When the green flag flies July 4 at the WeatherTech 240 from Daytona International Speedway, it won’t just mark IMSA’s return to racing.
It will also mark Michelin’s global return to racing.
IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the first of Michelin’s five global race championships to restart in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michelin’s other four global series – the FIA World Endurance Championship, ABB FIA Formula E Championship, MotoGP World Championship and FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) – will resume later.
Also, Michelin sought to prioritize racing tires for IMSA once its global production factories in France reopened.
The key to planning was anticipating, as new Michelin North America motorsports director Tony Ménard explained on The Torque Show before the final IMSA iRacing Pro Series event at virtual Watkins Glen International.
"Just before the crisis, we were working with our development team in France to think about new solutions for the rest of the season for IMSA and its classes," Ménard said. "We see the opportunity of this moment without any activity to probably focus a little bit more on what was urgent to dedicate more resources.
"It’s possible because we did anticipate; because we have a commitment to the racers and the sanctioning body to continue to listen. If you keep listening to them, you keep improving your solutions and your tires."
Michelin has worked to prioritize IMSA supply not just for the immediate round at Daytona, but also for the balance of the 2020 racing season.
The condensed, revised schedule means IMSA will race 10 weekends in five months covering July through November, rather than 10 weekends in 10 months after the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
From a supply chain standpoint, and with the evolving nature of IMSA’s 2020 schedule, that has meant Michelin has had to carefully monitor its tire options and selections.
Working in partnership, Michelin and IMSA continued to discuss best options for the rounds as they arose.
Racing at Daytona and Sebring in July, for example, require different solutions than racing at Daytona in January and Sebring in November, given the significant heat of summer.
"At one point we were working on eight different scenarios!" Ménard said. "You multiply the scenarios by the number of classes, versus is it soft, medium, hard, and how many cars?
"The collaboration with IMSA has been great. Yes, it’s really kept us busy, but we have also thought about new ways of operating."
The protocols and support to teams change quite a bit too. Rather than full staff and embedded engineers and motorsport tire specialists, a small number of Michelin employees will be on site at Daytona. Teams will report in their tire related data back to Michelin, in terms of their pressures, cambers and temperatures.
Designated areas are in place for inspection, pickup and drop-off around the tire workshop. The engineering trailer is off limits to everyone except Michelin Motorsport staff, and the workshop is off limits to everyone except essential personnel. Virtual meetings will occur when needed.
But a successful Daytona rollout lays the groundwork for the remainder of Michelin’s global championship season, with IMSA a major part of that.
"We’ve had good communication to arrive at the best solution, and we’ll arrive with a smaller team, with everyone fully equipped to respect the protocols of IMSA and our own company," Ménard said.
"It will be a very interesting moment to resume racing."