JEREZ GP07, Race 2 "Black Sunday"
Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
I'm still a little taken back by how Sunday went down in Jerez, the second race of the World Championship. It was one of the more intense weeks of my life, and I wasn't quite expecting it. I think because I'm working daily preparing for the races, I take the results a little more personally than I should, because it's so much more to me than "just a race". It's not just a weekend for me, it's every single day, every single night. Jerez was not what we wanted - it's not what I wanted - and it's taken me a few days to digest the events and the madness that can only happen in MotoGP.
It all began on Tuesday, when I flew at dawn from Barcelona to Barajas Aeropuerto in Madrid. From there, the Spanish team members would meet at the Team raceshop in Daganzo and then drive the rest of the way to Jerez de la Frontera.
The length and breadth of Spain, half by plane, half by diesel van. Well, two vans - smoking and non-smoking! The semi-trucks had left the previous day, and the Italians were flying in directly to Sevilla, about 70km from the circuit, so the rest of us high-tailed it through the countryside, the anticipation building as the kilometres dropped away and we got ever closer to the southern tip of Spain. The true start of the season was here, and in no way can a race like Qatar ever hope to compare with the atmosphere that is Jerez. I was absolutely starving when we pulled into a small village for lunch.
In an effort to sleep for part of the drive, I had a beer. I should have remembered that the closer we got to Jerez, between Cordoba and Sevilla, it gets a little mountainous. I was reminded of the six hour endurance race I worked last year with Kenny Noyes, in Albacete, by the restaurant's knives. Albacete is known throughout Spain for their knives.
Our drivers attacked the roadways, bombing through sweepers and jostling us around so much that sleep was impossible. These are near perfect motorcycling roads, with high quality asphalt, and I saw a number of sportbikes railing through the hillsides with complete disregard for the posted speed limits. Welcome to Spain.
We rolled into the Jerez late in the day, sunlight beginning to weaken and fade. I was ready to fall asleep as soon as we checked in to the Hotel de las Cuevas, but because we were assembling our complete pit-box for this race, with special guest viewing area, the team members already in Jerez had started earlier in the afternoon. We took off to the circuit to join them and lend a hand.
Much of Jerez looks like an industrial area. It's fairly plain and straightforward to find your way around, but by the weekend some 140,000+ rabid Spaniards would descend on the place and really complicate things. . . .
Tuesday night saw us dining at Venta Esteban's, the restaurant close to the track that hosts a number of GP teams every night. I had some words with Kenny Roberts SR, about their new Vegas Sponsors, and was surprised to find out that he'd never dated a Spanish girl during his riding career in Europe, mostly French and English girls. "I hated Spain". Oddly enough, while many people in the paddock thought F1MAX-X was an X-rated company, Team KR actually HAS been approached by the Porn Industry but they opted not to run those graphics. . . . I also caught Valentino snuggling up with his girlfriend one night after Monday's practice. Esteban's does great meat and fish.
By Wednesday, we were in full-on race mode, the bikes undergoing their engine changes and pre-race preparations. The box was complete, we were putting the finishing touches on the two Team trailers outside (New Graphics!!), and there was a genuine feeling in the air that this was the real beginning of the Championship run. I think because Jerez brings so many fans and sponsors, there's a lot more pressure to perform, for everyone involved. Then the weekend comes and all hell breaks loose. It passes in a blur. Literally.
It is a sheer carnival of motorcycling lunacy that is impossible to contain. The surrounding cities near the circuit become wild sideshows at night, helmetless drunks swerving through stop-and-go traffic until they get enough space to lift a wheel, and street legal quads roaring around distributing drinks and transporting any girl silly enough to climb on the back. Boys in vans loaded with speakers blast Euro-rave music and sell illicit "party-favors", while huge, simply huge crowds of people line the streets watching the whole sordid mess. The police do nothing - they can do nothing - just mop up the remains. I saw quite a few wrecks on the roadways, a CBR without a front end on an off-ramp, etc, and I'm amazed there's not more carnage taking place. I tried to keep clear of the mess but I got out for one night with little Nachete, who was there from Reus, and one of his friends, Samuel, a local from the area who was both my tour-guide and "food-suggester". Most of my photos didn't come out from this trip (still on the fence about a new camera), but Nachete will probably email me a few and I'll add them later. What's important is that the energy and ferver of the people will be with me forever. They. Are. That. Crazy. The night I went out I wasn't able to drive back to the hotel. Despite being armed with a valid Parking Pass for the racetrack, and my own MotoGP Permanent Pass, the Police wouldn't let any vehicles off the freeway near the circuit and that meant a long and convoluted drive through bumper to bumper traffic, taking the "back-way" towards the hotel and the circuit. Mind you, it was late at night and I had to work the next day, so it was pretty annoying not being able to get back to the hotel. We ended up talking to Police at several different checkpoints before one of them let us through and that meant a much shorter walk, haha. The action never stopped around the circuit, and indeed, there was a real Carnival assembled just outside the Circuit entrance, rides and all. People drove, rode, and walked in for miles, and I can't figure out when they slept. The major difference between this and other Spanish races was that IRTA was actively controlling the Paddock access by scanning the barcodes on all passes, effectively keeping everyone out who didn't belong. It meant the paddock was much quieter and we were all able to go about our business that much better.
Samuel, a former national 250cc racer who remembers racing against my boss, Luis D'antin, now works as an engineer and is responsible for helping design and build the restaurant/spaceship you see above the main straight at Jerez.
On Thursday, we got our new uniforms, and while they will undergo some small changes before Turkey, this is pretty much how we'll look for the remainder of the season. At least on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Other days, we'll still be the Squadra delle Pecore Nere. Maybe I'll have to rename the group. The days were full of set-up changes to the bikes, looking to grab a fraction of a second here or there, and in the evenings we had dinner at the racetrack in our two-story hospitality unit. I was sleeping in the same room as one of the new Hosp. kids, and because there were four of us sharing a room (common for a huge race in a small place), morning showertime was a little trickier than normal. Sleeping was also difficult for some, and not just because of the all-night festivities that occur around the track! It didn't help that the new kid brought a full contingent of face-creams, body lotions, and a hair-dryer. Hair-dryer?!? 35 minutes in the bathroom? C'mon, buddy, this is MotoGP - get with the program. We got things to do, hahaha!
Probably the biggest factor this weekend were the temperature differences between the morning and afternoon sessions, which provided us with more questions than anything else. Sure, we were ready for anything, so I thought, but tire choice proved to be critical in this race. Anyone who saw Checa or Stoner moving up and down the timecharts in the race could see that. But the fans - the fans really added a different element to the racer's mentalities. When you come right down to it, there are three things that come into play when racing a motorcycle. The bike, the tires, and the rider. When a rider is feeling good, then things really start to happen.
Barros and his crew looked sharp for the race, but a relatively weak start hampered his charge to the front. An error repassing Vermulen on the last lap opened the door for both Chris V. and Nakano to slip past and dropped us to 11th across the line. We tried some new things on Monday's test, got some valuable wet weather data, and we'll be back better equipped to perform in Turkey.
Sergio demonstrates how Captain Morgan does it. Sergio is on a mission this year, and I'm right there with him.
The red dye in the pants irritated my thighs, and I hope a thorough washing will take care of it. Just felt strange not wearing black. Speaking of Black, this weekend marked my first Black Flag, and it had to happen in international competition. I've been sick about it ever since, because I know that's not what we're about and I'm angry at the circumstances that led up to it. A bunch of factors came into play this weekend, and The Hoff got the worst of it. A technical issue at the start led to a problem with the chain, and when Alex came into the box to get the bike repaired there was some confusion and he ended up riding out on his second bike. The rules stipulate you can only change bikes if you're changing tire types, i.e., slicks to rains or intermediates, and immediately the Black Flag went up. I suppose it doesn't really matter, because once you pull into the pits, you're pretty much out of the race anyway, but I hope nothing like this ever happens to us again. If anything, it's brought some things to our attention that we've since addressed. Complete and open communication is paramount, and this goes from the top on down. Our partnership with the factory, the mechanics and riders, everyone needs to be in the loop and on the same page. We cannot afford to have anything like this happen, especially at this level of the game, and more than anything else about this race, I'll remember that Black Flag. I'm upset about it even now, but the wheel keeps on turning and I must move forward. Work continues as we gear up for Turkey, and the real weight of the new tire regulations will come into force because no one has tested there. Or in China. Should be fun, and I'm hoping that we'll be able to surprise some people because Barros is quite good at defining the feeling of the bike and that should pay off in a big way when it's time to set-up for those tracks.
After the race, we prepped the bikes a little for Monday's test and had a quiet dinner at the Hotel. Monday's test was cold and rainy, but we forged ahead and got some serious work done. We broke down the garage late in the evening, locked down the boxes before they took off for Turkia, and ate at Esteban's once again. Thomas is taking the new Agip racing fuel seriously. Very seriously.
Adios La Cueva! Tuesday saw an early drive back to Madrid, and a delayed flight out of Barajas meant I got home to Barcelona just in time to say hello to Wednesday morning.
Dark skies over Spain matched my mood as we pushed through a long and exhaustive week on the way to Madrid.
Still, things are looking up for us, which is more than I can say for 2006 World Champion, Nicky Hayden . At the Jerez race, Nicky was still trying to get a handle on the new Honda RC212V, while his younger team mate, Dani Pedrosa, was able to use an exclusive chassis available only to him during the weekend. I grabbed this photo from Spain's weekly motorcycle magazine, Solo Moto. Amazingly enough, these photos were on newstands by early Tuesday morning. You can clearly see the upper shock mounting directly to the swingarm in the updated chassis, as opposed to the rear frame cross member in the top photo (standard chassis).
Anyway, long story short, I'm a little frustrated and disappointed, and I'm going to use these three weeks to recharge, refocus, and do my best to make sure that the Team is ready to fight come Istanbul. Maybe I'll read a cool comic . . . .
Prices have dropped for Cuarenta y Seis, and now it's only 10 Euros at the stores here in Spain. It's in Spanish, too, which means I'll have fun translating it. Now to get ahold of an Italian version!
More stuff coming in the next week, as I re-energize and can commit more time to writing.