LE MANS, France—Michelin is offering a $1.3 million prize next year for the race team that can win the 2014 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race while meeting a series of performance and fuel- and tire-saving benchmarks.
Michelin said it sees the prize, dubbed the Michelin Total Performance Award, as a means to speed up innovation. The prize is intended to be passed on by the winning team or car maker to a research institute of its choice to work on sustainable mobility.
"A very similar philosophy inspired the 'Grand Prix Michelin' in 1908,' said Michelin Motorsport Director Pascal Couasnon.
Michelin founders Edouard and Andre Michelin put up a prize that year of 100,000 francs (equivalent to about $530,000 in today's money) to the pilot who could fly from Paris and land at the top of the Puy de Dome mountain, near the firm's Clermont-Ferrand, France, headquarters.
It took three years before Eugene Renaux completed the task and pocketed the money. Likewise it probably will take a few years before anyone wins this award, which has five criteria to fulfill:
• Win Le Mans outright;
• Post the fastest race lap;
• Cover more than 3,100 miles; and
• Complete the race using less fuel and fewer tires than a benchmark figure to be specified after this year's race, which takes place June 15-16.
"In today's world of motor sport, innovation is a complex process," said Pascal Vasselon, director of Toyota Racing. "When you set yourself an ambitious target like winning the Michelin Total performance Award, you need to do simulation work, which dials in the performance factor, convert that into design objectives, then work toward those objectives within a given time frame and budget, not to mention the race team, which needs to convert all this work into success at the race track. Innovation is about teamwork and takes time."
Wolfgang Ullrich, head of motorsport at Audi A.G., agreed with Vasselon's assessment: "It's an interesting challenge that will encourage us to innovate. It fits perfectly with the spirit of the Le Mans 24 Hours. For nine decades, this is a race that has served as a technological proving ground for car makers and tire manufacturers."
The Michelin Total Performance Award takes the former the Michelin Green X Challenge—introduced in 2009—one step further, Michelin said.
"Today, our wish is to reward several criteria at the same time: victory, performance, longevity and energy efficiency, in exactly the same way that the Michelin Total Performance concept lies at the heart of our group's research and development policy," Couasnon said.