Michelin has extended its winning streak to a record-breaking 24 straight victories at Le Mans after Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José-Maria Lopez scored...
They may make fewer headlines than the front-running ‘Hypercar’ prototypes, but the LM GTE contenders have a habit of providing exceptionally thrilling battles at Le Mans. This year, Michelin has every chance of adding to its unique record in the class, simply because all the teams involved are competing on Pilot Sports. Yet the rules permit open competition between tire brands. So why do prestige carmakers like Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Ferrari and Porsche place their trust in the French firm for the world’s greatest endurance race?
World endurance racing’s LM GTE Pro class has accustomed us to some pretty breathtaking battles.
As evidence, look no further back than to last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours where the category-winning Ferrari crossed the line a mere 20 seconds ahead of the second-placed Corvette. That’s after more than 4,700 kilometers at an average speed of almost 200kph!
Clearly, when it gets this close, the teams and drivers can’t afford to leave the slightest detail to chance. So, given that they are free to work with the tire manufacturer of their choosing, getting that choice right is absolutely vital.
Five different carmaker partners
Since 2018, all the class’s runners have called on the services of Michelin, won over by the brand’s eloquent and record. Indeed, only once since 2003 has it failed to claim the top GT prize at Le Mans (LM GTE Pro/GT1/GTS), and it has won with five different partners – Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Ford.
So why do all these teams turn to the French brand year after year?
“We put our 100% trust sending a million-dollar race car and a driver into the darkness at Le Mans on Michelins,” replies Marc Maurini, Team Manager of Corvette Racing with whom Michelin has claimed seven GT victories at Le Mans since 2004.
The fastest GT drivers will probably clock up something like 1,500 kilometers each over the weekend, so they, too, need to know they can depend on the rubber that is fitted to their respective cars…
“Does having confidence in your tires make a difference at Le Mans? “I would definitely say ‘yes’,” states two-time LMGTE Pro world champion Nicki Thiim. “With the amount of speed we are traveling with down the highways of France, I think it’s fair to say that the four patches we have the contact with are very important for us. And no one delivers it better than Michelin, in my opinion.”
From the track to the street
Given the freedom the teams have to join forces with the supplier of their choice, such praise understandably goes straight to the hearts of the company’s engineers… “Anyone can choose any tire brand for the World Endurance Championship’s GT class,” underlines Michelin Motorsport Director Matthieu Bonardel. “So it’s nice to be able to say that they have all chosen Michelin. To have earned this sort of acknowledgement of our technical leadership from these car manufacturers is important for us.”
As one might expect, Michelin’s winning partnerships in motor racing can lead to close collaboration in other fields, too, with all the parties involved eager to carry over the lessons they learn on the racetrack to the products they actually market.
“The Corvette-Michelin relationship has clearly been one of trust and confidence,” agrees Laura Wontrop Klauser, GM Sports Car Racing Program Manager. “Our association has extended far into the car production side, as well. We run Michelin tires on the Corvettes which customers can buy, and we highly recommend them for the performance they provide. They make the Corvette what it is. And a lot of that came from the relationship we developed in racing.”