Calling it a ``sincere gesture of goodwill,'' Group Michelin is offering to compensate spectators who attended the recent U.S. Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), where all 14 racers using Michelin tires withdrew because the tire maker was unsure about the safety of its tires on the speedway's banked turn.
Michelin said it is making the offer on its own initiative and in ``total solidarity'' with its Formula 1 team partners, which were reprimanded publicly recently for failing to ensure that they were in possession of suitable tires and for wrongfully refusing to allow their cars to start the race.
Michelin also is offering to buy 20,000 tickets to the 2006 U.S. Grand Prix and offer them to spectators who attended the '05 race in order to ``promote further Formula 1 interest in the U.S.''
At the same time it disclosed its offer, though, Michelin and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the F1 sanctioning body, were embroiled in a public exchange of criticisms, each accusing the other of distorting the facts of the U.S. Grand Prix fiasco.
Michelin did not quantify the possible cost of its offer, but grandstand tickets for the Grand Prix range from $75 to $150 each. Attendance at the June 19 race was estimated at about 100,000, putting the value of its offer at close to $10 million, if all fans seek refunds, and another $1.5 million to $2 million for the '06 offer-unless it can negotiate a volume discount.
The snafu arose after two tire-failure-related crashes in practice and qualifying in turn 13 on IMS's banked curve. Michelin Motorsport Director Pierre Dupasquier notified race organizers that the firm had been unable to determine the ``root cause'' of the failures and therefore could not assure the teams using its tires that they could compete safely at racing speeds.
Michelin and the affected teams suggested the organizers make temporary changes to the track-such as a chicane immediately before turn 13-to slow down the cars before they entered the curved straightaway, the fastest spot on the course.
The FIA declined the suggestion, saying: ``To change the course in order to help some of the teams with a performance problem caused by their failure to bring suitable equipment to the race would be a breach of the rules and grossly unfair to those teams which have come to Indianapolis with the correct tires.''
Following the FIA's decision, the seven two-car teams running on Michelin tires withdrew, leaving only six Bridgestone-shod cars to take the green flag.
Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher won the race ahead of teammate Rubens Barrrichello.
After examining the remaining tires at its laboratories in France, Michelin concluded that the tires were ``insufficiently suited'' for the high-speed banked curve at that track but were not ``intrinsically flawed.''
Michelin said its investigations revealed that the loads exerted on the rear left tire through Turn 13 at IMS were ``far superior'' to the highest estimations of Michelin's engineers. This year, the situation through this corner turned out to be altered by the extreme combination of the speed, lateral acceleration and additional dynamic load.
Michelin apologized publicly for the situation, saying safety is the firm's No. 1 concern, but it also criticized the FIA for accusing the affected teams of having boycotted the Grand Prix.
``The reality is that together, Michelin and its partners have done everything possible to assure that the race could take place in total safety,'' Michelin said.