does not pay its teams to race with Michelin. We provide some teams with tires and technical support but there are teams at every ALMS race who have turned down free tires from other tire competitors and pay for their Michelin tires. That is in many ways the ultimate compliment or proof of Michelin value.