Last week, it was announced that Dunlop will replace Pirelli as the official spec tire of the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship, ending an eight-year relationship. And just the week previously, Bridgestone announced that it will be stepping down as the tire supplier for MotoGP at the end of the 2015 season, also ending a long-running association.
Interestingly, the CSBK announcement was made just one month before the opening round of the season where the new tires will be used, while Bridgestone is giving well over a year’s notice to Dorna and the MotoGP teams; this is perhaps indicative of how crucial tires are to each series and the impact a change in the supplier will have.
For teams in the CSBK series, including the Jodi Christie Racing / Accelerated Technologies / Honda Canada team I will be helping this year, I doubt the switchover will be overly traumatic. The slicks used in the Superbike class and the DOT-race tires used in the Sport Bike class are produced in relatively large quantities and designed to work on a variety of machines in a wide range of conditions. The manufacturers expect their tires to work equally well for a rider on a ZX-10R in Almeria, Spain, as they would for a rider on a YZF-R1 at St-Eustache.
Still, when we get to Shannonville, some adjustments will certainly have to be made to account for the different tires. For example, ride heights may have to be changed to account for a different rolling radius. If the carcass construction of the new tires is significantly softer or harder, damping adjustments may have to be considered. And if the tires’ profiles are different, more elaborate changes to geometry may be required, or the traction control maps may have to be finessed. All these changes are in the standard realm of adjustments available on the production-based bikes, and I am certain most riders in the series will be able to comfortably adapt to the new tires in a short amount of time.
MotoGP, however, is a different story. Bridgestone has been the official supplier for the class since 2009, and in that time the tires and bikes have been developed to a narrower and narrower focus to increase performance. Specifically, there are just a handful of different bikes that will ever use the tires, and the tires will only be used on the tracks that make up the MotoGP calendar.
Over the years, Bridgestone has developed its tires to match the bikes’ performance increases; likewise, the manufacturers have been working hard to best utilize the changes that Bridgestone makes each year, designing their new bikes accordingly. This strategy on both sides has steadily made the tires more and more unlike any other motorcycle tire – even the superbike slicks that Bridgestone makes available to other racers.
What this means is that it’s unlikely another tire company will be able to come along and supply a similar tire that won’t require significant changes to the bikes. And, unlike the changes we are most likely facing in the CSBK series, manufacturers may be forced to make some drastic design changes to chassis stiffness, weight distribution or even engine location in the chassis. Even with the extra year Bridgestone has given the series to ensure a smooth transition, I am sure it will be a very difficult time for the riders, manufacturers and whatever tire company takes over.
The new supplier has not yet been announced; MotoGP is currently accepting tenders, and Michelin, Pirelli and Dunlop have all been mentioned as potential candidates. It’s a major commitment to make, and I am sure all three companies are aware of the huge undertaking it will be. Bridgestone first entered MotoGP with a complete two-rider team run by Erv Kanemoto devoted solely to tire development, and even then it was a long time before the company saw success. In 2016, “success” for the new tire supplier will not be measured against competition on the track, but rather in how smoothly the transition is made from one tire company to another.