What am I doing?
Recently, someone on the Bay Area Riders Forum, an online motorcycle forum that I frequent, asked me what I was doing during the off-season.
I wasn't sure how to answer, so I just let it roll and this is what I came up with:
Well, I guess that depends. A lot is in the air right now, especially because next year promises new machinery and new challenges for the teams to be competitive. From what I've gathered in the paddock, a lot of the factory teams have re-signed their current crews, because that's one less thing to be concerned about when you're trying to get a new machine to the top of the box, week in and week out. A lot also depends on where riders are going, and if the team feels the crew will mesh well with them. It seems perfectly normal, that if you had, say, and Italian rider coming into your team, you might want your crew to be predominantly Italian, if only to make it easier to get along with the rider and give him more a sense of "home" and a sense of stability. I also know some riders want to keep their crews with them (ala Rossi, keeping JB and his boys when he made the switch to Yamaha in '04). While this is very unusual in the GP community, it has shown natural benefits, and I think Marco Melandri is considering something similar should he choose to move to Marlboro Ducati. What does this mean? It means that Ducati Corse would have to "downsize" their current staff of race mechanics to make space for the incoming new guys, something that would definitely put some stress on the boys who haven't re-signed yet. Still, Melandri isn't signed, so it's just more waiting on the part of the team. . . .waiting, and waiting.
Speaking of re-signing, I haven't. Yet. My team's decisions are dependant on the rider selection for next season, and everyone is playing a waiting game. I've been exploring what limited options I have, but honestly, I really enjoy working with some of the people I've been with this year, and I can't think of anything better than staying with them another year and learning that much more. It should go without saying that I learn something significant at every race, and moreso, I learn about racing every week I spend with these guys. You cannot believe how much we all talk about racing, and history, and successful strategies, when we're travelling on planes, driving in cars, wherever and whenever. Some of our dinner conversations have been amazing, and I wish I recorded some of them. It's more than just with the team. I enjoy being around everyone in the paddock, and I know it shows. In Brno, I came back to the hotel one afternoon after taking a walk through the city, and lo and behold, there was Jeremy Burgess just sitting outside by himself at the hotel cafe, having a beer. We joined up and talked racing for more than an hour, one on one, and for me, it was a chance to explore the mind of someone who has been actively racing since the late seventies. Someone who has seen more and done more than I'm likely to, and with his frank, open, and honest discourse, it proved to be an eye-opening talk. In fact, it was talking with JB that made me realize how much more complex and beautiful this racing world can be. Most of all, I really got an understanding of JB's racing philosophy, and that was truly special. Until you know, you really can't know. I really wish I could share more, but most of what I've learned is all in confidence, and will never be spoken of again. Anyway, it's fun to be here, to share my life and experiences with my team and with my friends in the paddock.
You have no idea how many people in GP are mountain bike fanatics, and we're constantly swapping videos (avi's) of the New World Disorder series. Or that several high placed guys are really into old-school Harley's, bobbers, and choppers. This kind of stuff goes beyond teams, because everyone who's interested in it talks - when we're walking to our garages, when we're taking a break at the end of the day, whenever. It's really neat. It makes for a really neat circus. Oh, anyone have a .AVI file of Faster 2 (Faster and Faster?) I'd like a copy, and we can FTP it. . . .
Speaking of really neat, I never really spoke about how I managed to be there for the debut of the 800's. On Sunday night after the Motegi race, my team packed up and because we had checked out of our hotel early that morning (6-something!) all our gear was already loaded up in the rental vans. The team was relocating from the town of Mito to a hotel in Narita, next to the airport. It seemed like almost all of the Europeans (all teams) did not like Japan (or Asia), and after three weeks from home, they all wanted to get back as soon as possible! I wanted to stay in Japan, so I paid for a flight change and started scrambling for a place to crash. Huge thanks to crazy Dave, from Marlboro Ducati, for letting me crash with him on Sunday night. I kissed my team goodbye in a black parking lot and made my way back into the paddock to meet up with the factory Ducati guys. You cannot know what I treat it was to have dinner with the team that night because they had just won the race and we had a beautiful meal prepared at the circuit. Livio Suppo gave a heart-warming speech and everyone's spirits were high. I want that feeling. I want to win races. We cleaned up a bit afterwards, prepared for Monday's test, and then all drove back to their hotel, at breakneck speed in the Alfa Romeos that are provided for them at almost all of the GP rounds, courtesy of the sponsorship deal that see's Alfa and Ducati linked. We shared a couple beers, joked about girls, bikes, and F1 (gasp!), in the hotel bar, and then promptly crashed out. I almost didn't make the ride the next morning, because I was soo wiped out. But I made it. The Factory guys really took care of me that Monday, allowing me full access to study their new 800, and I also was able to get some good looks at the rest of the bikes. Not enough to learn much, but hearing them was such a treat! They really are out of this world, and when you hear them at Laguna Seca next year, you're definitely going to know that something special is out on the track. As if the current bikes aren't special, haha. The new 800's are going to shock a lot of people, because they're so well made and race ready. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few of them racing at the Valencia round, something Chris Jonnum echoes in his Road Racerhead article. I think if you're out of the points for the championship, running the bikes early will only give you that much more data for next season, something that is critical before the winter break, when testing is banned. You really can't get the kind of information you want except in race conditions, so for this reason I think we'll be seeing the factory Ducati's and factory Yamaha's gathering more data through their satellite teams, who will be running virtually identical set-up's and tires. What does this mean? It means that the factories will be able to make changes that much more quickly, based on the data from four bikes, instead of two, and if they're all the same, the data is irrefutable. What's very interesting is the idea that several of the Honda's will be wearin Bridgestone tires next year. I'm not sure what to make of this, because I had thought that Michelin had a lock on the Honda's and didn't want rival Bridgestone to gather data on what the Honda's ran like. Anway, with the new tire regulations in place for next year, it's going to be a tricky and complicated process to get the bikes "just-right", and unfortunately (in my mind), there are going to be compromises and choices made that will be based on tire availability, and whatever else is left
So? Where does that leave me? Ideally, I would be testing in the off-season, through the end of November. I could then get some work done in the workshop, preparing our racing supplies for next year and our garage/box materials. If I stay with this team. And . . . . if we are allowed to test. I don't know all the ramifications of the tire contract in place with Dunlop this season, but presumably there is a clause that won't allow us to test with another brand until this year is up, and as we're switching to Bridgestones next season, along with the Ducati GP7 800, we're kind of in a hard place. If we don't test, we will be at a disadvantage at the beginning of next season, but hopefully the Factory engineers can help point us in the right direction. It all depends. If I'm unable to test, I might change countries. I might hole up somewhere and practice my language lessons. I honestly don't know. In one month I have no idea what I'll be doing, and it's possible I'll be hunting for another last-minute GP position, somewhere. It is a type of stress that most jobs don't come with, and oddly enough, most of the paddock people I've talked to have a rather funny take on it -
"You like suspense, don't you?"
Who knows where I'm going next? On the train from Narita into Tokyo, I had some time to think about it. Yes, I got overcharged for my tickets, yes, I had to change seven (7!) cars because my seating number was wrong (and the train was empty!!), but it's all worth it. It's all part of the crazy ride. See you guys in Portugal next week, where we're going to see the Ilmor (and the return of McCoy!!!!), and whether or not Nicky can hold off the Doctor. I'm under the weather and when I can I'll start going through all my photos again because there's just sooo much good stuff in there. Take care everyone!