February, 2006

February 21, 2006

Losail Cup Rd. 3, with World Superbike Rd. 1!

Wow! What a hard two days since I last got online! First off, I needed to get ready for my flights early Sunday morning. I have a slight problem waking up in the morning (if there are no bikes to work on!) so I decided to do my best to get a good night's sleep. On Saturday I got up as early as possible and had a busy day running errands. I had a beastial work out on the bike in the afternoon, rough enough that I fell asleep five minutes after I got home. I wasn't sure if it was from dehydration or what, but I was woken up two hours later, around eight, by my roomates. Apparently there was a big party scheduled Saturday night, to celebrate one of my roomate's birthdays. We had had a special dinner earlier in the week, so I thought we were done with that particular celebration, but boy was I wrong. Around nine, Hiro showed up, and shortly thereafter, about fifteen people rolled in and started partying up a storm! I had no choice but to go along for a while, and because of the noise I had no chance to sleep. Thank goodness they left around 3AM to go find some afterhours dancing! I decided to roll the clock all the way around so I could sleep on the plane, and somehow I managed to do just that (well, almost).

I had a chance to talk to Hiro quite a bit about the new KTM 250, and we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the program at this point. This was his first official outing on the bike, and due to the inclement weather at Estoril, Portugal, he didn't have the bext time. He also fell off three times and injured his left ring finger. Someone suggested a traditional Spanish remedy, and as soon as I get the photos from my roomate's camera, you guys will be in for a treat!

Anyway, I flew to Madrid Sunday morning, then to London in the afternoon, and then finally to Qatar in the evening and through the night. Arrived in Doha at 6:30 AM, with a few hours sleep and a restless feeling to get started on the bikes! In Heathrow, London, I finally broke down and had a hamburger. Not bad for 10 Pounds (with a beer!). I managed to try the infamous HP sauce, and it's just like Worcestershire!

I arrived in Doha exhausted and in need of a cigarette. I quickly got my luggage and some large boxes filled with bodywork I had shipped from BCN and ran outside. For some reason there was a large group of middle-aged (and older) Koreans on some kind of tour, so if you can imagine Muslims surrounded by a giant Korean tour group, you'll be seeing my bleary eyed morning! I hardly noticed when this guy came outside and lit up, but after a split second I called out, "Ohaiyoo Gozaimasu Yukio-san!". I joked around with him a bit (in my faltering and completely humiliating Japanese) and he told me that cigarettes were the secret of his Japanese Power! Really nice guy, and because of his time in the British Superbike Championship (BSB) his Engrish was pretty good! After a couple minutes talking about the differences between the '05 and '06 Pirellis, and some other fun stuff (Omedetoo Biaggi-san wa kitte shinai), his driver showed up. Yukio has ridden in WSBK, BSB, and occassionally on the Suzuki GP machine!

We had some trouble throwing the golf clubs in the back. Yukio Kagayama, of the Alstare Corona Suzuki team, won a couple races last year, and he arrived in Doha a couple days early to acclimate to the time zone and be fully prepared for the race on Saturday. Naturally, he needed a golfing partner, and who better to fit the bill? Nitro Noriyuki Haga!!!!! I'm guessing he was as tired as I was . . . .


We caught some cabs to the hotel and prepared for a long day of transferring our bikes and gear from the big paddock, to wherever we were going to be placed. A quick shower and I was ready to go! I had thought we were moving into a large tent (as I had been told), but was pleasantly surprised to find that they had erected a portable room for us. It's going to be a tight, and possibly impossible, fit for all of us in there, because we're also storing two hundred + tires and equipment, too! Here's a shot of the new spot before we get settled in. Note the insulated ceiling - just what you need in the desert!

This photo's dark to show how it really is in the secretive world of Pirelli!

While I was moving our equipment from the hangar to our lil' shack, I stumbled upon these! It's soooo great to be on the inside when no one else is around That's all the time I have right now, as I'm up at the crack of dawn tomorrow and for the rest of the week. Rob, Lonny, Dan, Eric, and the rest of youse - hold on to your hats because this week is going to be *Awesome!*

World Champion Box, anyone?

This week's ride? A Skoda 1.2 Faria.

I've never seen such small car accelerate so quickly (and it was a stick!!!), and we did our best to wring the rubber off the rims. . . . .

Got to the track a little bit later than normal today because we had to exchange some monies at the bank. They don't like to deal with Euros here, just Qataris and American Dollars! This looks like a lot of expensive fuel!

This box arrived today (a day late) so I was finally able to get down to some nitty gritty!

All the way from Madrid, the R1 that Talal (last name unpronouncable) will be running as a wildcard entry in the WSB races!

Lunch at the track was really good today (first time for me!), and more than likely because WSB was in town. Lots of lamb, lasagne, all sorts of goodies. They even had Chili!!

I took a short break after lunch and was cruising through pit lane when I noticed something blaze by on the track.

The Kawasaki's were in need of some time. Lots of interesting bits on this one.

For all you Leo Vince loving Barfers! Seems like they're missing a few odds and ends though.

Ten Kate will be running strong this year with Toseland and Muggeridge. What a neat name to get ahold of. . . .where'd you come from? Mugger's Ridge?

Such clean machines. Personally, I view MotoGP as the best of everything you can't buy, and Superbike is the best of everything you can. I bet American Honda would have done better last year with Ten Kate bikes. However, there's so much talk about Traction Control in WSBK, that I don't know if the privateers will still be a competitive factor. . .

Look how low the windscreen area is. I guess I never really noticed it before on the stock Yamahas, or is this different for a reason? Anyone care to guess who rides this bike?

And who can tell me a little something about *this*?

Check out at that radiator! This is a gorgeous Ducati 749 ready to rock and roll in World SuperSport.

Do Pirelli control tires have treads? In W.S.S. they do!

Hi everyone, just checking in so you all know that I haven't disappeared into the desert. It's all around the circuit, and I spotted a couple camels behind the VIP grandstands. I knabbed this shot in the fifteen mile stretch of straightaway before you get to track. I definitely have a new opinion of Superbike, and have a much better handle on the two World Championship series'. It's one thing to be a guest (which I still consider myself to be), and it's another to be in the thick of things, hustling to get everything ready before the technical inspections. Today I dealt with a man named Fabio, who also runs a team in the European Championships and does tech inspections all over the world. Stumbling through three languages is tough!

Talk about getting in over my head! Generally I'm able to pick up on things pretty quickly, but today was a different story. Due to my ability to communicate in English, I was lucky enough to be selected to work on Talal Al Naimi's R1's, in his bid to contest the Superbike races as the only Qatari Wildcard rider! The yellow/purple bike is his main practice bike in Qatar, and the red one was flown in from Spain. Together with my partners, David Vasquez (former multitime European Superbike Champion) and Pedro, we were responsible to prepping the bikes and making sure they passed the tech inspection. Along the way bodywork was exchanged, pieces repaired and replaced, and contacts were made with the Pirelli people. Because we didn't have any practical experience with the control tires, we relied heavily upon the Pirelli people's suggestions, and if not for them we would have been left with too many choices! We went with a solid choice, in my opinion, and hopefully tomorrow's practice will show some decent times for my rider and increase his confidence in them. Team owner Luis D'antin is not due to arrive until tomorrow, so we did the best we could under our own supervision, and surprisingly, a the twelve hour day flew by. I had thought we were staying until late at night but we managed to make it back to the hotel by ten. I also managed to spend a couple minutes in Race Control, the Time Keeping office, and in and out of various pits. It wasn't unusual to see someone moving a bike by themselves, and see another team member (from another team) grab the rear stand and help him out (it was also a way for me to get inside and check out everyone's "home"!). I had some great conversations with some of the organizational people, from the television producers, the radio operators, and more. I think speaking with key people really allows you to see so much deeper into the workings of the series, instead of just standing in front of a tv staring at laptimes.

We also performed a revision on the bikes (a tune-up) and cleaned everything we could get our hands on. This was my first time seeing vented brake pistons up close, and there was also a system in place to adjust the brake lever for fade during the race. . . .on the left handlebar! Moto-jewelry !!!

What an incredible couple of days for me! I met so many people in the pits, discussed the future of WSB and GP with some old-timers, and learned a ton of new things that I'm sure will help shape my career in the years to come. Just think, a few months ago I was working on Harley-Davidsons, and here I am halfway around the world prepping a Superbike! Lunch was great today, and I although I had several opportunities, it just didn't seem right to take a lot of pictures today because people were getting serious and starting to really focus on the first race of the season. . . . . and it's a long season! Had a couple words with the "Go-Show", turns out he's pitted right next to my garage, and at lunch I shot the breeze with Xaus (on a single crutch - ouch!), saw Abe, Yukio, Fonsi Nieto (nephew of Angel), and many other riders and teams that I'm not too familiar with. I must confess, the last couple years I haven't really followed the series very closely, so I wasn't able to recognize a bunch of the heavy-hitters. Next time. . . . . next time!
Because it's a fly-away race, the hospitality people don't travel with the teams, so everyone is forced to eat in the same large cafeteria. If you ever go to an overseas race and can get some access to a place like this. . . . .make like a tree and stay put! I don't think I've ever heard so much Italian and French, and many of the mechanics were gracious and forthcoming. I hung out in the Factory Yamaha paddock for a while because I needed to borrow some tools to help set-up our area and wall signs. Without any worries or concern, I was told to just come back in whenever and return the tools to the correct drawers in the tool boxes. Just like that! I wouldn't even let my old co-workers go in my box back in the states, even when I was standing right there! Oh, I might as well mention that the World Supersport teams are filled with Yamaha R6's this season, easily making up what seems like two thirds of the grid. It's like when the GSXR 1K arrived. . . everyone had to have one! This picture is at the end of the day, with the bike I spent most of my day on. I was really stoked because I have a preference for "simpler" paint schemes, and this matte black was right up my alley! Ok, time for me to hit the sack, see you guys later!

Speaking of James Toseland, he still wears his HM Plant Ducati hat around in the pits, and at lunch!

Speaking of strange hats, here's the pit lane fire marshall!

You just know I had to get in on this!

Anyone want to comment on these beautiful, conical shaped, scalloped forks? I've never seen anything like this before, and it's absolutely *Gorgeous*!

Here's our finished portable room. Behind the stand up walls are tons of tires, machinery, and spares. Not bad, huh?

Some Kawasaki guy named Regis Laconi (former 500cc race winner) waving down pit lane. The '06 looks amazing in race trim!

My gut instinct tells me this Ducati might win some races this year - if the TC hasn't gotten out of hand.

A final farewell from Foggy Petronas this year. Foggy was still looking as serious as ever at lunch today. I can't imagine how much he wants to get back on a bike and compete, especially after seeing the old-timers doing so well lately. Actually, I should say that it's only Petronas that is leaving this year - Foggy's guys will be there next year with another bike!

Had a chance to chat with Anthony Gobert today while my rider was practicing. Nice bloke, and all around very gracious. Here's what he had to say when I asked him to say something to his American fans,

"I'm not sure what I can say, except that I'm really excited to be here! Anything to be in the World Scene! I just wish that it wasn't so last minute. I didn't know anything until they called me last Friday (today was Thursday, less than a week later - Liam)! Just wish I had more time on the bike."

See you guys tomorrow. Oh, and I expect that HRC is heavily behind Barros this season, as Carlo Fiorani was there. . .

Busy day today, what with practice, qualifying, and SuperPole! Still, we managed to find one of these laying around the track, and it still had the keys in it! Some poor track official must've forgotten where he left it. . . . . .

We took turns adjusting the suspension and verifying that there was air in the tire -

Paco got first crack, and showed off some of his impressive trials abilities.

Think all Superbikes are the same? Or that teamates use the same equipment? This is Corser's fuel cel.

This is Yukio's tank. Note the longer bottom section, presumably because he likes a different shape up top and also to distribute the front to rear weight bias of the bike.

Winston's running white this year, but even being clean and tidy couldn't keep them off the floor (crashing). Always nice to check out the carbon fiber that people are running. I believe this piece is from Holland.

*edit - sidenote*
At the end of the race weekend, the teams were throwing out their crashed bodywork. They said I could have the entire fairing set from the bike if I wanted, but because I couldn't get it on the plane I had to abandon it! Pains me 'eart to see carbon fiber going to the bin, especially when you could cut it in half, lengthwise, and mount it on the wall with the pretty side showing. Bummer. . . .

I wish I had a Kawasaki this magnificent (then again, maybe I do)! Bumped into this little guy and almost pulled him out of my way until I realized it was Laconi, who I didn't recognize because of the "Mr. Clean" hair-do!

Had a nice time visiting with Foggy Petronas after SuperPole, and was startled to find that one of their workers recognized me from our meeting in Laguna Seca! We had chatted previously when he worked for the Suzuki GP team, and here he was with the Petronas squad. I think I may have misconstrued the press release about Foggy Petronas' team dropping out of the series at the end of the year, because I was told,
"Yeah, Petronas is out, but we'll still be here with another bike! We're still sorting that out."

Hi Graham, thanks for letting me hang!
I finally got a chance to check out the Petronas up close and personal before they became collectibles, haha. P.S. they are absolutely magnificent up close!

Lunch was fun, and I caught up with Dennis Noyes interviewing Alex Barros intently. Expect some good information in Motociclismo soon. The Brazilian is running a *very* patriotic paint scheme this season, and I was informed that he will have the very best bike shortly. . . . . .

What do you think? Bright enough? And speaking of bright, he's no longer running the yellow Suomy and has returned to Shark helmets. At speed you can't tell his head from Corser's!

Norick Norifumi Abe. . . . . . and his spectacular style! No matter what, I can always tell it's him because of his body positioning. Will he come to terms with the Yamaha this year?

Note the fork compression in this shot. The Kawi's sound amazing this year, and have a loud "Poomph" sound when they shift that literally explodes from the bike. Fonsi's bike was laying flames two feet long in the last corner, but I wasn't prepared and couldn't get the right angle for the shot. Next time, next time.

More of Roby Rolfo, five time 250GP race winner. Not the flashiest bike, but maybe that's why I like it so much. K.I.S.S.

Troy Corser definitely has to watch his back if he wants to keep his number one plate this year.

I think we all know who's gunning for the championship this year.

May I present to you Mistah Baylisstic!

I'm also noticing that Arlen Ness has quite a presence in the paddock, with many riders wearing the leather suits and related gear. Arlen Ness is directly related to leather suit manufacturer Berik, as one is the second marque of the other. Adding the two together, you get the idea that these guys are "in" when it comes to providing suits for the teams.

Question: Why would Liverpool bike shop owner, and custom cruiser creator, Arlen Ness, be interested in sponsoring SBK and MotoGP pilots? Any potential gains from being involved in high-level, international

I am not sure what my plans are concerning SBK and MotoGP, and as such, cannot make definite plans for any races later this year. The German GP? I'd rather spend my money in France! Thanks for the hassles Munich (and later Frankfurt)! Just kidding. Although I was very disappointed to spend three hours in Frankfurt this last time around. You wouldn't believe some of the graffiti on the bathroom walls!

As I mentioned earlier, Honda Europe boss, Carlo Fiorani, was there. Those of you with good memories will know that he is well connected, and well-respected, for his work with Repsol and HRC. He was strolling around in simple Gas/Honda gear and when I inquired about the lack of Repsol logos, he responded that he's wearing many hats now. It's only a matter of time before Barros' Gold Wing becomes a Fire-breather. And as for Ten Kate? I found a Dutchman wandering around all day in these! How's that for factory support (yes, they're painted)!

While I was speaking with Petronas' Graham, formerly of Suzuki-MotoGP, I got the chance to spend some time with their resident tuner and dynamometer guru, Trick. Unlike the Dynojet machines commonly used in the US, a lot of Euro tuning comes via Superflo machines. I remarked how I always enjoyed seeing the flames belching from the huge exhaust can on the Petronas, and he replied by telling me it was more a question of fuels used at different circuits, and not a some secret weapon to distract the rider in the flamewake. I guess that means that fuels change throughout the course of a season or there isn't a Spec-spec fuel used. I'm not sure.

Anyway, I've had a great time once again being at an overseas race, and there are so many stories and adventures that it's hard to separate them.

I had fun working on the bikes by day, and after dinner, around 10 or 11, several of us found our way to the hotel club, Cloud Nyn. I can't quite put it into words, but you really haven't seen anything until you've watched some beautiful, exotic women belly-dancing to the latest hip-hop and dance beats. It will blow your mind, and then some!

Race attendance was predictably small. Here's a shot of the grandstands down the main straight. Some of you probably noticed during the race, and from the shots of the grid before the race, that it was a little empty. Most of the people watching the race were VIP's and were in a totally different grandstand. Still, I think the race organizers would have preferred to have more bodies in the seats for the kick-off race.

I definitely have a new appreciation for the WSBK series. While my heart and my curiosity are still firmly with GP, there are so many new things and top-secret stuff going on in SBK that it's quite fair to say that *nothing* is stock. After all, ABS has managed to make it to production streetbikes, and it's only a matter of time before the big bore liter bikes come stock with traction control. Not to say that ABS will ever make it onto a true, sporting bike.

On some of the differences between the two World Series'? Well, they're decidedly different, and not just because of the money/sponsorship disparities.

At first glance, both series are well run, enormous machines. The practices, timing, radio control, television production, everything goes off without a hitch. There are less people working in SBK, but it is a full series with World Supersport and World Superstock as the "minor" categories.

Most important, I think the atmospheres are different in both paddocks. MotoGP is distinctly Spanish (Dorna) and SBK is distinctly Italian (Flammini group). The flavors of both worlds are equally appealing. SBK is a little more "relaxed" with regard to the conducts of it's team members. In GP, you can easliy lose your job by talking to the wrong person. The technology is expensive, and it's an exceedingly secretive world. In SBK, the team members seemed a lot more at ease, and under less stress (though this is not to say they are not, and that there are no secrets in SBK!). In GP, there's a lot less noise, and people quietly get the job done while looking as serious and professional as possible. In SBK, there are more smiles, and I sense a greater feeling of "family", while still looking professional.

Here's a copy of the Program from SBK Qatar. Super rare, super limited production, super hard to get ahold of! They didn't even have enough of these for everyone that attended the race, and they were reserved strictly for SBK VIP's. I love the dual format, and it's amazing for me to see Sanskrit writing about motorcycles! I also managed to get ahold of a something else. . . . . . . let the bidding begin!

February 14, 2006

Higher Resolution Pics? Sure!

Here's a picture of a chameleon. I just finished reading Jurassic Park and the Lost World, so I have a newfound respect and interest in reptiles. I know, I know, I am easily amused, haha.

But the real news here is that I just realized Barf will let me post photos up to 256K! These photos were originally posted on a forum thread but now I've moved them to my personal site because I think they're really nice. For some reason I had thought that I was limited to around 52K, so whenever I resized my photos, I cut them down to that size. This means. . . .that from here on out, all photos will be the High Resolution style! I'll make sure the photos I post in the future really *Snap*!

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day - to ME!

Higher Resolution Pics? Sure!

Here's a picture of a chameleon. I just finished reading Jurassic Park and the Lost World, so I have a newfound respect and interest in reptiles. I know, I know, I am easily amused, haha.

But the real news here is that I just realized Barf will let me post photos up to 256K! These photos were originally posted on a forum thread but now I've moved them to my personal site because I think they're really nice. For some reason I had thought that I was limited to around 52K, so whenever I resized my photos, I cut them down to that size. This means. . . .that from here on out, all photos will be the High Resolution style! I'll make sure the photos I post in the future really *Snap*!

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day - to ME!

February 13, 2006

Hiro gets a new place

Wow, what a weekend! Basically I spent my waking hours trying to get out and ride around the city, and then resting at home recovering. It is a fantastic feeling to be using my body again and riding, and I truly hope this will help focus me in other ways as well.

On the motorcycling front, it's been pretty quiet. I had dinner with Hiro Aoyama (KTM 250cc) last night and we talked a bit about the preseason testing going on. We ate at a place called the Philharmonic, which is a British Pub that routinely shows futbol matches. It was a noisy night, as Barcelona lost to Valencia 1-0, haha. His fitness level is going through the roof because of a new trainer that is whipping all of Alberto Puig's riders into shape. His previous trainer (who has guided Pedrosa as well) left the group to begin working exclusively with Sete Gibernau. The days start at 9AM with three hours of strength building in the gym. An hour break for lunch and then it's about two hours worth of cycling. After a short rest, it's either an hour's run or an hour in the pool. We usually have dinner about once a week, and he's always still hungry, haha. He's pleased with the progress with the KTM 250, but nervous about going up against Honda and Aprilia in the category. His younger brother, Shuhei, is replacing him on the factory Honda squad so there's going to be some excellent sibling rivalry going on! Hiro lives with two other GP riders, his brother, and Spaniard Julio Simone (KTM 125). It's a NICE place (they just moved in together, and the apt. is just about brand new) and I'll take some pictures the next time I'm there. On the weekends, the boys usually do some training on Motocross bikes; each rider using a bike from the company that sponsors him. Yesterday Julio was ripping it up and was trouncing one of the KTM MX2 riders on the track. KTM then asked him if he was sure he wanted to ride in GP or go into the World MX Championship. One of these days I'm going to make it out there with them and just poke around. My plan to head to Estoril tomorrow fell through so I won't get a chance to watch the 250's buzzing around, but I'm hoping to get the chance to spend more time with the bikes in March at the IRTA tests in Catalunya. It's almost a week long motofest, with the 125's and 250's going earlier in the week and the GP bikes rounding out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Should be fun!

Here's some websites to check out if you're bored. The first is the Qatar/Losail track site, which is where I'm working, the second is Hiro's site.

Losail Circuit

Hiro's personal website
That's all for now, I'm going riding!

February 11, 2006

The GT Moto Arrives. . . . . Woot!

This week I finally received the bicycle that Lonny (and some super Barfers!) helped me out with! It has been in the mail for a few weeks and was stuck in Customs in Barajas, Madrid. Some quick shuffling, toe-tapping, and a rather large Import Tax, and the bike was finally released in time for me to get it by the weekend. I am soooo happy right now! My friends Jana and Kenny agreed to take delivery for me at their shop because I wasn't sure if I was going to be in town to sign for it. Incidently, Kenny will be speaking on MotoGPOD on 2/17/06, and it's sure to be good. Lugging a 53 pound box a couple blocks wasn't fun, but I was too excited and I had to get it home immediately so I could start assembling it. I really, really want to give a big Thank You to everyone that made this possible.

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My luggage (with most of my tools) was still lost in transit so I wasn't even sure if I could get it together. Fortunately, I had one Snap On ratchet and one Snap On long 5mm ball end driver, and that's pretty much all I needed! Thank goodness the crank was in place. I managed to get everything together and I was soon to be back on two wheels - or so I thought!

The head set spacers were slightly off, but after a quick run to a bicycle store in the Raval -

This is up the hill at Montjuic, where I had to pause to catch my breath. Yessiree, I'm out of shape!

The colorful parts of the city are smelly. But I'm riding again!!!!!!

Last shot for now, I'm exhausted, and my legs are beat! Managed to stop at the beach in Barceloneta for a bit, and lo and behold, there were a bunch of kids riding trials/bmx bikes. If you look carefully you can see one. I would've taken pictures of them, but I didn't want to ride up on a shiny new bike and geek out on them. They might have thought I was weird, haha, if only they knew! For sure, there are more adventures waiting to be had, and armed with my trusty bike, I'm going to go find them! Once again, thank you thank you thank you to everyone who helped me out. I'm working on a way to say Thank You that's better than just posting about it. Now? :sleeping.

February 07, 2006

Racing back to Qatar for Rd. 2 of the Losail National Cup - and MotoGP comes to Test!

I'm heading back to Qatar for round #2 of the Qatar National Championship and hoping to make a good showing. Like the last time, I'm not sure what my internet contact level will be. . . but word is that Suzuki and Camel Yamaha will be in attendance for some preseason testing - Boooooo-Yaaaahhhhh! Hopefully I can get some good photos if I can break away from work, but work will be the #1 priority so we'll just have to see. I'm just stoked that d'Antin's crew asked me back for another shot!

Trivia time! Which spot is this and why is it significant?!?

Ok! I'm back in BCN after a busy weekend filled with all manner of flight delays, missed connections, and lost luggage. Since I don't have any of my equipment (still lost!), might as well update Barf with some pics of my latest trip to Qatar. I'd also like to welcome Trikedog and confirm that Ecruz got the trivia question correct, it is the spot Rossi was forced to start from (the back of the grid) after Sete's crew called foul during the Qatar GP of '04. I met up with the BCN crew and we took off for Heathrow. London without a hitch. Unlike the last time where I was separated from the guys because of my US passport, this time we took a different maze through the airport and managed to stick together. This photo shows how strong Dunlop is in England! I was surpirsed to see this, because it was very subtle, but I caught it nonetheless. Not only do they make tires, but the rubber belts on the people conveyors in the airport are Dunnies, too!

I wish tires had names like this! Sportmax just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Here's an aerial shot as we were approaching Doha. Most of the city looks like this, spaced out, relatively flat, and no green. I think the green square is actually Astro-turf, more on that later.

Great Googily Moogily! They let me have a car! I'm not sure why, but the co-ordinator decided that I would be responsible for getting some of the guys to and from the track. This was the first time I've driven a car since I left the states in late October, so I was pumped. I should also mention that this was my first time dealing with Roundabouts (and at high speed) so I had a lot of fun. There are speed limits posted, but in my experience, the drivers basically drive as if there are no rules. It's all true. I have never been to a place where I was allowed to drive to the maximum of the car's potential, literally flooring it every time and only backing off to slow a bit for the turns. My co-pilot insisted on using the e-brake all the time and I thought we were going to rip the rubber off the wheels. It was awesome! If you want a Rally type driving experience, get over here. The area is all desert, and the longer roads are all two lanes wide, topped out, a few feet from the sandy desert. . . . you could conceivably slow a bit, and bomb into the sand and start spinning around and bouncing offf of things if you wanted to!

This time in Qatar we stayed at a place called the Merweb Hotel. Not only was the food better than the last time, they have a nightclub on the M-floor, Cloud 9, that sold alcohol and was filled with dancing girls. Here's a shot from part of the lobby. Mostly, the place was modern and clean, but they had this little set-up in the corner to give it a more. . . . nomadic feel. Left to right:
Davide, Paco, Carlos, Javier, Rafa, and Ismael.

This city is still under construction, and I think most of the buildings are within ten to fifteen years old. Many of the roads were being worked on and expanded and there are construction trucks trundling along slowing us down. Here's a common sight in the city.

Here's what most of the buildings in the city (and outside the city) look like.

Just like the last time, I arrived at dawn on Thursday and a few hours later was at the track. It was a full day of work prepping the bikes and making sure everything was going to be "just right" for the race on Saturday. I took a moment to check out the track up close. . . and it really is Astro-turf! I can't imagine what it's like for a bike to hit this at high speed.

The day ended and we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved night's rest. Naturally, I was the lead driver of four other cars (I had the boss in my car) and we got lost, circling the city for an hour. Thank goodness we eventually found the hotel, because the threat potential of driving in that city is off the scale. After dinner a couple of us made it out for a beer, and by a couple I mean everybody! We were able to buy 3 litre beers and the night turned out longer than anyone thought! That's all for day one back in Qatar.

The next day was better, as I had more rest and I remembered the way to and from the circuit! I got ahold of my fairings, a day late, and proceeded to get my bike back together since it was still half apart from the wreck three weeks ago.

Later in the day, trucks started showing up with boxes. Big boxes . . . . . . .

Everyone gets involved to help set everything up. Even Stuart Shelton, chief mechanic for John Hopkins. He's been doing this a looong time, and used to work with Kevin Schwantz back in the day.

That means one person undoes the latches while everyone else just watches, including me - for now!

The top of the box then becomes a table to stack the rolls of paper ,which were stuffed in there to help cushion the bike -- ingenius!

There was another track day going on so there were a couple riders who were there. Kind of intimidating to take to a track knowing the biggest boys are there, too. I had to wait a second to get this shot, because I wanted the British flag to be there. Suzuki's GP effort is based in Banbury, England, and first rider, John Hopkins is of British parents, but born American. In person, he's all Southern Californian, though. SoCal!

Perhaps Stuart Shelton knows something about the Suzuki that we don't. . . .or maybe he's as crazy about the Qatari food as I am! Whatever it is, they haven't hired me, so phooey, haha. Paul Denning and the pilots weren't scheduled to show up for another day, but I got a chance to scope out some of the technical bits. I had a hell of a time trying to get photos, but since I was there to work, it wasn't very important to me. I will say this. . . . . .Suzuki definitely has a new motor for '06, not just parts inside of it. In fact, it's physically larger than last year's and it DOES make more power. Even so, I'd say the engine is still smaller than the R6 motor. . . .just to give you guys a size reference.

When I first saw these wheels I thought they might be from the Suzuki Alstare team from World Superbike. Turns out the GP team is changing the colors of the rim strips from red to yellow. I think it's the Australian thing. These wheels are made by Joe Bito, a japanese guy who used to a GP mechanic with Honda back in the Eighties. He got out of it a couple years ago and when he tried to get back in there wasn't a place for him. He had always hated the Marchesini's because they broke so easily, and had even gone to their factory to see what was up. Since he knew they were a liability he decided to make his own wheels, and thus, JB Power wheels was born. Talk about finding a niche! Now Joe is the supplier for several Japanese National teams, SuzukiGP (I think WSBK, too), KawasakiGP, and more. These are the Mag-Tan models, unobtanium indeed. Joe gave me a lift one day when I was hitch-hiking to the circuit in Valencia last year and we had breakfast together. If you ever meet him, drop my name, and be nice, he's a very knowledgable and friendly person.

Here I am chumming it up with young Chris Vermeulen. I can never remember how to spell his name, but he seems like a nice guy. It's hard to picture, but the Suzuki team is mostly middle aged men from England, and their riders are a bunch of surf-rats from opposite ends of the Earth. Chris is confident that the Suzuki will be competitive this year, and based on today's testing results (Hopper within a half second of Rossi) it's looking good!

I took the time to shoot a shot of my rider, Ali D, screaming down the straightaway. It was tough because my auto focus doesn't work this fast so I ended up just doing it manually. He told me he had been practicing on his R1 the last couple weeks and made some adjustments to his body position based on my advice from the last race. He dropped over ten seconds per lap! My advice? Choke up on the tank in the corners, haha.

So naturally, I was busy working in my garage, checking, double checking, triple checking, you know how it goes. It's an interesting perspective to have, that of the race mechanic. One on side, there's this feeling of happiness that comes from being around pure machines, and away from the crowds and the noise. Moreso, there's this feeling of responsibility that comes from the rider's results. If he can't do his best, it's my fault. I have a measure of control over the situation and the results. I'm involved. I'm responsible. It's really hard, not sleeping, travelling, performing precision work, and always trying to better the mechanics around you. It's worth it. But only if I can make it to a point where I work on things like *This*. Who wants to know what this is?

Here's my friend, lil' Nacho, Nachete, or Nachito. We met earlier this year through another friend named Roger (who used to work for Dorna). It's thanks to him that I ended up in Qatar in the first place, so thanks Nachito. I had met Olivier Jacque before, in Shanghai, so we talked for a little bit about the Kawi and about his chances for some Wildcard rides before Nachito came up and wanted a photo. It felt weird to me to take another photo with him because I already had one from last year and it just seemed weird so I didn't. Plus, I've got a signed copy of Faster - autographed by Oliver - and he's on the cover! How cool is that?!? Jacque is excited about the new bike and I feel like Kawasaki made a mistake by not taking him over De Puniet.

This guy was running Italian wheels. . . .

I also notice that most of the data acquisition equipment runs these spark plug type connectors. I'd say this is a really clean design and set-up. Actually, now that I've studied them a bit more, these are military grade, locking connectors - much stronger than spark plug connectors and far more impervious to damage.

Then you step back, and see how the rear brake line is routed so it's right on the swingarm - which appears to be dented. Maybe it's a way to strengthen that area.

Competitve times for GP bikes at Losail are sub 2 minute laps, and the top Losail Cup riders routinely run 2.17's on their R6's on Michelin Pilot Power Races. My boy was bouncing around in the 2.35-40ish range the first time out but was able to cut it down to qaulifying lap of 2.24 and managed to stay on his bike to end up fourth after five riders wadded. Here's some more of the red bike, which I caught on Friday.

I love the profile of this big bike more and more.

I used to think it was too organic, but every year this design appeals to me more and I can't wait to see one on the road someday.

Is it possible that I'm developing a soft spot for these blunt nosed beasts? Will we see this design on the 800cc bike next year? Will this bike ever make it to WSBK?

This is Shinichi Ito's bike, Ducati and Bridgestone test rider. He usually laps within two seconds off the hot pace, and this is critical when evaluating race tires. If you don't ride fast enough, on the level, the tires don't heat up to actual race temperatures and the resulting data is useless. I'm sure with the right bike and support, Ito-san could be a midpack/backpack rider, but he's stuck in the desert running around in circles
Lucky B*stard!

More goodies arrived in boxes - This is the Dunlop shod Yamaha M1 of James Ellison.

This bike looks so good in black, and so good in person, I found it hard to believe it was a mere Satellite bike, and the second tier machine at that. Soooo beautiful.

Barf. . . . It's Everywhere You Want To Be!

Can you imagine your office desk looking like this? Who wouldn't want to go to work?!?

Rolling it out of the box and into the garage. The time for unloading and setting up most of these garages was pretty fast, but because many of the teams arrived at least a day or two before their riders (and the serious work) there was a very relaxed atmosphere in the paddock, and people were walking casually around. I watched as the teams assembled the "walls" that surround the garages, seeing how they clicked and slid together and noticing the shiny paint on the new sponsor schemes.

This was Herve Poncharral's team, Tech 3 Yamaha, a french group, and they weren't very friendly. Carlos Checa is riding for them next year and I wonder if his Catalan background (which includes some french influence and french language) will help him better communicate with the team. One thing is for sure, he wouldn't be in the paddock this year if not for Dunlop. Word is that they wanted an experienced rider to evaluate and help develope their tires and they paid for it when no one else would. Make no mistake, Tech 3 Yamaha is backed by Dunlop in a big way.

Speaking of Carlos Checa, he was looking relieved to be here, strolling around in his t-shirt and jeans. This is a great shot that shows just how desolate this place is. Literally, it's in the desert with nothing around the track for miles. I should also mention that while I was there, a couple WSBK teams were preparing to test, and I ran into a bunch of people at the cafeteria. John Hopkins is happy to know that Californians are watching his season with a lot of excitement, and we had a chance to talk to a bit while waiting in line for the Pasta tray to be refilled. Also present was Noriyuki Haga, but he was busy eating and so was I, so no contact there.

Quick note about the 06 GSVR. As someone pointed out in another thread, the exhaust plumbing is routed similarly to the Honda's this year, and rumour has it the bike features pneumatic valves. The sound this bike makes on decel is like nothing I have ever heard before. Anyone want to host a 6 second sound bite, up close Also, note the missing "tank" cover. There were a couple guys constantly sanding and trimming these carbon fiber pieces in the lane behind the garages. Apparently the whoever laid the fiber got the shape wrong. . . . . shoulda got Tygaboy on it.

Better yet, have a listen!

06 GSVR sound clip!

I also took a moment to watch this guy for a couple minutes. His name's Wally - and he's Italian. I don't know if you can see all his tattoos, including the ever-present-in-biker-communities spider web tattoo on the elbow!

The Camel garage was sparse, though well equipped. Colin's side was identical. I had the chance to say Hi once again to Davide Brivio, Yamaha Race Director and he shared his optimism about the coming season and wasn't fazed at all by all the F1 hype.

hmmmm, what have we here? The champ's steed?

The bike that would be King. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of this machine this year. I noticed that the front number plate is smaller than last years, but that's the only obvious changes I've been able to detect.

Might as well see it from the other side. I wonder if Rossi really cares what the graphics look like, since his competitors will likely only see the tail!

This one makes great wallpaper. Email me if you want the high-res version. How cool is it to have extra wheels and brakes just to run the "transport tires"? All the bikes have transport tires on them. Surely theft of material can't be the issue. General wear and tear? -- Can you imagine trying to steal the wheels off of this bike? If you get that close, why not steal the whole bike? I think Yamaha guards their bikes just fine. Actually, tire theft is a major concern but there's an odd respect throughout the paddock because everyone is there for the same reasons and has the same speed demons driving them. Personally, I think it's so the bike is always looking good, with "fresh" tires on it, instead of shagged ones.

Here's the most interesting photo I took all week. . . . . I'll let you rumour mongers get it started before I chime back in.

I have some errands to run right now, my luggage is still lost from Sunday's flight, my bike is still trapped in Customs (and it's looking like the taxes alone to get it through will be HIGH) and I need a hat for my bald head. See you guys soon! And let's start planning on some Barf meetings around the world! C'mon people, get out with your bad selves!

Oh, and about the photo with Stuart Shelton and John Hopkins checking out the Yamaha. . . . well, it was under wraps until Suzuki came out to fire up some of their bikes. One of the bikes wouldn't catch for quite a while, perhaps evidence of the electrical problems the bikes are suffering from. When the Yamaha guys saw who was right there, they took the sheet off the bike so John could check it out up close -- and he did! He made a full 360 around the bike and I wonder if this was dangled in front of him at the close of last season. . . . .