The battle between opposing tyre manufacturers has been an intriguing sub-plot of the 2021 mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance ASBK, presented by Motul, and the upcoming round at Hidden Valley is set to present the teams with new challenges for how they manage their rubber allocation for the weekend.
In the most recent round at Wakefield Park, the race victories were shared between Pirelli (Wayne Maxwell) and Troy Herfoss (Michelin), but the Hidden Valley event will throw up a variety of curve-balls.
The increased ambient and track temperatures are an obvious factor, along with Superbike riders and teams choosing not to conduct pre-event testing at Darwin in the lead-up to the race meeting.
We caught up with representatives from the four ASBK tyre homologation suppliers in the tyre war: Pirelli, Dunlop, Michelin and Bridgestone.
Garry Crilly – Pirelli (Link International)
Pirelli tyres are renowned for their performance and durability on the international stage, with the Italian brand servicing the FIM Superbike World Championship as the official tyre supplier.
Teams and riders running Pirelli tyres include DesmoSport Ducati (Mike Jones and Oli Bayliss), Craig McMartin Racing (Wayne Maxwell), Next Gen Motorsports (Glenn Allerton and Lachlan Epis), Matt Walters, Ant West and Arthur Sissis.
Garry Crilly said the performance of Pirelli tyres in the scorching European summer heat can give the Pirelli-shod teams a wealth of confidence heading to Darwin.
“Our tyres are the same ones used in the FIM Superbike World Championship,” Crilly said.
“The heat doesn’t worry us – our tyres have been tried and proven in the sweltering heat, so the hotter, the better!
“The more significant challenge for the teams will be the lack of testing, as they chose not to visit Darwin in the lead-up to the event. The Friday practice sessions will be particularly important.”
The ASBK tyre homologation list permits each tyre manufacturer to use two different front and three different rear compounds over the course of the season. Crilly said teams will be trialling different compound options in practice.
“The teams will be experimenting with tyre compounds and bike setup to work out how they can best balance the objective of peak speed over one lap (for qualifying) with making sure the bike looks after its tyres over a race distance,” he said.
“I think our biggest advantage in the tyre war will be the international knowledge base we can tap into.”
Robbie Bugden – Dunlop (Ficeda Accessories)
The Yamaha factory team has chosen to use Dunlop tyres for its riders, Cru Halliday and Aiden Wagner, this season, while Kawasaki BCPerformance riders Bryan Staring and Josh Waters also continue to use Dunlops.
According to Robbie Bugden, the 2021 season has been a promising one for Dunlop so far.
“To get third at Winton, in our debut weekend with the Yamaha factory team, shows we’ve made steps forward with our versatility – it hasn’t traditionally been one of our strongest tracks,” Bugden said.
“Heading to Hidden Valley will be a big test with the heat, but the circuit layout should suit our tyres.
“One of the interesting factors will be sharing the event programme with the Supercars. The way they lay down their rubber is different to the bikes, because they take different lines; this can create some challenges with a variation in grip levels, which the riders will have to adapt to.”
An accomplished rider himself, Bugden said his own racing experience is useful in dealing with the riders and teams.
“When they’re providing feedback on how a tyre is behaving, I can understand what they’re feeling because I’ve experienced it myself,” he said.
“Overall, the tyre war has become very competitive and created a lot of discussion in the paddock, which is a good thing for all the manufacturers as well as the ASBK.”
Doug Sharp – Michelin (Gas Imports)
The Australian importer for Michelin Superbike tyres is Doug Sharp, a man who has spent decades in international grand prix racing paddocks, including a stint with the Repsol Honda team as a technician, working with riders such as Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Alex Criville and Nicky Hayden.
With his vast experience at the very top level of motorcycle racing, Sharp is someone who has the potential to give Michelin a strong focus with their Australian exploits. He hasn’t been shy in bringing some other prominent names along for the ride, with fellow MotoGP mechanics Jeremy Burgess and Alex Briggs (who both worked as mechanics for superstar Valentino Rossi) called upon as Michelin tyre technicians at ASBK events.
Troy Herfoss is the most prominent rider on Michelin rubber, with others including Mark Chiodo, Jed Metcher and Aaron Morris also using the Michelin product.
Sharp believes the biggest advantage of the Michelin rubber is their performance over longer runs.
“Michelin definitely make tyres that last, and here in Australia our races are not particularly long compared to overseas,” Sharp said.
“I haven’t actually been to Darwin before; it’s one of the few tracks I haven’t visited. But there are a lot of similarities to some of the overseas venues, especially with the high ambient and track temperatures we’ll be facing.”
Sharp is expecting the Michelin rubber to shine at some of the other events on the 2021 ASBK calendar.
“Based on the testing we’ve done at other circuits, I think we’ll be strong at some of the other upcoming events,” he said.
“Troy Herfoss recorded some very fast times in testing at Morgan Park, so that’s one we’re really looking forward to.”
Craig White – Bridgestone (White’s Racing Products)
Two ASBK teams were signed up to use Bridgestone tyres in 2021, but the arrangements fell through due to a COVID-related lack of supply from the Bridgestone factory in Japan.
“We couldn’t guarantee supply for 2021 and we didn’t want to inconvenience the riders, but we’re using this time to prepare for 2022,” Craig White said.
“In a few months, Bridgestone are releasing a new range of slicks for the Supersport class and we’re also working on supplying some Superbike teams next season.”
So, that leaves the question: which tyre manufacturer will prevail at Hidden Valley? Over the last few years, Pirelli has conquered the Superbike Championship, emerging victorious in the title contest on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, the Michelin and Dunlop tyres have proven to be very durable and consistent over a race distance. With each tyre brand represented by talented riders and capable teams, the war is as unpredictable as ever.