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How Michelin helped Porsche to Le Mans victory

Porsche’s win in the 24-hour race was also Michelin’s 18th Le Mans success on the trot

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Another year, another chapter of success in the Michelin Le Mans story. This year’s race was another victory for the French tyre maker, with the first eight cars home all running on their wheels.

Michelin has been supplying winning tyres since 1923’s inaugural race, but nobody at the company takes victory for granted.

Le Mans is a unique test for Michelin. They go racing for one simple reason: to learn as much as they can to improve their range of road tyres.

The glory of winning is undeniable, but the insights they collect along the way are invaluable. And serial success in the world’s toughest test of endurance is anything but easy.

“In 2014, the FIA produced a new set of regulations for the sport,” explains Michelin’s Head of Motorsport, Pascal Couasnon, “and it was a big, big change for us. The tyres now had to be five centimetres narrower – which also means two kilograms lighter.”

The challenge was to make a tyre that as fast as the previous year’s, and to do so without sacrificing durability. Nobody knew whether it could be achieved but, in the race, the new, skinnier rubber proved to be the equal of the previous year’s tyres.

The pace of progress is relentless. “This year, the cars were five seconds a lap quicker than in 2014,” continues Couasnon. “Some of that will be down to engineering advances made by the teams, but we know our tyres have got better again this year, too.”

And even though it’s only a month since the flag fell on the 2015 race, development of Michelin’s 2016 race tyres is already well under way. Who would bet against them reaching a quarter century of victories next year?

 

Seven of the best: Michelin’s famous victories

CHENARD ET WALCKER SPORT - 1923

The year it all began. Completing a total of 128 laps – around a third of the number this year’s winning Porsche completed – Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard raced their Chenard et Walcker Sport to victory in the first ever 24 Hours du Mans. The French duo in a French car won what would become ‘the French classic’ on French tyres, sealing their place in what is now a 92-year history.

RENAULT ALPINE A442B – 1978

It was third time lucky in 1978 for Renault Sport when home favourites, Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud beat the mighty Porsche team by five laps in their V6 Renault Alpine A442B. It remains the French manufacturer’s only victory at Le Mans, Renault Sport going on to introduce turbocharging to Formula One, using a version of the same engine.

SAUBER C9 MERCEDES-BENZ  – 198

The last year of the old, uninterrupted Mulsanne, before the 3.7-mile straight was remodeled to include two chicanes. C1 sports prototype cars like the winning Sauber C9 Mercedes-Benz were reaching 250mph on the Mulsanne, a terrifying speed considering how bumpy this public road section of the track actually is.

PEUGEOT 905 EVO 1B – 1993

’93 produced a Peugeot and Michelin 1-2-3, with the 905 Evo 1B comfortably the best in the field following victory the previous year. The winning car was driven by the Australian, Geoff Brabham, and two French rookies – Eric Helary and Christophe Bouchut – making it a memorable year for the French in Le Sarthe.

MCLAREN F1 GTR  – 1995

It may not have been the quickest car at Le Mans in ’95, but the race version of McLaren’s remarkable F1 GTR certainly was reliable. Four of the top five finishers were McLarens and four of the top five were on Michelin tyres, too, with victory eventually falling to the original GTR prototype run by Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing.

BENTLEY SPEED 8  – 2003

Bentley made a winning return to Le Mans in 2003, 73 years after its last victory in 1930. Powered by an omnipotent Audi V8, the Bentley Speed 8 scored a convincing 1-2 result, with Tom Kristensen notching his fourth victory in a row. For Michelin, a clean sweep of the top ten made 2003 a particularly memorable year.

PORSCHE 919 HYBRID – 2015

Following its return to the premier class of world sportscar racing in 2014, Porsche did what everybody expected and won Le Mans. The German marque’s 17th victory extended its lead over Audi as the race’s most successful manufacturer ever, and Michelin celebrated an astonishing 18 wins in a row with another dominant display.

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