An Alternative To Spec Tires: Australian Superbikes Introduces Price Caps With Multiple Tire Manufacturers

The spec tire rule in MotoGP is one of its most hated elements. Introduced for the 2009 season after a mass defection from Michelin threatened to leave everyone except Bridgestone struggling to survive, the standard tire has had a massive impact on the series. The idea behind it was to reduce costs, and for the smaller privateer teams who could only buy their tires, it has helped to bring down expenses.

But the side effects have been fairly disastrous. Having a spec tire may have reduced the cost of tires, but it has raised the cost of development for the chassis, electronics and engines. Instead of building a bike and having a tire company iron out imperfections with different carcasses and compounds, the bikes have to be designed completely around the tires. The problems the engineers face have been especially obvious this year: the Ducati continues to struggle with a lack of front-end grip,  while the Honda suffers terribly from chatter. Both problems could be sorted out in a couple of weeks with specialized tires made for them.

That, of course, would raise costs again, for tire manufacturers, but especially for the private teams - those that could not get themselves sponsored by a tire company, that is, like Tech 3 back in 2007 and 2008. What's more, it would also open up the performance gap between the factories and the privateer teams once again, something which the spec tire was supposed to get rid of. When factory bikes get specially made tires and private teams get cast-offs from several generations previously, then the dominance of the factories becomes even greater.

The Australian Superbike series has come up with a novel method of trying to get around the shortcomings of a spec tire without plunging the series into a spending war again. From 2013, the series will open up the tire supply to competition, while imposing a price cap on the tires to be supplied. Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop will all be able to supply tires to the series, though for a maximum price of AUD $580 a set. What's more, compounds are to be limited: each brand will be allowed to homologate two compounds for the season.

It is an interesting approach which may show the way forward for other series. By imposing both a price cap and a limit on the number of tires that can be used in a weekend, the costs are contained, making the tire budget a known quantity. But by allowing multiple suppliers, you make it possible for different motorcycle design strategies to be successful, once again allowing a tire to be designed more closely for a bike, rather than forcing engineers to design a bike around the tire. The biggest risk is that the teams will all flock to a single supplier, as has happened with suspension and brakes, using the racer's logic that as long as you are on the same equipment as the next guy, you have a chance of beating them - a logic which Tech 3 crew chief Guy Coulon has pointed out is flawed. 

This is going to be an interesting development to follow. And with spec electronics and a rev limit now looking set to be adopted in 2014 rather than 2015 - the raising of the proposed rev limit from 15,000 to 15,500 RPM is rumored to have helped persuade the stragglers - new tires will be needed then anyway. The ASBK series will be watched very closely in the next couple of years.

Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop tyres for 2013 ASBK

For immediate release: 21 August, 2012.

Riders will have the choice to race on Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop tyres in the 2013 Australian Superbike Championships (ASBK).

International Entertainment Group (IEG) will place a cap on the number and price of tyres to ensure costs are kept to a minimum for all participating.

IEG Managing Director Yarrive Konsky said: “The move was made to allow riders a wider choice and will bring the cost of racing down, as well as add another exciting element to the tactics and strategy of racing.

“IEG thanks Pirelli and Michelin for their interest in being involved once more and Dunlop for their continued support.”

The cap and number of tyres per class are as follows:

Superbike & Prostock: Under $580 per set / 3 front & 4 rear / 2 compounds may be homologated per brand

Supersport & Superstock: Under $480 per set / 3 front & 3 rear / 2 compounds may be homologated per brand

Superlites: Under $350 per set / 2 front & 2 rear / 2 compounds will be homologated per brand

250 Production: Control tyre by Pirelli / 1 front & 1 rear / 2 compounds may be homologated

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Wasnt one of the reasons for the single tyre rule that Michelin got it awefully wrong at a number of meetings in 2007 and 2008 , meaning it you weren't on Bridgestones, you were nowhere?

Secondly, 2 compounds for a season isnt nearly enough for MotoGP. Bridgestone has 4 or 5 (at a guess) compounds for the whole season, and in honesty they could probably do with having a few more, given the radical diffences in track surface, conditions, weather etc due to it being a world series.

I think Michelin's problem was that, before the tyre rules came in, due to the close proximity of their factory, they could use practice days to decide what formulation to use for their racing tyre on the day and have it built and sent to the track for the race (for selected riders). All within the rules for the time. Bridgestone being more distant learned to predict what they would require specifically for the bikes they supplied, so when rules changed limiting numbers per race and fixing compounds before the racing weekend, Michelin were too slow to adapt. For Bridgestone it would have been closer to how they had been operating for years.

I don't think the number of compounds is the issue, as the idea is introducing a cost limit. For GP they could adapt the model to include more compounds if they needed. Number of compounds doesn't matter really when you have only one supplier. Its getting the bikes to work with the tyres provided and as we can see the Ducati and Honda don't seem to like the ones provided at every track.

I applause the Australians for trying a new solution which incorporates open competition between tire-makers. The more strategies that are tried the greater the chances of finding one that works in a racing environment. It's interesting that so far each solution to keep costs down has revealed its flaws when tried in MotoGP competition. We learn from each failure though and eventually there will be a best compromise which does the least harm to competition and saves the greatest amount of money. I will be looking with interest to see how the Aussie experiment fares.

This is a great idea, except for the limit of 2 compounds for the entire season. Why the limit on compounds if the price per set is already fixed?

Hopefully Dorna takes a serious look at this as it could solve a huge number of issues we see every weekend.

One of the things I always hope for from racing is an improvement in the bikes we can buy at the nearest dealership.

Having a chassis which works brilliantly as long as the tires are tailored to the pavement and prevailing weather, but otherwise not at all, is not a trait I really want in a sportbike.

Perhaps it's not actually viable, but there's an appeal in allowing a variety of tires such that the chassis and tire work together, but a limited set of compounds so that the chassis and tires must be functional over a broader range of conditions. This will doubtless be slower than a tire which is spot on between ambient temps of 19-23 degrees but must be swapped out at 18, but it would be the same for all competitors.

I guess the biggest problem is the former Michelin issue, or similar. If a tire manufacturer guesses wrong on compounds, the bikes which work with their carcasses will be forced to the back of the field, or to attempt to work with another manufacturer, and as soon as they're working with a carcass they don't like, we're back to the problem we have now.

The only part of the article I agree with is this statement:

"The biggest risk is that the teams will all flock to a single supplier, as has happened with suspension and brakes"

Which we've already seen in MotoGP, as you pointed out, with the mass defection to Bridgestone in 2007-2008.

Basically the whole premise that teams won't have to build a chassis around the tire is wrong. Teams have always built the bike around the tire, no matter how many suppliers there were.

Did they have more individual power to get the tires tweaked to their liking? Sure.

Will ASBK teams get that individual tweaking to suit their needs at $580 a set? Not a chance.

This will be especially true when the tire flavor of the day pops up, then instead of 2-3 teams asking for different tire design changes, they'll have 8-10.

The only problem MotoGP has with tires is, as Casey has pointed out many times, BS changed the compound at the last second.

To say as another commenter said that the tire situation is "disastrous" is a just a tiny tad bit of hyperbole.

Besides the one race at Assen, and Casey's well made point, what other major crimes has Bridgestone committed?

(Not that it was Bridgestone's fault, they weren't sold on the single tire rule)

If this model for tire supply was in place in post-2008 Ducati might still be relevant in MotoGP. The 2007/2008 Bridgestones weren't better in all circumstances than the Michelins; they were just better for the Ducati. Once Bridgestone became the single supplier their tires became less suited to the Duc as the Japanese manufacturers requested characteristics that suited their bikes, and soon Ducatis were visiting the gravel on a regular basis.

I can imagine MotoGP at the end of the 800 era with Bridgestone-shod Ducatis with a front tire that riders can trust up against Yamahas and Hondas on Michelins developed for those balanced, well-mannered bikes. If it was the same two-compound formula as in Oz Superbikes there wouldn't be one clear tire winner over a season, with different tracks and weather rewarding different manufacturers.

Yeah, teams will always think the grass is greener if someone else is winning on different rubber. Switching brands is short-sighted; Ducati in 2007 showed what you can do if you spend the time to develop a partnership with a tire manufacturer. You can bet the races would look a little different today if Yamaha had spent the last 4 years working with Michelin (and Honda or Suzuki with Pirelli/Dunlop?) on better tires to match the Ducati/Bridgestone partnership.

This might well be a good answer for the SBK national and international series. Could it be made to work for MotoGP? I'm not so sure.

As pointed out- why build a bike around a tire, especially if that tire has to change for every track?

They would do well to get rid of wheel size restrictions as well. I have reason to believe the Ducati would behave better with a larger tire on the rear.

I think a simpler solution would suit MotoGP just fine.

Whatever tire you bring as a tire manufacturer, you have to make it available to anyone who wants to run it. That arrangement has to be finalized a week before the event.

The problem prior was "special" tires - overnight specials or not - for certain teams/riders. You weren't on the A-list, don't even bother showing up - and there was nothing you could do to engineer around those shortcomings.

If you let manufacturers bring whatever tire they want, you allow teams to seek different engineering solutions to go faster - different frame types, different engine configurations, etc. If Tire Brand A becomes the tire of choice for trellis-framed bikes, and Tire B becomes the tire of choice for twin-spar bikes, and Tire C the tire for carbon frames, Tire D the choice for CRTs, excellent! Then bike manufacturers know they can experiment with different frames, knowing they'll have rubber to suit their machines.

If you require the tire manufacturers to provide identical tires to everyone, then it means that the satellite/production/CRT team that has the same frame/engine design as the factory machine has rubber suited to its specific needs.

The only difficulty will be enforcing the "same rubber for everyone" policy - but I think racing orgs have gotten pretty good at that in recent years.

why one earth a rule is in place where a supplier tells the factory here race on this, is beyond me. and oh if it doesn't work for you, to bad, you change to make it work... hmm I thought I was watching Yamaha, Honda, etc. race and not Bridgestone.

if you want one tire provider fine, but open up development so each team can have tweaks to what tire they want, I'm sure Honda could tell you what is needed to cure the chatter. And Ducati could also tell you what type of tire could help the front end. just put a cap on how much can be spent, this may also help crt's or it could just royally F everything up.

"open up development so each team can have tweaks to what tire they want"


"put a cap on how much can be spent"

Each of these statements at their core require the other to be false. You can't have individual development for each manufacturer/team without the tire supplier, and therefore the teams, spending a lot more.

You can't have a custom tailored suit for the price of an off-the-rack from JCPenney.

ASBK solution is a nice way to get cheap tires on the grid for everyone... for which teams will have to setup bikes around.

"open up development so each team can have tweaks to what tire they want"


"put a cap on how much can be spent"

Each of these statements at their core require the other to be false.

Unless you open up the competition between tire manufacturers again and spread the cost out among them. It always made sense to me to have each bike manufacturer partner with a tire manufacturer to develop tires to their specific bikes, then have those tires available for all riders on that bike. So Yamaha with Bridgestone, Honda with Michelin, Ducati with Pirelli, etc.

The rules have obviously become, over the 800 years, more and more tailored for what certain factories do well. That's why you have only 3 manufacturers left, with Ducati not doing well at all. I'd love to see everything opened up again - ay tires, no fuel limit, whatever they want to do to create a fast bike. Some will succeed, some will fail, but I'd rather see that. At least it would be interesting.

"It always made sense to me to have each bike manufacturer partner with a tire manufacturer to develop tires to their specific bikes"

Yes, that would limit development costs to the tire supplier to one customer.

The flip side is you run the risk that one tire manufacturer gets an edge over the others, like BS did over Michelin in GP, and also, coincidentally (or not?) when BS dominated F1 with their exclusive contract with Ferrari in the Schumacher hey-day.

The solution for both series was spec tire, which, in my opinion, is working just fine. Lap times continued to fall last year compared to 2010 and before (800cc era).

ASBK solution might be a good compromise. Different manufacturers, different tires, same for all, no special one-offs, cheap sets. Most importantly, available for all.

Anyway, my main original point was that spec tire doesn't increase chassis/bike development costs. If you go ASBK route, you'd have to at least test the different makes and make an honest attempt to evaluate the best for the bike... that's development cost. Then of course teams/manufacturers will always be trying to improve the bike for whatever tire they choose.

800 years is a long time. I've only been following motorcycle racing for 35 years. I had no idea they predated the internal combustion engine ;)

My understanding is that in late 2005, Michelin management made a decision that was to have far-reaching implications and would result in Valentino Rossi (and others) crying out for a change in the tyre regulations. My understanding of what happened is this:

1, Michelin decided to move its leading tyre chemist/engineer out of the lab and into the field (at the MotoGP tracks);

2, Michelin promoted the Number Two chemist to the Number One position;

3, this chemist then left the company, so Michelin put the Number Three chemist in charge of race tyre development while the chemist responsible for so much of its previous success was now working in the field, liaising with teams that were getting increasingly distressed with problems with the tyres.

In 2006 Rossi and some others had problems with their Michelin tyres in a few races, then in 2007, Ducati hired an unsung and unfancied Australian as the Number Two rider to Loris Capirossi on the company's then new 800cc MotoGP machine. This rider immediately 'clicked' with the way the Bridegestone front worked and went on to not only win Ducati's first (and only) MotoGP Championship but in doing so, he handed Bridgestone its first premier class championship as well.

This resulted in: 1, Mr Rossi screaming blue murder that he had poor tyres and thus needed the 'same tyres as Casey'; 2, Dani Pedrosa following the same line; 3, Michelin not getting the situation under control; 4, Dorna deciding (with a certain Italian rider cheering them on) to adopt a single tyre regulation. This was something that Bridgestone was very much opposed to.

Things could have been very much different if self-interest had not prevailed. It is worth noting that the Pole records set at many tracks were set in 2008, the last year of open tyre competition. While many of those pole records were set on Michelins, Bridgestone was also represented. Some of the lap records set in that year also still remain unbroken although for the most part, race records (the time taken to complete full race distance) have been reduced.

However, perhaps due to cost-cutting, Bridgestone's latest MotoGP tyres do not seem to have found much favour among the teams. Why it cannot continue to supply the 'old' front tyre as a choice, alongside the new one, is something that should be asked of Bridgestone and Dorna. What it the real reason. It is not safety, that is for sure.

Perhaps those with more detailed information would care to add to this?

The other change for 2007 was that tires had to be brought to the track by Thursday. This meant that Michelin could no longer make the specials it used to based on data from the track. Bridgestone, who were already used to planning ahead and making tires for a much broader range of conditions, had a massive head start with this way of working, while Michelin's mindset was still based around getting the tires exactly right based on data from the track.

The key component is CHOICE.
Within the scope of a limited range of tyres the ASBK competitors at least get a choice of brands. Remember Melandri in MotoGP struggling with feel on a particular brand, because of the way he rode?
Whilst the range of compounds could be wider perhaps, it would still give teams choice and would eliminate this ridiculous situation where Bridgestone supply tyres that suit their brand image, rather than what the teams necessarily want, as highlighted by the change to compound AND carcase that saw the Honda factory guys screaming blue bloody murder.

In any monopoly, how do we know that the product is suitable when we have nothing to compare it against.

I railed against theone tyre rule when DORNA's golden goose put the heat on Michelin and wanted to swap to Bridgestone, and I haven't seen anything that convinces me it was just another short-sighted knee-jerk response to a possible problem that was not even clearly understood.
Put it in the same pot as the rookie rule. A dumb decision that clearly wasn't thought through.

Don't DORNA have any whiteboards and people who can run brainstorming sessions?

flagged his disgust that these midnight specials flown in were distributed sparingly. I remember him finishing on the podium (LCR Honda) at Laguna (I think, not sure??) and giving Vale one of his trademark verbal backhanders about the use of on-off specials for some riders and how the results would be very different if ALL riders recieved the same 'special' tyres.. It was so obvious, and such an un-acknowledged fact at the time, that almost from that moment the tyre rules were under attack.

Even though he was number 2 at Ducati, a quick look at his record on the LCR and it was obvious how much talent he had, and in hindsight makes his 2007 victory easier to understand especially with tyre changes. Its a mistake to think that he gained an 'prepared tyre' advantage over the others, but he was more familiar with the Bridgestone. The real advantage was given to Rossi (and Doohan before him) in many preceding championships. The legend of the ' flown in mid-night special', and they were too.

Whilst I appreciate the obvious faults of a one tyre rule, for me it has improved the racing - remember those not too distant days when if you ran brand x then you may as well not turn up to compete at track y? (eg Michelin at Laguna or anywhere hot). That's not racing, it's a lottery..
There is a big question mark over the Australian solution, they have done nothing but screw the series up over the last 5 years, I think this is another bandaid

1. Yamaha's chatter problems in 2006 couldn't be solved with new tires, only with a different frame. Honda should do the same, but since they have a great bike otherwise, they're reclutant to change it.

2. In 2008 at Brno a certain manager wanted to boycott the race, after that there was a drivers meeting where Ezpeleta asked the drivers about a possible single tire rule. Basically every rider was behind that idea.

3. In 2007 Bridgestone was better on majority of the races. I base that on the fact that 2007 was the only year when Kawasaki and Suzuki were competitive the whole season. Never after and never before.

4. Some posters still think that Rossi won his races because the "overnight specials". First he won a lot of races outside of Europe, where those weren't available. JB said in the past that sometimes "those" tires created even more confusion in the box, more tires to try means less time on setup work.

5. I think Michelin's demise was a result of Pierre Dupasquier's retirement in 2005, his successor wasn't up to his job.