As WEC season kicks off, so do Michelin’s 2016 improvements

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The FIA World Endurance Championship season begins this weekend at Silverstone for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, and that means everyone has improved over the winter to find and unlock even more performance this year.

One of the areas that will be fascinating to watch this year is where LMP1 pace is at for the manufacturers. The reduction in fuel flow and energy per lap is a 7.5 percent cut; the thinking being that the LMP1 pace, particularly at Le Mans last year, was getting to be too out of hand.

As such, teams will need to unlock performance in a new way.

For Michelin, which has a presence in three of the four WEC classes (LMP1, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am), they are tasked with making a tire that continues to perform better while also lasting longer over the course of the six-hour endurance races.

For Pascal Couasnon, Director of Michelin Motorsport, it’s that challenge that continues to drive Michelin in its quest for continual improvement. The company prides itself not just on racing to win, but racing to learn to enhance its street tire technology.

“The WEC is such a great series – it is totally aligned with what we want to do,” Couasnon told NBC Sports in an interview. “Again the challenge is finding what makes sense for the future.

“The test for us is to find more and more performance. Finding the limit, and how to manage the tire. There are very wide temperature windows and for the performance.

“We’ve been able to find high performance to offer a great show in WEC and Le Mans, both for the LMP classes and for the GTE classes.”

An inadvertent bonus for Michelin and an interesting element to watch this year is the tire competition within the GTE ranks, thanks to Aston Martin Racing’s late switch to Dunlop tires for 2016. That is something Couasnon looks forward to this year.

“We loved to work with Aston Martin, but that’s a good thing to have (another) good tire maker,” he explained.

“What’s great in WEC is that it’s open. In some classes, it doesn’t look that way. So that’s going to be a good fight.

“We are ready and delighted to have a fight against our friends from England.”

It’s a variation this year as the WEC GTE classes have tire competition while IMSA’s GT Le Mans class in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which competes concurrently this weekend on the streets of Long Beach, currently don’t.

Couasnon said Michelin would welcome another tire manufacturer back in IMSA for the same reasoning as above.

“That’s correct. That’s the goal,” he admitted.

“What we want, the key thing for Michelin is to be challenged. There’s two ways to be challenged. One is competition. The other way to be challenged is to work with the promoter and make the rules tougher and tougher for yourself. You have to bring new technology.

“In ACO – for example – you change tires and refuel, but the immediate consequence and are looking for double, triple, quadruple stint tires. You’re aware that in IMSA … the consistency of performance changes a bit.

“Another tire manufacturer would be more than welcome. It would be good motivation to continue to improve.”

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”