June 29, 2006

Michelin looking to pump up fans at US Grand Prix

By Steve Keating

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - A week after celebrating one of
the brightest moments in their Formula One history, Michelin
are back at the scene of one of their darkest days.

Last Sunday, the French tire makers trumpeted their 100th
grand prix victory after Renault's world champion Fernando
Alonso won the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

The mood at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which hosts
Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix, is more somber.

Last year, all six Michelin-equipped teams withdrew before
the race following spectacular tire failures in practice and
arguments about safety.

Just six cars, all on Bridgestone tires, started and
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher's 'victory' was met by jeers and
whistles from a bottle-throwing crowd.

"We weren't sure how people would react to last year,"
Michelin's F1 director Nick Shorrock told Reuters on Thursday.
"Most people seem to have understood that safety is an issue
we're not prepared to compromise on.

"We were obviously very keen to come back. We're excited
about racing here, we want to race here, we wanted to race here
last year.

"This is the only race track we have never won at, in fact
it's the only track on the F1 calendar we've never won at.

"It would be nice to win this one before we pull out at the
end of the year.


Michelin, who are leaving the sport before it moves to a
single tire supplier, have gone to great lengths this year to
make amends and win back disillusioned American F1 fans.

The tire maker offered refunds to last year's race and
purchased 20,000 tickets to be given away in a buy two get one
free deal to fans who attended last year.

Michelin have also pushed teams to make their drivers
available for autographs and other fan friendly promotions
throughout the buildup to Sunday's race and donated $40,000 to
a local charity on Thursday.

"We stood up very quickly and said we will pay you back,"
said Shorrock of last year's nightmare. "You can't make up for
it because it happened but we're doing what we can to make this
a special year."

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, hoped
the sport could now move on.

"Last year was quite damaging, but I think Michelin took
care of everyone - and it cost them an arm and a leg," said the
BMW Sauber driver last weekend.

"Hopefully the compensation that everybody got was worth
it, and if there's a very good show this year I'm sure part of
last year can be cleansed a bit."

Alonso, who is chasing a fifth consecutive win and his
first ever finish at the 'Brickyard', has promised to entertain
the fans on Sunday.

"I am 100 percent sure we will not have the same problem,"
assured the Spaniard. "I think after what happened last year
everyone is expecting a good show and we will put on a good
show for them."