As detailed in the season preview, Nissan is the “known unknown” for this year’s SUPER GT battle, having brought a new base model in Z shape to replace the old GT-R. But there is another factor that makes it difficult to predict what will turn out this season: the tyres. More specifically, Michelin tires.
Michelin has always been in the SUPER GT since 2009, winning four titles in that time against the might of its old Formula 1 rival Bridgestone, the standard tire maker that powers nine of the 15 cars in the GT500 field. On the other hand, Michelin only offers two cars, a pair of Nissan Zs operated by Nismo at the factory, the No. 3 and the No. 23.
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While Nissan has two other cars that use different tires, Team Impul on Bridgestones and Kondo Racing in Yokohama, nearly all of its recent successes have come with Michelin, which in turn has not supplied any other manufacturer since 2015. Nissan and Michelin fortunes are therefore, in large part, tied together. some.
There are times when this is in favor of Nissan. A good example is last year’s Suzuka race, where the GT-Rs closed the podium, in large part helping Bridgestone bring in tires that were too tough for the unusually cold August weather. Equally, there have been plenty of occasions where Nissan drivers have been put at risk by not having the Michelin in the right window.
But it looks like there will be one major advantage for this year’s Nissan Michelin Chaud – in wet areas.
Incredibly, the SUPER GT has now gone through two full seasons without a single wet race. The last time we got one was in Sogo in 2019, which incidentally was won by NDDP/B-Max Nissan from Kohei Hirate and Frederic Makowiecki. And there’s good reason the next time it rains, it can be hard to beat the French company again.
Fuji Speedway’s pre-season test last month provided the teams’ first proper opportunity to run in wet areas for some time, and the schedules told their own story. On both Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings, when conditions were at their worst, both Nissans operated by Nismo sat at the top of the schedules. And not just a little, but a lot.
On Saturday afternoon, Katsumasa Chiyo’s effort in the #3 NDDP Nissan was 1.1 seconds faster than the fastest non-Michelin car, the #38 Cerumo Toyota GR Supra. The next morning, Chiyo was the pioneer again, with a reduced but still comfortable cushion seven tenths of a second over Tomoki Nojiri’s ARTA Honda NSX-GT.
Now yes, conditions on both sessions were variable and some cars might not be traded when the track was at its fastest. But the sheer margin offered by Michelin cars was a worrying sign for rival tire makers Bridgestone, Dunlop and Yokohama for their chances in this wet season.
It wasn’t the timetables that attracted attention, either. The same tires were used by #3 and #23 Nissans featuring a never-before-seen tread pattern with side grooves reminiscent of intermediate tires from F1’s tire war era in the early 2000s.
The Japanese version of Motorsport.com had a chance to catch up with Hiroaki Odashima, president of Japanese automaker Michelin, to ask him about the new rubber.
“The tread pattern is based on our Pilot Sport Cup 2 sports tyre, which is a simplified version of the pattern used in the latest generation of sports tyres, starting with the Pilot Sport 4,” explained Odashima. This style has also been used before in Formula E. [which uses all-weather tyres].
“In the SUPER GT, we have to use the same tire for both full wet conditions and semi-dry conditions. Therefore, dry performance is important, and the SUPER GT in particular requires stability. This style was created to be durable in medium conditions and to improve our performance in full wet conditions.
“It looks like an intermediate tire, but the number of vertical grooves has increased from two to three and the amount of water displacement has increased. There are side grooves near the shoulder, but the block is larger than before, so the block stiffness increases. This makes it more durable and therefore stronger on the drying track.”
In this test [at Fuji] We were able to demonstrate that it has a wide range. From very heavy rain leading up to a red flag to a drying track, we were able to show our speed. if it rains [during a race weekend] What we have learned from this test will be helpful.”
While it looks like the inaugural Okayama season will take place this week in the summer, Japan’s weather forecast isn’t famous for its accuracy — Fuji’s test Sunday was supposed to be completely dry — and anyway, chances are a third of the season in a row will pass with no wet races at all low.
And while it didn’t play a role in the 2020 or 21 title fights, exactly what happened in the wet race could be pivotal. Essentially, rain favors teams already heavily loaded with successful ones, where the advantages of owning a car (or tires) matching the conditions greatly outweigh the few tenths you lose from owning a heavier car, or less power. In fact, a heavier car might be a good thing to help the tires warm up faster.
In 2012, rain at Autopolis – where the success weight was halved, as it was the penultimate round of the season – helped MOLA Nissan’s points lead pair Ronnie Quintarelli and Masataka Yanagida overcome their handicap and snatch the title with an extra round.
Don’t be surprised if Michelin-Schoud Nissan is once again in a prime position to benefit if the skies are open sometime during the 2022 season.