June 27, 2006

Catalunya GP06

OK, time to move on and backtrack to the Catalunya GP race held three weeks ago!

After the Mugello race, I had roughly a week to unwind and decompress. It was an incredible experience for me, and with the ambitious workloads, I was wiped out and needed a break. I'm very lucky that I had that week, because starting with the three week run of races would have been extremely difficult. Because this was my "home" race, the team didn't really make travel plans for me - telling me not to worry about it and just make sure I was at the track early Wednesday morning. Jeez, I couldn't even remember how to get to Montmelo, because the last time I had been there someone else had driven and I hadn't paid attention. I finally talked to my coordinator on Tuesday, and made the decision on the spot to make my way to the track on Tuesday afternoon so that I would be there on Wednesday morning without having to worry about the travel plans. That meant getting my luggage together and walking twenty minutes to the train station, lugging it along the whole way. The Sants Estation is hot, humid, and dark. Throw in a mildly confusing track layout and people who don't understand the concept of customer service (like much of Spain, harhar), and I was tired already! Tired, but super excited to be working with some masters of race craft, and working with such a special machine. Read on to find out more about this critical race - which would have tremendous consequences for certain World Championship title contenders.

A fairly short trip, forty minutes I think, and I was in the heart of Montmelo, the city the track is next to. According to the web research I had done, the circuit looked to be just a few minutes walk from the track - so off I went!

As I left the little town, I passed a couple of ancient drunk fellows walking their dogs. They seemed very nervous when I took out my camera to shoot the townscape, so I ended up moving down a couple blocks and took this to remember the hillsides surrounding the area.

Did I mention it was hot? I was sweating like a pig by this point in my walkabout, which was easily thirty minutes into it. During the race days, I would drink 10-12 gatorades and never use the bathroom!

Thankfully, as I was headed up a hill to approach the main entrance of the track, some Catalan kids spun a "U-ey" and picked me up. I think it was a guy, his girlfriend, and her friend, but they barely said a word - just asked me who I worked for and if I was a mechanic. Bear in mind this is Tuesday afternoon, and they were headed away from the track after going there to watch the first semi-trucks roll in earlier that day. Those are fans! I got dropped off in the main paddock area to find that none of my team had arrived yet, and a quick phone calll revealed that they had been held up in traffic driving up from Madrid. I was advised to head to the hotel, "three minutes behind the track", and wait for them to show up. I spoke with some of my Dorna friends who had already established their base of operations, and then headed through this nice tunnel, conveniently located underneath the beginning main straight. There were sheets of plastic about and the track was gearing up for what would be another unforgettable weekend.

The backside of the main grandstand. It is an imposing structure, and there's no doubt that the people who designed and built this facility are hard core racing fans. We're not talking about cheap and easy bleacher seats here!

I crossed over a sturdy, lattice framed bridge that went over the train tracks behind the grandstands, and immediately saw my hotel. Score!!!! Walking to work has never been easier - or so I thought.

We were deep in Catalan country, as evidenced by the national flag of Catalunya running side by side with the Spanish flag.

I managed to have a coke, and eventually the team rolled in. Also in the hotel were Factory Ducati, MVA Aspar, Repsol Honda 250, and a couple smaller groups. To my delight, A-stars way there alongside the Clinica Mobile, and every night the lounge was full of people watching the World Cup games.

I can't tell you how cool it is to be bouncing through Europe while the World Cup is on! Being in Holland, surrounded by Dutch Nutters, La Naranja Mecanica, when they were playing Argentina was awesome! And Spain, Brazil, Germany, and the usual heavy hitters were up that week. It's just really neat to be here for this time. We piled into our vans and made our way back into Montmelo to a quiet place to get some dinner. Yet another 3 hour dinner. . . . . and sometimes I wonder why I tag along when I could be sleeping, haha. The town/village of Montmelo is mostly industrial, and there is a trucker area a minute from the hotel that all the sideshows happen on during the race week.

Our Argentinean mechanic sits across from our Brazilian one, and they're constantly getting into it, haha. Not to mention they work with different riders, one with Hofmann, one with Cardoso, so you can see where it can get a little loud sometimes.

From the hotel entrance, I could see this bit of the track. I thought we'd be hoofing it, but we took the vans everyday. Seemed silly to drive for the same amount of time as walking, but when the crowds started rolling in on Thursday, I understood that we needed a buffer, and the vans didn't even help.

This was the hottest time I've ever spent working - indoor or outdoor, and the pace was incredible. You just can't imagine how these people operate. It's not like the work is consistent, steady, and measured. It's always at a feverish pitch, you work as hard and fast as you can without making any errors. There is no room for errors here. One night I had the room to myself, because my buddy went out for dinner with some friends, so I decided to take care of myself with a good old-fashioned one of these:

Through the course of the weekend, I ran into a couple Barfers, but didn't have the presence of mind (or the time) to get the camera out and make a moment out of it. Peter and Eric were there, as were Sara Walker and her parents, and I even met some Barf Lurkers from the Peninsula. Extra bonus points if you guys can figure out who these two are

As everyone knows by now, raceday was intense. We laboured through three different re-starts - unheard of!?! With all the drama on everyone's mind after the red-flagged first corner incident race, and the subsequent rumours and tension crackling through the paddock, it only added to an extremely hot and stressful situation. Huge props for everyone who kept it on two wheels in the race, because this one was definitely a doozie.

I'm looking exhausted, literally and figuratively! Seriously though, the fans were off the hook at this race, erupting into cheers whenever one of their heroes would wave at the camera before the start. When the riders would thunder by the entire stadium seemed to go crazy, and it seemed like the majority of people were in the Rossi camp, or the Pedrosa camp. I haven't seen anything quite like it. Everyone followed the race on some big screens and whenever something happened, you knew it from how the crowd reacted. Phenomenal.

After we had packed the trucks and prepared our luggage for the following day's flight to Amsterdam, we went in to Port Olympic, a newer, trendy area on the beach. Hof-meister and crew went along and we ate Gooooooood.

One of my favorites, Pulpo de Gallega (Gallecian Octopus).

We had a little seafood, too. Actually, we ended up with four of these platters. Immediately following dinner, we split up to check out different parts of the nightlife, or go back to the hotel and rest up for the next race. I opted to stay in the city for the night, so I could pay my rent the following day before heading to Assen. Mistake? Definitely. John Hopkins and his buddy, Chris, met up with Alex and me, and we rolled into a chic place called C.D.L.C. for what was a "white" party. Think tons of tanned Spanish dressed only in clothes that were pure white. Strange, nice, fun, and ultimately the start of what was to be a terrible night for me - capping a terrible weekend of injuries and pain for several of the riders with championship ambitions.

I'm signing off for the night, I have a long week to think about. I wanted to let everyone know how grateful I am, and that I will be responding to everyone's thoughts and emails in the next coming days, schedule permitting. I just wanted to throw some pictures out there so I could start getting back to what this thread is about - grabbing life by the horns and enjoying, savoring every minute of it.

See the three guys in red Monlau shirts?
Monlau is a school, a training academy, for race mechanics based here in BCN. I've been through MMI, and it's nothing like that. Monlau is run by some ex-world level riders, like Emilio Alzamorra (125 World Champ) and besides the classroom and workshop studies, they actively participate in the Spanish Nationals and some other race series. I know a couple of the guys going to school there (and I work with a graduate), and it goes to show how much more committed and involved the people here are concerning racing. To recap, we have now seen the racing school, MotoGP Academy, run by Alberto Puig (that turns out riders like Dani Pedrosa), and the Monlau school, which turns out the people who will end up working in the World Series'. If they're lucky. Does the US have anything, anything at all, like this?!?

More stuff to come!

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