Down Under Preseason BIG Wrap-up
It's like your own private racetrack!
I'm often asked about Phillip Island - how I like the circuit, the facilities, the people in Australia, generally just what it's like going out there to play with motorcycles. And here's some of the answer.
As a racetrack, it's one of the most spectacular and magical places I've ever been to. The views are phenomal, and the countryside surrounding the track really lends to the atmosphere there. You're looking at sheep one minute, and then VRRROOOOMMM, there go some crazyfast, loud motorbikes! The way the track itself cuts through the gentle hills, the places to pass, it's all magic, and maybe because it's in laid back Australia, the team personnel just seem to be more friendly. If you watch a crew at a big European race, the vibe is totally different. There's really nowhere to disappear to at night, so you'll see teams and riders in the small town of Cowes all week long, which is pretty cool. The island offers a variety of leisure activites, like mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, golfing, you name it, and you pretty much can't go wrong on an island doing anything. Especially if you're from an island - like me! Anyway, the wildlife is ever present and you know you're really in Mother Nature when you're out there. With Motorcycles. YEAH!
Loris goes golfing with some of his crew, Massimo, Marco, and Mark. Just to give a size reference of how small these pilots are, Mark (far right) is 5'6" and 160 pounds. Just kidding Mark!
The track facilities, however, are a little primitive. Much like Laguna Seca, the paddock is small (smallest pit lane in the World Championship!), and the team offices are nothing more than cheap, portable rooms. Just like Seca. Normally, I don't really care about what that kind of stuff is like. The main thing I care about is whether or not they have actual toilets that you can sit down on, because I can't squat, and if they have decent paper. Sachsenring? Bad Paper! Phillip Island? Decent Paper. Mugello? NO WAY!
But I digress. Security is pretty good at Phillip Island, but it's so spacious and out in the middle of nowhere, I'm pretty sure clever or determined people could get in. And that's what worried me. This season I'm far more aware, and more responsible, for the equipment the team brings to each and every race. The photo above shows the Paddock door to my garage, which is connected to a roll-up door that is so flimsy I'm sure I could kick it down if I tried. But I wouldn't have to, because this little key is the only thing keeping people out at night when we're not there. Granted, there are a bunch of security people on premises at all times, but my teamates and I joked that our millions of Euros worth of equipment was being safe-guarded by this little ole' key.
There's a common sense of brotherhood in the racing community, and it's particularly so in the GP paddock, so the last thing I would be worried about would be another team trying to see what we're up to. Last year, I wondered if team's spied on one another, whether it was video'ing or recording sound, because often you can hear what's going on the garage next to you and it wouldn't be hard to rig up something. It doesn't happen at all, and I think it's because there's such a huge level of respect that the teams have for one another. Besides, none of the data would be relevant. I am continually amazing that these completely different motorcycles, with different tyres manufactured specifically for each brand, each racetrack, that all these totally unique and specialized machines can go head to head on track and end up coming in within a tenth of a second of each other. Think about that. Hot Lap at Phillip Island? 1:30 seconds, more or less. And 1/10th of a second is? One Ten Thousandth of a percent, or .0001111%, of the total laptime. It's that close, and that's just one lap. Thinking about Estoril last year, where Toni Elias bested Valentino Rossi by .002 seconds at the finish line - just thinking about how many laps that meant, roughly 45 minutes - can you believe that different bikes with different riders, styles, tires, everything that makes up the technical and human package, finished that close? NOW THAT'S CLOSE!
This Rusty latch is the only thing holding my babies back in their garage at Phillip Island.
About this time, I realized my Sony camera was on the fritz, and it started doing all manner of strange things, from constantly vibrating internally, to taking pictures that were downright artsy. I haven't had time to even think about replacing it yet, so for the next couple adventures, I'll probably be using my trusty 2.2 megapixel dinosaur. It's a little hefty, but hey, I can always use the excercise. I thought this photo turned out pretty neat, because we're the Squadra delle Pecore Nere. At least, that's how I like to think of us. Oh, any of you guys have an inside line on pocket sized mid/high-resolution digital cameras? MotoLiam is looking. . . .
Here's another example of what I'm talking about. The Repsol boys were absolutely flying on the third day of the test, throwing down some incredibly fast laps on Q's in the afternoon. I think we'd rather save a little something for the race, but those conditions will be completely different, and chances are our bike will be further developed at that time, so who knows how it will turn out? That's the beauty of this series, it's constantly evolving.
But enough about racing and motorcycles, haha. I love real life. Another of the photobugs on the team is Andrea, and now and then you'll see some of his pictures grace this website. Andrea is the main telemetry and electronics guy for Alex Hofmann, and he's just a nice guy in general. Not only does he tweak the settings of the bike, he repairs watches, too!
Meanwhile, I did my best to look sexy in my preseason gear. You have no idea how happy I am to be wearing Bridgestone on one sleeve, and Ducati on the other. 1-2, Bam Bam!
This is the "Hot Set-Up" in Australia. The sport Ute (utility something or other) with a trailer. I like to think of it as a downsized El Camino or Ranchero, and I'd probably own something like this if I lived and worked in Australia.
I spend a lot of time learning from the living computer, Davide Baraldini. He's the best there is, for now. . . . . .
The first couple days we were in Australia setting up for the three day practice, the weather was a bit cold and rainy. One of the restaurants we ate at, Taylor's Waterfront Rest., overlooks this cool little cove. This looks like a great place to have a picnic. I miss picnicing, but ce la vie.
I was frozen, wind-blown, and getting rained on when I took these. We've got places just like this in Hawaii, but the rocks are black or dusty brown - not this reddish stuff. The people in Australia really impressed me. The best description I can come up with at this time is "RUGGED". These people are rugged. They're a hearty people who are self-reliant and quite creative when it comes to fixing problems that occur in their day to day lives. Most of the kids I've met have an idea of what a brake caliper is, and they can change tires, too, haha. They fix things with tape, chewing gum, and backyard welding, and while it might not be the cleanest or most professional looking stuff, it's really neat to think that they don't have to go out of their way to take things to someone for repair. I like it. Real Mad Max type stuff, serious. This ingenuity translates over into many aspects of their lives, and they just put their heads down and go to it. You can see a bit of this in their racers, who get down to business and really work hard, no matter what the circumstances.
Alex Barros set the fastest times on day 1 and 2 of the test, and the entire team was ecstatic about it. This is the first time I can remember seeing this team's name at the top of the charts, and Alex Hofmann wasn't far off, either!
AB celebrated that night with one of these, while we all enjoyed a fantastic meal as well.
After dinner, I always had some work to get done. Some nights I would tweak the English Press Releases, but usually I'd have my hands full with Parts orders and inventory type stuff. My boss, Lele, has been invaluable in helping me get on my feet and started on this learning process, so a huge thank you goes out to him. The running joke is that "Olga", my laptop, is a crazy, big, white woman from Eastern Europe. And she's "fragile", too. Mudah pecah!
But that didn't mean we didn't have fun at dinner! I really get a kick out of how expressive these Euros are. They're constantly messing around, and it helps to relieve the tension and pressure that we're al under.
Payback's a bitch, however! Jaws, anyone?
Hof got in on some neat video action, assisting Bridgestone with an onboard camera (in the backpack) for something they're working on. He had a great run during the tests, and now that's he's on the GP7, I'm really anticipating this season.
On two of the test days, we were joined by my Australian family, the Staggards, and their niece, Vanessa. Some people work on the bike set-up. I work on the team set-up. We were well set up.
Incidently, Vanessa is available for shooting, so any of you Aussies looking for a spokesmodel, or something similar, should contact me. I like to think that she slowed a couple of the riders down as they passed the main straight - looking sideways!
SCORE!!!! No offense to my Dunlop friends, but I'm so stoked we're on Bridgestones this season.
I also had a chance to meet with Australian racebike fan, Dave Wallis, who was kind enough to supply the team with a glut of Choccies, which I packed away for the trip to Qatar! I only hope they don't all melt, something I thought of later. . . . gulp.
The Mustasche has to go.
After some exhausting and brilliant days at the track, we spent the night in Phillip Island before making our way through rush hour traffic on the way to the Melbourne airport. There were quite a few bikes on the roadways, mostly commuters.
I entertained the guys in my car by proving that I can snore while sitting up. They took photos. And laughed. Sometime later this year, there will be an intense battle between myself and the man they call, Tormenta. Apparently, it's going to be like Godzilla fighting Mecha-Godzilla, while juggling chainsaws.
Melbourne airport, which was suprising well -stocked with some good people watching that night. Unfortunately for my team, the check-in girl was suffering from a disorder of some kind, which meant standing at the counter for 20 minutes just to check in. And even after that, our seats were still messed up.
Here's some trivia for you. I bought this Australian Ninja Mask, which Andrea is modeling, while I was waiting for my flight. Who can tell me more about it, and the historical significance this played in Australia?
After the bounce in Malaysia, I snapped this somewhere over Uzbhekistan. It's snowy, and it's also fun to see different countrysides from the plane. Growing up in Hawaii, I'm used to only seeing the ocean when I'm on a flight, but when we're flying over Europe, Asia, or Australia, it's cool to see how things change and wonder how that affected the development of the people there. I think I even saw a salt bed Down Under!
The team got stuck in Heathrow, AGAIN, but after some frantic phone calls to our travel agency, and the switch of a counter person at Iberia, the guys made their flight to Madrid, while I headed to BCN with Toni Elias. He's a great guy who I enjoyed speaking with, and while I hope he does well this season, I hope my guys kick his ass. Lots of good stuff on the plate just around the corner, so stay tuned this week. I hope to debut some really cool stuff, some more multimedia type posts, and then some!