Michelin looking to make amends in Indy
|By Steve Keating||Thursday, June 29th 2006, 22:01 GMT|
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 tyre 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 US Grand Prix, is more sombre.
Last year, all seven Michelin-equipped teams withdrew before the race following spectacular tyre failures in practice and arguments about safety.
Just six cars, all on Bridgestone tyres, 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 tyre supplier, have gone to great lengths this year to make amends and win back disillusioned American F1 fans.
The tyre 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 build-up to Sunday's race and donated $40,000 USD 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."