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The Le Mans 24 Hours: Michelin bring us as close as possible to the race

Sport Published the 09/07/2014 by Meven Royo

For the 82nd edition of the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, tyre manufacturer Michelin invited us to experience the race up close giving us the opportunity to understand the challenges facing tyres in such a competition.

The Porsche 911 RSR leaves the pits The Porsche 911 RSR leaving the pits of the Le Mans 24 Hours circuit, an event followed by Rezulteo - Copyright © : rezulteo

Michelin and Le Mans: a common history

The first edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was won in 1923 by René Leonard and André Lagache in their Chenard & Walcker Sport fitted with Michelin tyres. And since then, the tyre manufacturer’s history is intertwined with the race in such a way that the two are now inseparable. The Le Mans 24 Hours has represented, and still represents, an extraordinary experimental laboratory available to car manufacturers to test new technologies, propose leading edge concepts, and create increasingly innovative designs … And the same is true for tyres and Michelin. 


Work worthy of Haute Couture

During a race based on endurance, poor tyre management may cause you to lose the race. And, as the saying goes: the race is won on the track, but lost in the pits. Tyre manufacturers therefore play a key role. Michelin gave us the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes during the visit to its workshops. And to get a better insight into this special place, where peace and tranquillity can quickly give way to a general frenzy, we had the ideal guide: Fabienne Gardy, head of the Tyre School at Clermont-Ferrand.

Guided Visit of Michelin’s workshops Copyright © : rezulteo

7000. This is the number of tyres Michelin produced for the needs of this race. No less than 17 semi-trailers were required to transport them…we start to realise the challenge this represents. Bearing in mind that all of these tyres are different … Teams work in close collaboration with Michelin’s technical experts (one per team) to develop tyres specifically for each car, based on the alignment, suspension, drivers … (In the interest of fairness, note that any competitor can ask for another competitor’s tyres to test them). These experts work on the tyre design before some of these vehicles are even designed. To illustrate this work worthy of Haute Couture, here is a photo of the wet tyres for the Nissan electric prototype (the ZEOD RC) that are grooved by hand.

Wet tyres grooved by hand for the ZEOD RC Copyright © : rezulteo

From this visit, first of all we will remember the involvement and passion shown by the Michelin teams. And secondly, the Clermont Ferrand based tyre manufacturer’s commitment to motorsports. Victory is not the main objective for the tyre manufacturer with the Bibendum logo. Indeed, Michelin uses its racing experience to create a real technology transfer from the racing world to the world of passenger car tyres. Ultimately, many technologies created and designed at Le Mans can be found in passenger car tyres.

>> See the photos of the workshop visit


Our experience of the Le Mans 24 Hours

After the visit to Michelin’s workshops, we discovered the pits where the tension and excitement were palpable only a few hours from the start. Many spectators were present to admire the race cars up close.

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After the workshop visit, we returned to the Michelin hospitality pavilion which offers an excellent view of the track. This pavilion is only ten metres or so from the track.

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For the start of the race at 15h, we moved to Michelin’s private box situated just above the starting line. An ideal spot to appreciate the start of the Le Mans 24 Hours, to experience the fervour and excitement of both the crowd and the teams.  Once the race started and the first laps completed, we took off to a very different location, but equally well placed to watch the race, and above all admire the track...

The Le Mans 24 Hours is lived hour by hour, even at night. To see the whole race we stayed up all night (the proof in pictures shown below), which allowed us to see each turning point of the race live. Around 5 o’clock in the morning, Nakajima's Toyota team (dominating the race until now) suffered a technical problem forcing the team to abandon, and thus allow Audi and Porsche to position themselves in the top three.

Classification half way through the raceCopyright © : rezulteo

The next morning, we followed the race from two legendary spots: the first Hunaudieres chicane and the Porsche corner.

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To watch the end of the race, we returned to the box to get the best view of the finish, get swept up in the fervour of the crowd, and see Audi’s delight as they won the race for the 5th consecutive time with a one-two finish.

To conclude, a final word:  whether you are a motor racing fan or not, the Le Mans 24 Hours is a unique and extraordinary event which brings together young and old alike… A piece of advice: If you get the chance to attend, then don't hesitate, take it!