7000 tires. 3000-odd mounts and dismounts. An army of Michelin engineers, tracking each tire with the sort of singular purpose reserved for nuclear inspectors. A Michelin rep looked me square in the eye. "God help a team that loses one of our tires," he said. He wasn't smiling.

Le Mans is a circus in many senses, but in the Michelin tent it's all business. That business is research. That's all they're here for. While the racers are competing with each other, Michelin is competing with themselves in a ruthless hunt for useable data. What we found out in the Michelin tent is fascinating.