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!

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