The Return of Bib, The Michelin Man, To MotoGP?
What therefore Mike Baldwin joined together let not man cold tear apart
by dean adams
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Several weeks back, the Austin MotoGP paddock was rank with rumors that Bridgestone was considering a pull-out of MotoGP in the near future.
Bridgestone's reasoning for their semi-shocking announcementthat they will race no more after 2015is as yet unknown, but it probably fits an established pattern. More companies have left GP than have stayed, for the usual reasons. For one thing, it's as expensive as hell. Not only that, but with the rules being clamped down harder every year, there's limited new data to incorporate into the productionstreet tires in this case.
Plus, being a sole tire-supplier to a racing series is probably a lot like being the vice-principle of a high school, meaning while everyone respects you, not many students or teachers really like you all that much. Bridgestone, after every new generation of control tire is introduced, always seems to become someone's paddock punching bag. Trying to keep just one MotoGP team or factory happy is enough to give any tire company ulcers, and doing so for multiple teams with different engines and engine characteristics is a Herculean task.
When It Began
Bridgestone's involvement in motorcycle racing has been a very long and arduous road.
While most peg Bridgestone's Ducati period as their infancy in racing (Ducati and Casey Stoner won the 2007 MotoGP title together), actually, Bridgestone's racing effort goes much further back than that. In the 1990s Bridgestone worked with AMA Superbike teams Two Brothers Racing and Erion Racing, and also with Texas-based Moto-Liberty--all led by Bridgestone's Bob Graham. This is where Bridgestone's slick tire development began in earnest, later bolstered by their sponsoring Erv Kanemoto's GP team in 2001 and on, which was effectively known as "Bridgestone's test team".
When Stoner and Ducati won the Moto GP title in 2007 there were Bridgestone technicians on hand who had probed their first rubber at obscure racetracks in the US with Moto-Liberty in the '90s.
The history of Bridgestone tires will never be fully written and a historically important scene will one day--or may have already--been lost. That happened in the early 1990s when five time F1 champion Mike Baldwin rode a TBR 600 at Texas World in what would be one of his last rides. Baldwin, ex-Honda, ex-Team Roberts, ex-Kawasaki and Bimota had ridden AMA, GP, WSBK and other series and had a wealth of tire experience.
After that 600 race at TWS, Baldwin found himself completely surrounded by Bridgestone tire engineers as they peppered him with questions, ignoring all other riders. That was probably when Bridgestone learned they could save time and resources by simply getting the best people possible to help them develop tires.
Kanemoto came next ... then Ducati ..
Bridgestone's press release states that they are "considering other opportunities" in motorsports.
At Austin it was rumored that Michelin was interested in coming back into MotoGP, although it was inferred that their interest was piqued by the hope that the MotoGP class would become a battlefield for more than one tire company.
In other words, they wanted Bridgestone to stay or Dunlop to join the class as well.
The paddock has seen the ups and downs suffered by Bridgestone in MotoGP as sole tire supplier. It will be interesting to see who answers Dorna's RFP to become the new punching bag.
Michelin's iconic Bibendum or "Bib" or simply "the Michelin Man" is still pretty rotund and looks like he could take some punches. But, after seeing the beating that Bridgestone suffered, will he sign up for it?
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