QATAR GP07, Race 1 "Duel in the Desert"
Welcome back to the MotoGP World Championship . . . . . 2007 is HERE!
I had been looking forward to this race for months - and it couldn't have come soon enough. It was with mixed emotions that I journeyed back to Qatar for the race on March 10th, about a month since I'd been there last for the preseason test, about a year since I first got a break and starting working in Qatar on the Losail National Cup. Only now, this was THE World Championship, and this was to be my first race as Parts Manager. Would I be ready? Did I line everything up? Nervous, excited, stressed, worried, all these emotions took a back seat once it was "go-time" on Thursday morning. We had things to do, obstacles to overcome, and a battle to wage.
"This is a real war, these 16 races" - Bob Maclean (WCM Red Bull Yamaha 500cc, 2002) - only moreso this year.
18 races, 15 countries, 11 months, 4 continents, 1 goal, 1 Championship, 1 All-Encompassing love of speed on two wheels. We're maniacs. For us, this is the real racing, these are the best riders of their generation, and we're all witness to magic happening. Pure Magic.
The Duel in the Desert was worth the wait. Worth its weight in gold.
The team flew in from Madrid and Milan, flying overnight and arriving early Tuesday morning. We dropped our gear at the Movenpick Hotel, found out our rooms weren't ready, changed in the gymnasium bathrooms, and hightailed it to the circuit to begin assembling our garage/pit-box, and prepare our bikes for the weekend of racing. The entire pit-box is new this year, new graphics, new lay-out, and some really cool viewing features that are sure to impress the VIP's and sponsors who will visit with the team at the racetrack this year. As such, it took a little longer to set up than last year's arrangement, but overall, it's quite nice on the eyes and it only makes the team that much more effective and efficient. I'll post photos of the complete deal soon enough, as we're still waiting for our custom toolboxes and kits from Beta Tools. The team didn't really get a good night's rest coming in, due to the 60 crazy Track Marshalls on our flight from Portugal, so rather than burning ourselves out on day one, we finished up in the early evening and rolled back to the hotel for a well-deserved night's rest.
I TOTALLY needed it. I had been fighting a cold since Saturday, March 3rd. I over-excercised (is that even possible?) the previous week, putting my anxious energy to the pedals and working on some good hills here in Barcelona. I blitzed the beach area, powered through the Gracia area, and looped the length of the Diagonal, so by the weekend I think I was cutting it a bit close and the lack of sleep on the flight plus the flight's dry-air conditions put me over the edge and into the land of . . . . .THE DREADED COLD. Tuesday at the track I was sneezing up a storm, nose runnier than I can remember, eyes as red as strawberries. In this world, everyday is like a job interview, and I knew I looked pretty rough. Was I cracking before the racing had even started? I was miserable, and it was not the way I wanted to start the season off. Whatever. I crashed out as soon as I got back to the hotel, woke up three hours later, had a room service cheeseburger (double patty, lots of pepper on it), then went back to sleep. I wasn't quite refreshed the next day, but my batteries were sufficiently recharged and I was good to go. Brain was clear, which was the important thing. I've been known to survive a GP weekend on extremely small amounts of sleep, but I was in conservation mode this time, sleeping in the car to and from the racetrack everyday. It paid off, because I was fresh all day long. I didn't even have to see Dr. Costa (my last resort - don't like drugs - prefer passion), because I managed to beat the cold into submission within 24 hours. Like Costa says, " It is incredible what a xxxxx filled with irrational desire can achieve."
By Wednesday, we were putting the finishing touches on our racebikes.
The goofy Qatari Pitlane "stormtrooper" marshalls were back, and this time some of them actually wore their faceshields down throughout the day. I caught up with Andy, a British ex-pat, racer, and one of the "local" Qatari-based marshalls, and he offered me a case of beer which was really cool. I knew I wouldn't have time to drink it, or a place to stash it, so I had to pass, but it was a really cool offer, nonetheless. In Qatar, you need a permit/license to buy alcohol (outside of one of the 9 bars/clubs in Doha), so I'll be remembering that in the future. Thanks, Andy!
Our bikes fired up on Wednesday afternoon, and we were all-systems-go for a great weekend of racing. The Muslim work week runs from Sunday through Thursday, which is why the race is held on a Saturday there. Both our riders had a good base set-up from the Qatar test, but conditions are always changing and we're always tweaking things looking for every little advantage. Come Saturday, we wanted to throw down in the worst way. It almost worked out, but I'm mostly satisfied because I know what we're capable of and I'm confident for future races. Two guesses what David and Alejandro are talking about. . . .
This race was the first under all the new rules. Tires were selected on Wednesday, and every team had a track marshall on hand at all times to monitor the usage of the tires. They read barcodes on each tire, scanning them into little computers, and reporting back to race control. Our particular guy wasn't really suited for the job. For one, he couldn't even see the barcodes with his glasses on, and two, he couldn't speak English very well (or Spanish, or Italian). Throw in his deluded sense of self-importance, and he tossed a little bit of a monkey-wrench into what was otherwise a smoothly flowing weekend for us. Finally, we had to ask him to stay out of the way, otherwise we might have an accident on him. I'm sure things will be much smoother at other racetracks, but then again, who knows?
Ex-racer time! Name this former 250 GP rider, who's currently our Bridgestone tire technician.
Race day came too soon. I woke up early, as soon as the wake-up call sounded, and immediately checked outside to see the weather. It was gloomy, dark, impossible to read. I hadn't expected Doha to get so foggy, and like at the IRTA test in Jerez, it was thick and impermeable. Those of us trying to see into the future were stopped dead in our tracks. That's the parking lot downstairs where the kids (and adults) play cricket day and night. One night I saw them playing at 11:30PM.
I don't think anyone knew what to expect, and it was almost as if someone wanted to add a special touch to the raceday proceedings. Would the 800's make race distance on the lowered fuel limit? Would the laptimes be crushed over the duration of a race? Who would win? So many "What-if's", and the soup only added to the feelings suspense and tension. The fog was low to the ground, and I wondered if it would affect the grip of the track. You can see the track tower in the background, barely.
Morning warm-up was good, everyone seemed to be doing alright with the exception of some small bike gremlins, and by racetime (an hour later than normal) everyone was itching to get it on. My guys were pumped, the race set-up was clear, and we were looking towards making up some serious ground in the race because we didn't qualify the best. We were down in 15th and 17th, but I knew from looking at the race simulations that we would be ok. All we needed were a couple of solid starts, but that's when things went a little nuts. Maybe it's because it was the first race of the year, the first race of the 800's, the combination of a "too-long" preseason, who knows, but everyone jammed in to the first corner and thank goodness no one went down. Alex Hofmann rocketed away to a great start, moving into 10th position by the first corner, only to be struck in the right thigh by Chris Vermeulen, knocking him off line and almost off track. Don't know how he kept it up, but he rejoined the pack in 18th. I sure wish I'd gotten a photo of the tire smear down his leathers after the race, but everyone was busy hustling. Meanwhile, Alex Barros took off from the far right of the grid, suffering from wheelspin that Colin Edwards stated was from a dirty track. He was down in 19th place. He picked up a spot and in doing so, put Hofmann in 19th. We can see on our monitors where all the riders are, because the laptimes are shown in all four sections of the track. We see the progress and the passes in the numbers, because it's not always shown on the telecast stuff. I gulped when I saw both our riders in 18th and 19th at the end of lap one. I knew they were going to have to grit this race out, because nothing was going to come easy at that point. Both riders started picking people off, and bit by bit they climbed the positions one by one. A couple people fell (like Checa, who had been passed by Barros), and that gifted us a couple spots. Barros made it up to 8th at one point, a testament to his awesome race pace. I wonder how far up the grid he would have been if his start had been better. The Hoff was involved in some killer action as well. In the end, we finished 9th and 11th, and I'd say that coming from the very back of the line-up into the top ten was a good result for what could have been a horrible day for both riders. I was really proud of how well the team worked up until the race, and let's face it, 9th place is the highest I've ever finished in a MotoGP race, so I was stoked. Naturally, I'm ready for more, and so are the riders.
After the race, won by an outstanding Casey Stoner on the #27 Marlboro Ducati, we congratulated the boys from Big Red on their Big Speed. Everyone was happy that the first race was done and everything was good. Because we weren't testing the following Sunday, the mad-dash to pack up the flight boxes ensued, and after a good 30 minute break watching the race, we really kicked out the jams to get it done. I took care of my duties, then ran upstairs to the Media center to write our English Press Release, then ran back downstairs to clean up the final bits and pieces before my flight boxes took off to Jerez. All in all? Mixed bag. But there's 17 more races to go and we're ready. Every little bit adds to the momentum, fuels the drive. Let's GO!
As you can see, there were a lot more people at this race than in previous years. "All the way from Florence to the Desert! Go, Loris, Full Gas!" Members of Rossi's Tifosi were also present.
We closed up shop and headed back to the hotel to shower up and eat before our 1AM flight out of Qatar. Two days of overnight travel. One tremendous race, that proved that Ducati is here to fight. They won the last race of the 990 era. They won the first race of the 800's. One small team of engineers who pour their souls into the machines they race. Anyone who doubts the significance of this achievement doesn't understand the magnitude of going up against the Big Four in a virtually no-holds-barred contest of speed and design. My sincere congratulations to Ducati Corse and Casey Stoner. Now get out of the way so my boys can get a cracK!
I also met with some great Barfers from Sacramento, Carl and Lisa, who travelled all the way from California to watch a GP like it was meant to me - On Foreign Soil. Huge props to them for making the effort and enjoying a little of the nightlife of Doha with me. Hope you guys had a great time!
My night came to an end at A&W upstairs in the airport. See you next year, Qatar!
Another nice touch? Getting a photograph I took of the Doctor in Qatar last year signed for posterity.