March 06, 2006

IRTA Test, Catalunya 06

I guess I didn't make it to the Chess Tournament in Linares this weekend after all! This week the Catalonia/Catalunya circuit of Montmelo has hosted the first official IRTA test for MotoGP, and it concludes tomorrow with a timed event where the riders go all out to win a new M class Z4 Coupe! Both the smaller classes have participated and now the big boys are up and running! I'm glad everyone is enjoying the thread and the photos, and speaking of photos, I'm going to ask that you let me post the next bunch without interjecting until I say the last one has gone up for the day. It's kind of an, "I go, then you go", thing and it's easier for me to keep track of things that way.

Oftentimes I pose questions or observations about the bikes, the riders, the teams, or even different series', but now I've seen enough and had enough contact to know that there are some things that should never make it onto the board, in public. Not that I've let secret information out already, but I have my "private" full of sensitive material, as I'm sure you all have realized. Otei mentioned earlier that I'm not an oracle all of a sudden, but truthfully, I know more than the average bear. It's because of this that I need to compromise a little, because my ultimate goal is working, and I don't want to be seen as a someone who abuses the situations or conversations I find myself in. That said, I'm still going to have a great time taking and posting pictures and I hope you continue to get as big a kick out of them as I do!

I arrived at the circuit a little later than I had hoped to this morning, and it was a cold and blustery day. Dust clouds whipped up from the parking lots and throughout the day there was a steady influx of both cars and (lots of) motorcycles. All breeds! I managed to see my latest infatuation roll by, the Yamaha MT-03. Sweet!

It's not all fun and games. I managed to wrangle a ride with two kids that I know who live an hour away from BCN. They drove out of their way to pick me up and I covered our lunch expenses. We made it to the track with no passes, and just the hint, the promise that something would turn up. The two guys, Nachito and Rafa, knew a guy with Kawasaki who could probably scrounge up one or two paddock passes, but I was going to have to fend for myself. We waited patiently at the front gate of the track after texting the Kawi guy and I hung out and went through my own rolodex. The last thing you want to do is cold call people, begging for a pass because you're trapped outside. Fortunately, one of the Dorna crew, Alexander, zipped by, recognized me, and asked me if I was having some trouble. Thanks Alexander, you stepped up and came through without even being asked, and it's moments like that when you realize there are a lot of good people in the motorcycle industry. Passion recognizes and respects Passion. If you ever make it to this historic circuit, take a moment to drive the vintage stone Mercedes!

I made my way through the throngs of people in the paddock and said hello to some peeps at Repsol. Lots of fun talking with various Media people, and Mac, in particular, from HRC was great to talk to. His take on Alberto Puig's style and Horiike's style was spot on, in that they both know when to listen, and when to let the rider stop speaking. Sometimes a rider will speak for thirty minutes and end up talking himself into a circle. It's important to know when to say: hold it, fix this, tweak that, try again. They are definitely leaders.

Boy, the Rizla Suzuki camp looks the dogs bollocks! The uniforms, the transporters, the scooters, Everything is spot on. Naturally, there were more than a few "rolling paper" jokes floating around, but when the bikes fired up everyone's heads snapped to attention and look at where John Hopkins is now. . . . leading the pack of non-Yamaha's!

As much as I would have liked to stay in the Paddock and talk with everyone, I had other things on my mind. Like finding a spot to watch the action! I know this was only supposed to be a test, but the atmosphere, the ambiance, was decidedly race-like. There was a lot of tension in the air. There's only so much bad news a guy like me can hear, so I took my leave and made my way up and over the "bowl" of the central paddock area to a large grandstand. The clouds circling above were ominous, and although small streaks of sunlight shone through occasionally, it was dark skies a loomin'.

I was looking for a specific bike out on the track. A bike that has brought a tremendous amount of excitement back to the series. A bike that wasn't up and running yesterday, and one that wasn't on the track until this afternoon. A bike that goes against the odds. A real David and Goliath bike. This bike.

My favorite photo from today. Streaking through the leaves blocking my view, this bike roared out of the final corner and prepared to unleash itself on the main straight. I was panning the camera hoping for a shot, and this is what I got through the leaves. Awesome!

Team KR. Back in action, back on track. Two generations of World Champions. Speaking of generations, I caught Graziano Rossi checking out the BMW prize car quite closely. Maybe he's thinking about an upgrade?
Also had a chance to spend a couple minutes with Chuck Aksland, race director for the Robert's team and we joked about a couple of things. He said I gotta keep chipping away . . . . . . . . and I will! I think he'll do another MotoGPOD podcast interview in the future, and I was surprised to hear that he just got his first iPod for Christmas and found the GP podcast as a result. About the bike, the swingarm is a custom Roberts' unit (they're also providing swingarms for Erion in AMA. Pay attention to the photos, you can learn a lot, hint hint), and that is a one-off Akrapovic system you're seeing here. Longer pipes for more usuable torque . . . .
I asked King Kenny to call me if he needs a chopper, and he said ok, so that's good (could you actually see him on one?!?). He also told me I'm too big for an XR100, and that I must like people, since I've lived in Sunnyvale and BCN. Little does he know . . . . . Oh, and he wants his original TZ 750 flat tracker back, if anyone knows where it is. "Hell of a bike"
When we parted he asked if I would be back tomorrow.
--Hell yeah! I didn't move to Spain to not go to motorcycle races!

*edit* it was cold! Note the front brake shroud. Track temps ranged from 14C to 31C! You do the math.

Here's another surprise. Carlos Checa is kicking butt! Armed with an M1, and Dunlop tires, he's been railing and taking top times consistently. I mentioned months ago that Dunlop was heavily responsible for bringing him back to GP and that they were a big reason Tech 3 Yamaha was staying in the series. . . and Checa is repaying them with a preseason to be proud of.

Food? French
Mechanics? German
Police? British
Fashion? Italian
Party Organizers? Spanish

Food? your answer here
Mechanics? and here
Police? and here
Fashion? here, too
Party Organizers? and here

you guys can figure out the rest. Bwahahaha

And another thing about Checa. . . . I noticed him doing something strange out of the corner of my eye. I managed to get it with the camera and closer inspection reveals it is a "Rossi-esque" manuever! This happenned more than once. . . . . . something about the Yamaha? As for the Michelins? I hear the new tire profiles are sharper and provide more rear grip, which causes the front to push . . . .and other things . . . . .

Dani Pedrosa has added himself to the list of Red Bull riders. I had thought his helmet was going to be offered by Arai to the public, but the inclusion of the Red Bull graphics means that's a "no go". Remember E Boz's lid? The Shoei replica doesn't include the RB logo's, and Arai doesn't offer John Jopkin's helmet, either. Maybe now is not the time to be buying a new helmet in the US, and I'll tell you why, later . . . . .

Colin Edwards has modified his riding style this season, and he's running way up front right now! Here he is looking out across a sea of red.

Alex Hofmann is riding the D'antin Pramac Ducati on Dunlops. I can't say why the Dunlops are showing such different performances between the bike brands, but I can say the answer lies within the movie Faster. Listen to Peter Clifford. This shot turned out crystal clear (by my amateur standards) so I was stoked. Just wish it wasn't flat black!

I said the new Rizla's were awesome, and I received confirmation today that the Suzuki is using pneumatic valves (just like I thought!). It has the most incredible sound to me. Whereas the Honda and Yamaha have a loud, droning blare, the Kawasaki shrieks, the Ducati booms, and the Suziki just plain tears the air - it rips right through it! F'n Phenomenal (who wants to host a 20 sec. mpeg at speed?)!!! Which guy put the sticker on backwards on the belly pan?!?

Here's another shot of the "the Riz". It's the Biz. Goooooo Hopper!

Naturally, the Doctor made a brief appearance, lighting up the time sheets within a few minutes and taking command of the afternoon. I like this shot because it looks like Rossi is using his heat/laser vision on the track. I don't know if it's the yellow, Camel paint scheme, but for some reason I think the tail section looks narrower to me this year. Burgess and crew were working into the evening tonight, but everything looked calm and tranquil in their garage. Does anyone like this current helmet with the four bullet marks on the top?

I know they've started selling the Nicky Hayden Laguna Seca limited edition helmet. . . . .but have you seen what he's wearing this year?

Hayden made an incredible 107 laps today, testing new equipment and trying to mail down the RC's development direction. 107 laps! Multiplied by his best lap time of 1.44s you get just over three hours of full tilt boogie! Amazing!

Couple things about this bike. . . . remember the Sesame Street song? Three of these Hondas are doing the same thing, one of them isn't the same. . . . . .

The beautiful corner where I managed to spend some time today. The F1 cars don't take the longer route through here, the cut through the coned off area. The bikes, oh man, the bikes come through and sing their glorious music through a decent sized left-hander with their exhausts pointed straight at the grandstands. You can't help but get excited listening to them shift through the gears and accelerate out of these corners at warp speed. *Pure Magic*

This is the last thing you want to see when you're on the track. If you do manage to catch Valentino from this angle, you have screwed up! Big Time.

SBK Phillip Island Race 1 was Off-The-Hook! I'm so energized right now I think I'll just roll the clock around and see Race 2 at 5.30AM before heading back to the Circuit de Catalunya!

It's difficult to be objective and fair, particularly when you look for different meanings behind things, as I do. I've now been privy to more of the inner workings in GP, and while most (if not all) of the things I've seen have impressed me, a few left me surprised and shocked. I think I love the bikes too much, and I don't have a similar fascination with the pilots. I respect their abilities, but moreso, their competitive spirit. It's not all about the Bike, or all about the Rider. For me, the beauty of GP revolves around the symbiosis of man and machine at it's highest level. Where else does something as simple as adjusting your seating position have such drastic consequences? What about turning your head at speed? Where else does an 1/8 turn of the throttle mean the difference between accelerating hard, pulling a 12 o'clock down the straight, or flying off into oblivion? Sometimes I think it's like riding a bucking bronco, othertimes like straddling the Space Shuttle. Are there any other motorsports where the human is as connected to the machine? I'm sure there are people who would argue with me all day, and maybe they'd be right. All I need to know is that I'm here and I'm trying to make it work. For me, this is where it's at! I'm proud of what I've managed to do and see so far, but I'm not finished yet, not by a long shot. I've been so fortunate already, and I've seen things that would make Everyone's jaws drop. I'm only getting hungrier. . . .

Today was even colder and more forboding than before, full of clouds and a dull, white light that made taking photos very difficult. With my limited experience behind the lense (settings - what're those?), lack of proper equipment (we're talking a $100 dollar Craigslist lense - yeehah!), and not much cover to duck under in case of showers, it made for a fun, if frustrating day. I couldn't seem to get my circular polarizer to do what I wanted and it really felt like I was just spinning my wheels out there. On the up side, I walked around the entire circuit and it's an amazing place. Underground tunnels to connect different areas, HUGE grandstands set up throughout the course, it's an enthusiasts kind of place. Later this year if I manage to make it back here for the GP race in June I'll be sure to take more comprehensive pictures of the circuit. It's *very* nice.

I walked about a half hour from the paddock, ducking through two tunnels along the way, and made it to this nice grassy hill near the Pelouse corner. The grandstands here are towards the end of the main straight.

Because of the cold track tempuratures, most of the teams waited until after 11AM before taking to the track. First rider out was Vitto from Ducati Corse (riding Capirossi's bike), followed quickly by KRJR. Kenny put in quite a few laps by himself out there, and due to the track's lay-out, elevation changes, and grand stands, the sound of the bike was reflected constantly, providing me with the ultimate wake-up call. A little wheelie to shake the cobwebs out?

One of the bike's I missed yesterday came out hard and fast today. Shinya Nakano didn't waste much time scrubbing the tires in and getting serious.

Thas' Right, Baby! My big, bad flag made it all the way here from last year's Shanghai's GP (it's even in the race video for a split second). This flag has also seen the Dakar, and whenever I get the chance, I like to let it wave hello to any American rider competing on foreign soil.

This flag came from a barfer named Eden, who now lives in China for work. He procured it for me at last year's GP after I got jealous of some Spaniards, and their flag. After seeing them I immediately threatened to find the U.S. Embassy in Shanghai and cut one down because I wanted the biggest one I could find (which in hindsight would probably have been a very bad idea). Fortunately, Eden came through, and this big mamma-jamma has been with me ever since. Oddly enough, Eden put together a replica bike for himself a few years back, a hot pink GSXR with full Rizla graphics. Coincidence? I'm sure someone here has a pic they can post . . .
Another strange thing is that wherever I put this flag, people stop and take photos of it. In the pouring rain in Portugal I wore it like a toga, and people got photos of that, too. With the decidedly anti-American sentiments in Europe and around the world, I like to think that seeing it sends a positive message to our riders. That we're here, and we're here supporting them!

Definitely the sleekest bike in the garage, the ZX-RR is beautiful in person. I love the lines, and the howl emitted by the big bang four isn't bad, either.
Notice how Shinya seems to be sitting "in" the bike, as opposed to sitting "on" it.

Everything about this bike seems so right to me, from the leaness, the pointed shapes, the exhaust. How I wish they'd put the 250KXF motor in a 125 chassis with this bodywork and make it streetable. Hmmmmm. I think KHI is working on something like this already, as evidenced by the GP-Mono class in Japan. Nakano's new helmet features Shurikens on the sides, less colorful and more deadly than the old design.

Dani Pedrosa spun some laps, and while Hayden wore his new helmet in morning warm-up, Pedrosa wore his older, non RB sponsored, one. Both riders wore their normal helmets for the BMW contest, so I wonder if Red Bull's contract doesn't start until later in the year, or has some clause for practices but not races. Who knows? Watching Pedrosa gives a clear idea of what it takes to make the bike go around quickly. His body positioning is usually indicative of what the bike wants to do, and what he has to do to overcome that. He wasn't too fast in the rain today, but for a new guy without a lot of rain-time on the bike, he probably didn't want to risk an injury at the start of the season for a car. In real life I've seen him driving a Honda Civic hatchback in BCN, and his mom was driving a Civic today, too, now that I think about it. Here he is noticing Old Glory.

He chokes way up on the front end when he's on the gas.

Chris Vermeulen put in a solid effort today, and was fifth in the wet today, ahead of a lot of good riders.

Toni Elias looks great in the corners. It will be interesting to see how his career develops under the watchful eye of former World Champ, Alex Criville.

Speaking of looking good in the corners! I wonder if we could arrange a contest in the off season to see who could scrape elbow more, Hopkins or Spies? Everytime I get a shot like this I'm reminded of Hopper's motocross background, and I always think to myself, "Elbows out! Elbows Out!"

Nicky looks composed and relaxed.

More Hayden.

It's probably the era that I grew up in, but seeing the flash of Orange always makes me think of speed. I like this shot because of the streaks - there's a real element of movement here.

Eventually, the clouds started dumping, so we went back to the Paddock and had a fantastic lunch in the circuit restaurant. I had roast chicken with plums and some kind of Risotto, along with salads, fruits, and more. It was a catered buffet, very elegant and chic. Best of all? It was affordable, healthy, and delicious, and sure beats the over-priced fastfood you find at the concession stands in the US. The timing couldn't have been any more perfect, as it was pouring outside while we were inside having a hot meal. Lots of envious looks from the passerby's, but hey, they should have made reservations, As we were finishing up the timed contest started and the crowd in the stands was roaring! Such gusto, and every time a bike fired up, or left the paddock, the crowd erupted into cheers and whistling.

Did I mention there was a crowd? For a test?!?

I had a great time talking with industry people, reporters, racing greats, and just good people involved in the sport. Spent some time talking with Chris Jonnum from Road Racer X, and I expect some cool articles from him in the future. Also, bumped into Gary McCoy in the paddock; always a pleasure to meet the King of Slide! Discussed the factories and their futures with Michael Scott, Julian Ryder and Burgess, and just generally did my thing, bumming around and enjoying myself. Pretty soon people will think I work here! At least, that's the plan!

Until next time my friends, I'm going to take a nap!

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