May 28, 2006

Le Mans GP06, France

So Saturday was my first day at the races in France, and I made my way to the main grandstand/paddock area as soon as I could. I wasn't "officially" working for anyone this time around, so I wanted to concentrate on soaking up as much of the atmosphere as I could - I mean, that is one of the reasons why I'm in Europe! I took a ton of photos, and met with several extremely interesting people, and had one of the bext race experiences ever!

Extended view of the Paddock area. If you look carefully you can see me. Just kidding!

Sweeping right. This is one of the few paddocks that is split up, and many of the crews and workers were unhappy about it. It meant longer walks, more contact with the fans, and generally disrupted the routines that people were used to.

I forgot to mention that the 125/250 hospitalities and all-classes motorhomes were up a slight hill. The photo doesn't do the size of this place justice. It was a hike.

Sweeping right again, you can see the clouds barrelling in, and how quickly the conditions could change. This was the windiest race I've ever been to, and it was difficult just to hold the long lens on my camera steady. I must have blundered almost all of my shots because of the whipping winds, so after getting pushed around, I decided to try and take a different approach to action photography this race.

This is the final corner before the main straight, and it is probably my least favorite section in the entire championship.

Just to the right (not pictured) there was a stand alone grandstand filled with the hardcore fans (outside of Spain, and we'll see about Italy )- they never left their seats except to use the restroom. 24 Hours straight, endurance style. I know this from hanging out there a little on Saturday night, though truthfully, I left them alone around 4:30AM. Fun stuff that night also included walking through the entire camping area (pictured), filled with every sort of crazy French experience imaginable.

More Photos and Stories in the Extended Entry Below.

Once I'd gotten a lay of the land, I went over to say hi to Hiro Aoyama and wish him good luck. Hiro rides for KTM's new 250 team, and in only his third race developing the bike, he won the Instanbul Grand Prix!

While I was there, I had the chance to see KTM's 250 effort up close and personal. I met with Harold Bartol, who is singly responsible for developing the 125 and 250 KTM's (and has a huge list of accomplishments in GP, with other manufactuers) and out of everyone I've met, I can say without a doubt that he is an absolute Master. Their truck is a veritable factory on wheels, capable of all manner of repair and modification. I know that the 125/250's are some of the last racebikes still using carburetors, which I like, and seeing row after row of magnesium bodied FCR's was way cool. Not that they're using them, of course.

I then took a moment to check up on the crazy Sete-heads, who were busy mounting their enormous "Go-Gibbers" flag across the straightaway from the Ducati Paddock. Lots of strange looks from the locals, but the best were these Japanese race fans who couldn't stop taking pictures of us. I guess Sete fans are rare in Japan these days?

Stopped to say what's up to Alex Criville, 500GP champion after Doohan was injured. His work with Toni Elias is going to pay off some day.

Elias' other ride. Who can tell me exactly what this is?

This is actually his main scooter. Now that I think about it, many of the super nice scoots weren't used at this race, because of the Tabacco Ban in effect. That meant the Camel Yamaha team, and several others were running their "clean" colors, and weren't able to fully pimp around on their primary scooters.

Hmm, what's he doing here? Sito Pons is still very active in the Championship.

Also present was Peter Clifford, formerly of WCM. Since he's been involved in GP, he hasn't missed a race in years. This is the first time he hasn't had a team on the grid in I don't know how long! For you statistics types, find out, cause I'd like to know. Mr. Clifford is attending all the races this season, because deep down, he's just as big a fan as anyone. Right On!

Zoom! Alex Hoffman wears his Puma Boots. Expect to see more of these come Laguna time. . . .

That looks like Randy Mamola's Alpinestar's scooter in the background. On race weekends, Randy is EVERYWHERE!

Hi Chris!

I hope he gets used to the style of the Suzuki, cause it sure is different than the CBR1000 he was on last year. Really nice guy, balanced. Great in the rain, too, just absolutely beautiful front tire control in the wet.

'Sup, Sete. Rolling three deep I see, haha. I gotta admit, he's doing a lot better on the Ducati than I expected, because his style traditionally doesn't seem as loose or forgiving enough to get the most out of the big, bad Ducati.

Behind in red is Marcia Guidotti, PR person for Gresini Racing. When you see her at Laguna, say hi, because she's a super cool person.

May I present Mrs. Ingrid Capirossi. She had a lot to be happy about after the race. . . and so did Loris!

Quick! Someone tell me what tires Makoto Tamada is running on his Honda Ruckus! He finally seems to be getting comfortable on the Michelins, and as a perennial darkhorse, it would be great to see him crank out a win or two this season, like he did in '04.

Hey Kenny, rough luck during the race. The crappy part was waiting all this time for a new chassis, but then having junky weather conditions and being unable to push it to the limit.

This guy gets around pretty well, Michael Scott. We agree - couldn't be a more fascinating start to the season. Who could have predicted?!? James Ellison in the background has a cool Yamaha scooter that comes equipped with hard plastic pucks fore and aft, so if you chuck it, she slides. Very cool. It's amazing that there's so much action going on off the track and in the paddock. People don't seem to realize how much it actually takes to put a show like this together! In the flyaway races, you never see how grand the whole organism is.

Man on a Mission. Is there anyone as focused at beating Rossi as Dani Pedrosa? Other people race to win, Dani races to best Rossi. At least, that's the way it looks to me. Imagine you've been racing for the last five years - all you've ever seen is Rossi dominating the field. Now that Pedrosa is here, there's only one thing for him to do, though now that it's official Rossi will be staying next year, he might get a couple more years to go head to head with The Man.

Dunlop is not amused.

The weather conditions were so cold sometimes, the riders were wearing liners, even off the track! Then, in about five minutes, it'd be hot! Really strange conditions overall, and it only added to the French atmosphere.

Stoner, what can I say about this guy? He's making a statement, that's for sure. Can you imagine what he would be like on a factory Yamaha like Rossi's? And why hasn't anyone stepped up to sponsor these guys yet? Everytime we go to a shot of the bike from an onboard camera, the great white tundra just stares back at me.

Toby Moody talks shop with Livio Suppo. Who's riding for us next year? What are you talking about?

Poor Oliver Jacque didn't even get a real chance to play with everyone, and only tested on the Monday following the race. But he was there!

Fausto Gresini had a great weekend, errr, a great Sunday afternoon!

Cause his favorito Italian won the race! Man, Marco looks super slick - quite a change from the old days.

Spent some time with John, and I really must say, people better get out of his way! Ever since a certain race this year, he's just been more upbeat, more outgoing, and ready to boogie with anyone on the track! Look for good things to happen later this season. Actually, expect it!

For some strange reason, the weather decided to get really hot when I decided to make another trek around the circuit. This is turn one, uphill. I always take the time to run around the track at least once or twice, and usually it's a nice experience. Getting around at Seca can be a nightmare, as many of you know. . . . .

Still, Le Mans is a neat place, and filled with serious race fans who sit in the grandstands all day. It's so strange. They're sooo stoic, and then the announcer sounds like a cracked out Circus ringleader, shouting in French to come see the show! Total duality. More on this "phenomenon" (say it with the French accent, it's better) later.

I'm happy with this picture because it's probably the fastest moving vehicle I've ever shot clearly. What a shock to see the Kawasaki on top of the Qualifying boards, and for so long! Congratulations Shinya, that was very impressive.

Got to hang out with some very, very, interesting people this past weekend. Nicky was truly sick as a dog, but as Earl told me, he's just had to "gut it out" come raceday. I think their calendar only has six days, cause on the seventh, God goes racin'!

Chris Jonnum from RRX is sticking around through Mugello round, staying with his mother-in-law in Italy until the race in two weekends, and I hope to kick it again at that time. We'll see. I also got to spend some time talking with Andrew Northcott, one of the photographic giants in this field. What a great viewpoint he has on the circus, and it was refreshing and energizing to speak with him.

In response to a question I recieved from Peter - Paddock Passes are only sold for the USGP, and I think it's incredible. Not only are these areas off-limits at all other races around the world, the Laguna atmosphere - and the fact that the entire MotoGP contingent is crammed into a small space, really make it easy for people to really soak it all in. I can only say that I've been very lucky when it comes to getting where I've gotten. With all the positive energy that I put out, it is gratifying to see that some of it returns to me. Karmically, I feel like I give a lot to the sport, and to have it come around (via hard work, dumb luck, and all the great people I've met) is absolutely awesome. As for you not being able to see when you're in full tuck? Keep trying! Bear in mind these fuel cels, windscreens, etc, are all custom fitted to the rider, and there are sometimes "pockets" in the tank to fit the bottom of the chinbar of a helmet, or specially cut windscreens to accomodate the pilots. Perfect examples of "fitted" bikes can be seen with the Hondas, which have smaller tailsections and really cut-down windscreens for certain riders. You need to look pretty hard, though.

Saturday at the races was great, and I took full advantage of my freedom by seeing and experiencing as much as I could. I helped the kids pitch
Casa de Le Mans, before heading out of the circuit to drop a friend off at their hotel. The town's restaurants close up pretty early, before 11:30 even (sissies), but I wanted to spend the night cruising the campgrounds, anyway. Just getting out of the track was a nightmare, as all the seriousness of the day had disappeared, and the French were drunker than I've ever seen anyone! Literally, they were like zombies, and as I inched my way through the huge crowds just wandering through the circuit's roadways, flashing my highbeams and honking my horn, I wouldn't be lying if I said it was like Night of the Living Dead. It took people forever to realise there was a car behind them, and a couple (well, more than a couple) would rock and shake our car as I drove by. A particularly roady bunch put their beers on the car between the windshield and the hood and climbed on, oblivious to the danger that my driving presented. Priceless. It was a lesson in patience to get away from everyone, but coming back to the track was even better. I figured out how to get to power down the way I wanted it to, and in all the track's tunnels I pulled huge smokey burn-outs, the squealing tires alerting the zombies that I was a'comin' through!

By the time I ditched the car, around 1AM, the parties were in full swing. Reminded me a little of Acid Hill, times fifteen! It was surreal to see all these tents and people, light rain falling sporadically, the cold, the fires everywhere, just amazing. Like in Spain or Italy, the bikes were being fired up all the time, and the calls of the motors singing far into the night were beautiful. It was very muddy, but no one cared about the small things. Just the joy of being at a race mattered. My only regret is that the bottle of Rum the Sete-heads had given me was laced with Pineapple. I guess the sickenly sweet stuff only added to my impressions of the weird French.

They burned anything and everything.

This guy literally fired up his bike for me and ran it WFO for about fifteen minutes. He wanted to "prove" to me that you could get a fuelie to shoot flames.

Video of the Crazy Guy!

I might as well apologize for the poor photo quality, my small cam really stinks at night. In fact, it is time for an upgrade, so if anyone works with small electronics, let me know. I need something tiny with large amounts of pixels, 5+, the more the better. Big screen on the back is good, too. Exilim? Suggestions?

Word is that Valentino Rossi rides this very bike in his adopted home in England, with the Laguna paint scheme. If you see one on the street in London, check it out, because you might be in for a nice surprise.

Name that Bike! These are just a few examples of kookie bikes in France.

They love their trikes in France.

They really, really, love their Trikes.

They'll butcher any old bike to make a trike. I saw Hayabusa trikes, GSXR 1K trikes, and more.

Spaghetti Trike!

Found this neat "mini-rave" next to the only bathrooms in the camping area. Just a straight mud-hole!

What have we here?
Tables? Check.
Bad Mustache? Check.
Oddest Collection of Music? Check.

Video of the Crazy Music these guys were blasting!

This guy was Hilarious!

Video of another Crazy Guy!

Naturally, what would a crazy night in France be like without a bunch of guys "hugging"? At this point, I thought it prudent to seek safer ground, and I made my way back to the motorhome I had managed to borrow for the night. SCORE!

After yet another sleepless night, relative to human needs, my needs had been met and it was time to once again hear the thunder and the glory of the MotoGP bikes!

I never forget where I'm from (Hawaii!), and it's nice to see the colors of the Hawaiian flag represented here.
Just the ticket to jumpstart my morning and get me in the zone.

I spent time in the Red Bull Hospitality to watch the big race, a first for me since I'm usually trackside somewhere. The staff was unbelievable, intelligent, gracious, and very down to earth. They made me feel welcome and a part of their family, and I won't forget it. And check out the Snack-ums!!

I swear, it's apple juice.

About the race, and the season. . . . I think Graziano is not amused.

Never, ever, bet against anyone in MotoGP. As this season is proving, anything can happen.

I also want to give a special shout-out to my friends at Alpinestars, both the hospitality people and the trackside service guys (who really work harder than everyone realizes). Big ups for making this one of the best GP's I've ever been to. Oh, and Lenny, I'll be in touch!

On the long drive back to Barcelona, I thought back on my crazy time in France, and the only thing that came to mind was:

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