The French tyre supplier made a shock announcement last week that the 2023 season will be its last in the top class of Japan’s top sportscar series, where it supplies Nissan’s two works NISMO Zs, although it plans to maintain a presence in the GT300 division.
Michelin has said in the past that it uses SUPER GT, one of only a handful of championships left in worldwide motorsport with open tyre competition, to inform development for other series it is involved in, such as the World Endurance Championship.
But despite recent efforts by organisers to encourage greater longevity, SUPER GT tyres still tend to be discarded after a single stint, while double- and triple-stints have become de rigueur in the WEC and other series.
Hiroaki Odashima, Michelin Japan’s motorsport boss, admitted that an increased emphasis on sustainability and durability elsewhere in motorsport had lessened the value of SUPER GT as an arena where solutions for other series can be trialled.
“Up to now we have been using the GT500 class as a ‘laboratory’, but the world of motorsport has changed in terms of how we can use what we learn there,” Odashima told Motorsport.com’s Japanese edition in an exclusive interview.
“Rather than outright speed compared to the other manufacturers, the target has become to increase mileage without sacrificing performance and utilising more sustainable materials. In SUPER GT, durability is required as well, but it’s not a category that requires you to run 700, 800 or 1000km on a single set of tyres.
“The sporting appeal of GT500 hasn’t changed, but seeing as its value to us is as a ‘laboratory’, if the way we can use what we learn changes, the value of staying there decreases. That is the main reason we are suspending our GT500 activities.”
Michelin is alone among SUPER GT’s four tyre manufacturers in having to ship its products over from Europe, with the cost of freight having increased exponentially in recent years owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But Odashima insists this increase in costs was not the motivating factor for exiting GT500.
“It’s true that the cost of transportation has shot up, but if we were to include that in our analysis of GT500’s value, we wouldn’t have started in the first place,” said Odashima.
“This is something we’ve known about since the beginning as a European-based company. The decision about whether or not to take part is not dictated by rising or falling costs.”
Michelin’s decision to pull the plug on its GT500 involvement leaves the two-car NISMO team needing to find an alternative tyre supplier for the 2024 season.
“It was towards the end of 2022 when it became apparent continuing in SUPER GT would be difficult,” said Odashima. “We told NISMO at an early stage that we are considering temporarily suspending our involvement.
“While trying to find some way of continuing, we discussed things right up until the final decision was made, but finally they respected our decision. The timing of the announcement was also made to give them enough time to transition to a different tyre supplier.”
Motorsport.tv is showing all qualifying sessions and races for the 2023 SUPER GT season. For more information, click here.