April, 2007

April 30, 2007

Ready, Set, SHANGHAI!

Wow - I can't believe it's time to ship off to China already! Bags are almost packed; uniforms, socks, computers and related elec. equipment, camera (!), and most importantly, iPOD! I'll be thinking about all the people backing us up on this trip, and this photo comes all the way from the Grand Canyon, courtesy of Squadra member Rick, who rode there from San Francisco! Thanks a bunch Rick - While I'm sure the trip itself was mind-blowing (just look at the background!!), for me it's just incredible to see everyone pulling for the little team that could, the Squadra delle Pecore Nere, The Black Sheep Squadron! It's exactly this kind of enthusiasm that makes it easier for me to put aside the hassles in my life and just get to it!

China is going to bring the return of Michelin, who never seem to misstep twice in a row, and you may recall some difficulty last year at this circuit when Valentino "over-rode" the tire and the front chunked on him during the race. With extended straightaways and increased cornering speeds, these new 800's are going to put the rubber to the test in a Big Way. While everyone is looking for the Ducati's to power down the two huge lengths of track, I think Braking is going to play a crucial role in the weekend's results, so front tires are going to be especially stressed (out). This weekend we will run past 200MPH.

This weekend also marks exactly two years since I first heard a MotoGP machine, the blast of the Suzuki's warming up on Friday morning. I'll never forget that moment, eating a box lunch in the grandstands with chopsticks, and then all the hairs on my body stood on end . . . .

Two songs for you this race, both gifts from people who Rock!

GP07 Shanghai 1

GP07 Shanghai 2

Not only that, new shirt designs are out now thanks to MotoIan in Redwood City! Check them out here:

P.S. I know I sold four shirts in April - you guys better send me some photos!


April 27, 2007

Turkey GP07, Race 3 "It's Like a Win" - part 2

RACEDAY. There's nothing like it. I get chills when the bikes fire up on the grid - and the roar of the bikes as they strain to contain all the power and put it to the ground - it's the sound of our hearts exploding as we will our riders on. It tears the air - ripping rubber, roasting clutch plates, and stealing your breath away - and then they're gone. You run back into the garage as fast as you can to see if everyone made it through the first corner safely. Everyone. And then you wait and watch, and except for the scream of the bikes as they pass the mainstraight, everything goes quiet. It's the only time during the weekend when everything becomes still.

Four of these people don't even belong in our garage, so you can see how few we are. Other team members watch from pit wall.

The Malboro Ducati factory team has a few more people than us, and everyone was straining to watch the feed of the race. We're just a small privateer team, and Ducati is the smallest Factory in MotoGP, so to see us running at the front is just incredible, and a true testament to the racecraft and enginerring that Ducati builds into each and every one of their bikes.

Following an outstanding 250cc race, which saw Italian Dovizioso topple the Spanish Armada of Lorenzo and Bautista (Bene Gara!!), the Ates dropped by to wish us well for the race. The family is half Italian and half Dutch, and they root accordingly, hahaha. I love how everyone gets behind their countries, or backgrounds, when it comes to European riders. Rarely have I seen American fans get behind someone because he was from the same state - and some of our states are bigger than most European countries!

We had some troubles during qualifying, so our grid positions weren't so good. This was the third tightest grid in the history of the Championship, and we were sitting in 13th, Barros, and 17th, Hofmann. Sunday's warm up was a chance to get in the zone and Alex Hofmann suffered a highside that damaged his ribs and made it difficult to breathe. We managed to get the bike back together for the race, and I caught a couple minutes to eat lunch in between. Barros was looking rundown, and I saw a bandage on his arm. He had been to Dr. Costa's Clinica Mobile to get checked out before the race because he was feeling so sick. If I was feeling nervous about the race, I can only imagine how he felt, knowing that in a few hours he would be challenging both himself and the world's top riders for 45 minutes of flat out racing!

Jon dropped by to show off his sweet sweatshirt, and this was the first time I'd seen another one since I bought mine in December! He got it a day before he left to Turkey, and maybe this was the start of some good luck heading our way. Either way, it was really cool to see, so thanks Jon! Wear it with pride!

When it was time to line up on the grid, I nabbed a shot of Nakano. One of the earlier practice sessions was red-flagged after Nakano had fallen and his bike was left in the middle of a corner. It wasn't a particularly bad crash, just a simple slow slide, but the track workers left it laying out there with just a couple minutes remaining and it threw off everyone's rhythym. I want to point out the the cornerworkers were not up to snuff at this circuit, and it would take forever for a rider or bike to make it back to the garage if anything happened. Infuriating. Anyway, Nakano was ahead of us on the grid, so he was simply a target at this point. Many people forget that Shinya Nakano rode Yamahas for the D'antin squad years ago, and our mechanics and him still talk when we see each other. Really nice guy.

This is a great shot because you can see one of the Rizla Suzuki mechanics running through the grid positions, literally clearing a path for his rider to come through and line up. The bikes are so loud, sometimes you don't hear what's going on behind you, or who's coming up, so the mechanics will sometimes have to push people out of the way so that their rider won't have to stop and go before getting to their spot. You want to save as much of the clutch as possible for the start of the race.

As we were towards the back of the grid, I found myself next to Mrs. KRJR, and we caught up a little. KRJR has been on both ends of the field in his career, becoming the only rider to bring home the World Championship after his father had already won it. Team KR is working to get back into the thick of things, and knowing them, it's only a matter of time before they've found the right direction to go with the 800.

And then the race started and we were watching in silence as our riders progressively made up positions and battled with riders left and right. Each spot we gained followed by a sigh a relief and after Jacque brought down a couple riders, everyone's nervous energy ramped up a notch because we weren't sure how the downed riders were doing.

The remote starters for the bikes also double as seats, as Pierro demonstrates.

We came to do more than just sit. We came to race!

And race we did! Hofmann put in some fantastic laptimes, edging ever closer to the main group fighting between 2nd and 8th, never losiing time, but unable to make up the gap. He passed Rossi at the end, commenting that even on bad tires Rossi fought him tooth and nail, getting off the brakes way early and clawing his way around the track. "That guy is a racer!". That the Hoff was able to ride as hard as he did just shows how strong he really is, and that all his training and desire are working for him. Barely able to breathe, and all over the track because he couldn't hang on to the bike so well under braking with his banged up ribs, I was so happy and proud of his result. It was his best ever on a Ducati, and one behind his best on the Kawasaki in 2004. He's only going to fight harder now.

Meanwhile, Barros was part of a thrilling mix that had him sawing away at the '06 World Champion, Nicky Hayden, back and forth (!) and then snaking his way in, out, and around Melandri and Hopkins. It was beautiful to watch Marco and Hopper test each other on the brakes, while Barros waited for his gap. He took it and ran - closing in on Capirossi in third and applying pressure on his former West Pons teammate. We were up in the air at this point in the garage. Seeing our bike, fighting for the podium, it was a dream come true - and honestly, if you'd told us last season that by the third race, we'd be up there, I don't think anyone would have believed you. Barros was fierce, and as Capirossi faltered coming out of a right-hander, Barros slipped past and into the lead with one corner left . . . .

One corner, and Capi managed to lodge himself in the way with a classic block pass that Barros didn't have an answer for. Almost. Both Ducati GP7's hurtling towards the finish line, the "Bologna Bullets" as Toby likes to call them, we missed it by .033 seconds. .033 seconds! POINT 0-3-3!!!! It was mind-blowing in the garage, as we released years of emotion as a tidal wave of joy swept through the team. Jumping, cheering, clapping, hugging, crying (yes, even me), it was a synaptic explosion that rocked us. There was no thought that we missed the podium, we were ecstatic just to have been part of the fantastic, amazing battle for third with Capi. How can you blame us for losing to a Factory Ducati? We were as happy for Corse as we were for ourselves, and between the two garages all the team members flowed back and forth, "BRAVISSIMO - COMPLIMENTI !!!" We finished fourth, and Ducati made up 3 of the top 4 bikes.

You couldn't have asked for more - but we will - in China. The first thing Barros said when he came back to the garage after the press conference was "Sorry guys, next time.". He's hungry, and so are we. Unlike the normal routine of immediately stripping down the bikes for transport following the race (sheer minutes after the bike comes back in), we instead took our time to celebrate. Everyone's cel phone was blowing up within minutes, calls from friends, wives, everyone, really. It was like a win for us. I mentioned to MotoGPod (the podcast) that it was such an intense set of emotions, it really will be with me for life. On one hand, I'm a little sad we didn't get up there more - because who knows where we would have ended had we started the race from higher up, instead of the Fifth Row! I want to win races more than anything, and that's why I'm here. The trick is learning to find a balance between happiness and satisfaction - will I be happy with this result? Does it satisfy me? Yes, and double yes, but it's not a WIN. Forza Ducati, Forza ALEX! Let's GO!!!!!!!!

Shanghai comes up way too fast, because we tested after the race on monday and the times were great. We packed up, flew home on Tuesday, and I passed out in my apartment just around midnight. Wednesday was a National Holiday in Italy (so Ducati Corse was closed), and here in Spain, Monday and Tuesday are holidays, so there's a strange schedule before the weekend. There's not enough time to handle everything before we fly out on Monday morning, but I trust we're going to be ready to fight in China. We have to be.

After the race, I saw this guy starting to work on his Blog.

We compared notes. Say hi to Frederico Minoli, CEO of Ducati.

Our team also paused to enjoy some cake. It was awesome.

Most people know that Jacque hit his coccyx (tailbone) pretty hard in the big crash, but his noggin' took a serious shot, too. His Shark held up.

We didn't have to break down the garage like normal after a race, because we were due to test on Monday. We changed up the bikes a little, and then headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved meal at the hotel restuarant. After dinner, most of the team was soooo wiped out they went right to bed. I asked the boss if we were going out to celebrate. "AWWW HELLL YEAHHH!"

That meant a trip back over the bridge via taxi's. We didn't really know where we were going, and as it turned out, neither did the cab driver. But the bridge looked nice.

The driver stopped somewhere, got out, and walked away. We had no idea what was going on, so I jumped in the seat and proceeded to pull away from the curb. He came running back in a hurry, hahaha.

We finally made it to a place called Dans for the Red Bull After Race party. Jordan Miller (Red Bull USA) was on hand and we spent some time catching up. He's been a great guy to know since we met in Le Mans last year, and he was touring Istanbul with a sports writer from Penthouse. Oh the stories that flew! The MTV crew (who were filming the Nicky Hayden show) was there, and I accidently used my Borat voice on one of them, totally fooling her into thinking I was East European. I've introduced the movie to my Italian teammates, and with their natural accent in English, plus a little Borat, the result is absolutely Hilarious! we frequently use Borat expressions to convery how we feel. Very Nice! How Much! And so on. I caught up with Hiro Aoyama, and everyone else from Red Bull, and it was a great night. We finished up early because of the Monday test, but it was a fun night nonetheless. The club itself was PACKED, barely any room to walk or stand. The people move just like they drive, stepping all over you and blocking your path with no thought to anyone else. It was really weird. This time, I put my wallet in the front. Anyway, thanks go to Jordan, Greg, Ertug, and the peeps from Red Bull.

Look! It's Hiro!

And OH MY GOD - Vanilla Ice comes on and all I can think about is "Cool as Ice".

Check it out: Liam Gives His Best Vanilla in Turkey -Be Warned!

Also spent some time with young Stevie Bonsey. As you can see, he's adapting to the life of a European GP rider well, making friends, and having fun. I really expect to see some strong finishes by him this season, despite it being his first on the world scene (and first in road racing, for that matter), and he's got the edge that will help him rise to the top. Just stay focused, Stevie, and watch out for them Italian Girls!

Monday's tests went great, with Barros and Hofmann improving upon their race times considerably, a second and .6 seconds, respectively. This bodes so well for us and for the rider's confidence. I am eagerly awaiting Shanghai. Bring it!!!! In the Ducati Garage, Baralda was kind enough to flaunt their three trophies, for Rider Championship, Team Championship, and Manufacturer Championship. This is the first time that Ducati has held the lead in all three, and it means a lot to everyone who works with them. .033 seconds!!!!! ARGH!!!!!!

After the test, we boxed up everything, and stopped for fuel at the gas station just outside of the track. This has to rank as one of the funniest moments that's ever happened to us at a race, as this guy (pictured) just started rambling in the strangest English I've ever heard. I had been munching on a piece of bread when I got out of the van to look at souvenirs in the minimart, and he just about assaulted me trying to sell me some tea. He just wouldn't take no for an answer, and although he was pretty polite, he was non stop! I had to run back to the truck to get away from him, leaving Lele outside alone while he gassed up the van. The boy came over and just started going off about "Hi my name is Kharkatouie I like Formula One I live here I am 20 Formula One is cars You are Spanish I speak Turkish Where are you from I watch the cars HOW OLD ARE YOU I watch the race You like Formula One?" And ON and ON! It was bizarre, no timing or spaces - nothing - just one un-ending ramble. Lele called for help, so I jumped out of the bus to distract him, but when we went inside to pay, he continued with "This is Mustafa my brother he is 12 This is my brother Kinkalackaboogeyman He is 18 Do you like music what is your name, etc". And then he cranked up the stereo of the gas station and started blasting this freaky loud Arabic Rave music. Lele and I danced our way back to the van. There is video of most of this, but it will probably take a while to surface. In the meantime, use your imagination. By the way, the tea was HOT, and we did end up with a cup of it. I spilt it in the van as we drove away, and it reminded me that karmically, we should go easy on the kid because he's just trying to be friendly and speak english with us. Phew. Anyway, it could have been worse. How Old are Yoooouuu?

The next morning was a freetime, but instead of getting back into the city centre, the entire team slept in. I wish we'd gone, but I'll trade seeing the city for an awesome result any day of the week.

Arrivederci Bostanci!!

Adios Bosphorus!

Once at the airport, we grabbed some (gasp) Burger King, and it was expensive! Things were pretty pricey in Istanbul, like 15 Euros for a drink at the club and 8 Euros for a meal at Bulgar King (that's like ten bucks!). We shipped more boxes back to Madrid to work on some things before China, and that when I saw all these. Now THAT'S HOW YOU SEND SOME WEED!

I also picked up this really cool Fez (bargained the guy down at the airport cha-cha stand). It was the perfect way to end the Turkey adventure - where I felt like they'd tried to nickel and dime me. Even the taxi's tried to charge us more for crossing the bridge (after we'd agreed on a price), and don't get me started on the club that tried to take us for a lot more. Man, people were right. This place is full of dangers around every corner. It's fun, it's outrageously beautiful, and full of history, but it's a hard place to make aliving and everyone is out for themselves. Go in forewarned and have a great time - and see you in Turkey next year!

This is what Pure Ecstacy looks like! Some have said that this was our best finish ever in MotoGP, but they'd be forgetting that Ruben Xaus finished on the podium in third in 2004, Qatar! In '04, the Factory bikes were struggling with a new design and different weight distribution, and the year old bikes being run by D'antin (the '03's) were still kicking butt after a year of development by the other manufacturers. We came mighty close last Sunday, and it might have taken us a couple years, but we're getting back there :) .033 SECONDS!! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!

Most of all, I want to send my sincere congratulations to both Alex Barros and Alex Hofmann for doing their best and giving us one heck of a show. They both ran strong, made us proud, and helped vindicate all the time and effort we put into racing. MAD PROPS, YO!

And I'll leave you with this - all he needs is a pair of cymbals and he's all set! We got back to Barcelona and we home in bed by midnight. What a fantastic week, and I hope to have many more like this. I know I've probably missed writing about a lot of the Turkish experience for me, but time is a factor and I've got a ton of things I need to get to before we head to China. I should be running into an old Barfer there, so stay tuned!

April 26, 2007

Turkey GP07, Race 3 "It's Like a Win" - part 1

On Sunday, we battled for the Podium. It was an incredible experience and rush of emotions, and nearly a week later, I'm still taking my time to analyze everything, reflect, and remember all the times we were struggling last season. For me, and I think for most of the Squadra, this felt like a win. It's not over yet, though, and in fact, the season has barely begun. We have 15 more chances to strike, and this week I've been laying more of the foundation to make it possible for my team to get in the mix and show what we're made of.

The raceweek began on Tuesday at dawn, and by Sunday night we had finished the race in 4th and 9th position.

The planes wait for the sun, and at this time of the morning, the majority of the passengers milling through the airport were business people headed to Madrid. On the cheaper flights out of the airport, you take a bus to get to your plane and it affords some cool views of the jets lined up outside the terminal. I always think of horses lined up before a race - the gates pop open and everyone takes off. Literally.

I met our two newest members of the team at the airport, Felix and Alejandro. They've both been around the block, most recently with Sito Pons' outfit while working with Troy Bayliss in '05. Actually, Felix is a former Grand Prix racer from the '80s - can you guess who he is? Meanwhile, Alejandro is a second-generation Ducatisti, and he rides a pumped 900ss. We all were tired but there was a small feeling of uncertainty because we had no idea how Istanbul was going to be, not having tested there during the off-season. I think we just wanted to get the travel over with - and get back to the racing!

Yup, the plane was full of Spaniards. Nice thing about the really early flights is that they're unusually peaceful (for this country), and most people tend to sleep.

We met up with the rest of the Spanish guys in Madrid's Barajas airport, and after checking in we split up to get some food. I tried a really funky hamburger. Noso-gooda. What do you expect for ariport food? I should have stuck with a ham and cheese sandwich, but I wss already feeling adventurous and because this was my first time to Turkey, I was stoked. I tried to take as many photos as I could, and believe me when I say it was difficult to narrow them down to these. I wanted to put them all up, hahaha, but in the end, this is how it is. We landed at Istanbul airport after a short flight, only three or four hours, and while small, the airport was clean. The most interesting thing to me was that as soon as I disembarked from the plane I could smell the heavy essense of pipe tobacco.

We lined up for the passport control, and I learned that like Qatar, you pay for your Visa up front here. US citizens paid 15 Euros, Spanish (and the rest of the EU) only 10. This was to be my first contact with this practice of trying to gouge you for every little thing here. Seriously. If they could have charged us for a packet of sugar with the coffee, I'm sure they would have. I'm not sure that they didn't. Thomas ponders while he waits for the rentacars, and I check out everyone and everything in the airport. The variety of facial features here is great, a real melting pot of Northern African, Arabian, and Asian features, mostly dark haired and dark skinned.

Yes! We rolled out to the cars, and you can see some of the boxes we shipped with us from the raceshop in Madrid. We're always taking new things to the track, or sometimes it's just additional supplies that we need but would have had trouble sourcing in whatever country we're in. Try saying 15mm seatfoam in Turkish, and you get the idea. Better to just take it with us, though this can lead to some problems if Customs tries to extort money from the team.

Ahh, my first look at the city. Many of the buildings are unpainted, plain concrete, and it goes to show how little money the average person in this country has. It seemed every little area/village/town had a mosque structure with tall spires visible over the rest of the buildings. The country is a mix of religions, but I really don't know enough about it to get into it.

I did notice people waiting on the sides of the highways to get picked up by cars (which would swerve off the road, make the pick-up or drop, then blast back on!), and the bus system was heavily overloaded. People were jammed in there like a Japanese subway, only in this part of the world there's a lot more empahsis on Spices. Don't you wish everyone used Dial? As we passed bus after bus on our way to the hotel, people would stare at us with heavy eyes.

Traffic also proved to be hard to push through. It was heavily congested on the main highways, coming to dead stops at check points and tollbooths along the way. Get on yer Ramzey and Ride!
Note the open airbox.

The van looked hardcore. They paced us for a bit, but when I wanted to take a picture they rolled back.

Small bore motorcycles are daily commuters in second/third world countries, and it's common to see them outfitted for winter transit with leg fairings, and as you'll see in China, long heavy "sleeves" that cover the hand controls and go up your forearms. This guy was ready to go the distance with his bulbous set-up. I wonder how much this affected the mileage?

The language itself is pretty neat, though it sounded like lots of sjhzzz's to me. Sort of Portugese, sort of Eastern Europe, and lots of words ended in "Ugo", "Ufu", things like that - just think of the WSS racer, Kenan Sofuoglu and you get the picture. Actually, if you just took some of the words by themselves, you'd swear they were Samoan.

We caught up with this character totally drafting behind a big workvan. I mean hugging the bumper at 60+ MPH on this rickety little bike. By the time I got out my camera he was slowing down a little (out of the slipstream!), and I nabbed a quick shot. We all had a chuckle that while we work with Carbon Fiber fairings, he had built himself some Carton Fiber (cardboard box) fairings!

My first look at the mighty Bosphorus!

A much smaller Golden Gate crosses the pass, and there's a poignant sign on the other side that said, "Welcome to Asia". The city is split into the Eastern (Asian) and Western (European) sides, and while the true city center is in the West, we stayed on the Asian side because it was that much closer to the track and would save us nearly an hour each way during the work week.

The Black Sea empties through here.

And leads to the Bosphorus and into the Mediterranean.

We finally hit the hotel late in the afternoon, early evening. It was a really pricey hotel, about 240 Euros for a two bed room in an industrial area of the Bostanci (Boss-Tan-Chi) district. The staircases are straight out of the latest Casino Royale flick.

Perhaps my favorite photo of the trip, I found this outside of the hotel restaurant.

I had a local, Turkish beer, and after two hours of trying unsuccessfully to connect to the Hotel's "free" wifi in the lobby, I called it a night. Horrible internet there, no bandwidth, and everyone from various teams were frustrated daily. Everyone has caught on to Skype, and they use it to keep in touch with family back home.

By Wednesday, we were up early and ready to rock and roll. Everyone really worked hard and we knew we had a couple little obstables to overcome. Alex Hofmann's #1 mechanic, Martin from the Basque country, was stuck with a broken arm - product of a WFO 5th gear motocross get-off. I was amazed to see a plaster cast on him, and he told me that he asked the hospital "What's up? This is 2007!". Public healthcare in Spain is still a teeny bit behind in some ways. But it's free. What's even weirder is that Barros' number three mechanic tripped on some stairs in the Hotel and broke his ankle, taking him out of the races for the entire weekend. He stayed in the hotel and watched the race on the computer - calling us immediately afterwards and congratulating Barros over the phone. Boy, he sure missed out!

We piled in our vans, watching members of Dorna, Team Scot Honda, Repsol 250, and more, trying to work their way through these outrageously narrow "chutes" to get the vehicles in and out of the underground parking at the hotel. It was ridiculous, because there was a ton of space being used for gardens and whatnot around the hotel (and no one was ever allowed to play in them). I got the evil eye just for walking on the grass, hahaha. Once we got out of the Hotel, the first thing that hits you is the traffic.

I don't know what it is, but they drive like jerks in some of the countries we go to. Zero disregard for others, and it's definitely worse than LA traffic. It's just push, push, push, and force your way everywhere. Nuts. This technique of bullying your way through everything would come in to play later.

We had Sergio in the backseat working with his mobile GPS, but we still were getting lost, running around in circles and never really sure where we were going. It didn't help that we were leading a caravan through thick traffic and sometimes had to veer suddenly to make the offramps. What was even better was that LCR Honda was following us, hahaha. They had NO IDEA, what was up.

The GPS wasn't doing it, so we pitted and asked the Polis where to go. Not sure what they said, but they waved us down the road so off we went.

Success! It took us a little longer than we expected to get there (only had to go 17 kilometres), but we made it.

We wait to get the keys to our box, with Marlboro Ducati on one side, and ironically, LCR Honda on the left. Man, their bike is LOUD, and when they'd warm it up, or run it through some checks after changing engines, you really knew it.

The paddock structure itself is immense, and it's among the world's best. It's really made for Formula 1, but we fit in nicely. Bernie Ecclestone was there, having just purchased the circuit, and he said he really, really, really, like the motos. Then he prompted charged each team 5000 Euros per rider to test after the race. Some teams were going to test for two days following the race, but opted to run just on Monday as a result. I don't know if he was really behind the surprise charge, because everyone knew the circuit was hurting for money, but it wasn't really cool either way. After all, 40,000 people showed up for the race, and that's got to count for something, right?

Pitlane is wide, and as we opened up the flight containers, laid down the carpet, and got started building our pitbox, I saw that the grandstands have these cool "flames" along the bleachers around the track. Here we see Gresini's crew unloading and a couple guys starting to put together the "chiringuito" (probably spelled it wrong), which is a spanish term for the umbrellas you'd find at the beach. I don't even know what to call it, except maybe the pitlane tv box? We call it the Canopy, or canopit. Anyone know what they're technically called?

Thursday rolled around and we once again woke to cold, grey skies. Seriously, it was cold on Wednesday, Thursday, and part of Friday! This is Bostanci.

Our hotel had a pretty good breakfast lined up for us, and for the first time in my life, I saw a honey-comb at a buffet. You eat it like a cake.

Awww, I miss my dogs. Found this in one of the gardens, and was promptly "advised" to stay off the grass.

Friday came too quickly and we worked hard all day getting the bike ready. Everyone concentrated on gathering data and staying optimistic. Red Bull threw a little party that night at the track from their double decker hospitality (source of breakfast jumpstart drinks). We finished up later than expected, but we still had time to drop by, say hello, and reconnect with the crew that works there. Then it was a very dark ride back to the hotel because Saturday was Q-day, and that's becoming more important than ever.

Found this armor outside a different restaurant in the hotel. I'm a little bummed we didn't get to eat more at the local joints, but it seemed like a better idea to hang close to the hotel because of the area we were in.

View from the hotel revealed a ton of Otomotiv shops. Every building below serviced cars of all makes. You can't see the small soccer field at the base of the hotel in this shot, but there were people playing and yelling past midnight every single night. It was strange.

Keep moving - stagnation does not promote growth. We wear black most of the time, but for the actual race weekend, we're donning Red and White. It'sa Nice! (Borat voice - more on that later)

In contrast to the work week, the town streets were virtually empty on the weekend.

Once again, I risked death, dismemberment, getting gunned down by a firing squad, or stuffed in a hole somewhere and interrogated, by venturing out onto the grass again at the hotel. Who can name the famous park in Kyoto that features the Crane and the Turtle?

This little guy landed on my work bench. He's like 3 to 4 inches across!

The media was really watching The BridgeStoner this weekend. He took it all in stride, staying relaxed and focused. "What? Me worry?" was the feeling. Ducati was quietly waiting for the big show to start, and there were several guests at the track on hand to witness Sunday's battle.

As I had hoped, the Ates family of Antwerp made it to the race, and it was very cool reunion after not seeing them for almost a year. We've stayed in contact through email and Cathy was the first person to pick up a Squadra Delle Pecore Nere shirt. The family was healthy, in great spirits, and even though we missed out having dinner together, we'll find time at another race. I always look forward to meeting up with families, because I enoy the dynamic between the parents and kids, and it's no different no matter where you're from. The daughter wears race gear, and whenever she finds new stuff, the parents get it. How cool is that?!? These guys are true race fans!

Speaking of race fans, I ran into Jon Farjado, an American who visits as many races as he can. Really nice guy and I'm sure to run into him at other races in the future. Nice Shirt!

We spent the afternoon working on the race set-up, and while we didn't qualify all that well, I was still hopeful for a good race fom the boys. Alex Barros was really under the weather with a bad flu, and he didn't have the usual pep and enthusiasm he normally did, but he was still pushing to do well, and we did our best to give him the best shot at a good race as we could. Whatever you do, don't forget anything in your flightboxes on Wed/Thurs, because you'll have to find them and then get to whatever it is that you forgot!

We worked late into Saturday night preparing for the race. Lack of sleep, or just genuine lunacy, regardless - We come to race and have a good time! Bono dropped by to hang out.

Tomorrow would be the race. Check it out in Part 2!

April 16, 2007

and I'm off! Turkey Bound :)

Leaving for Turkey in just a few minutes, just wanted to throw a quick shout out to everyone and let you all know that I'm looking forward to an action packed weekend of racing! Quick thanks go out to Jason Bright for writing in and pointing out that the strange instrument I saw a couple weeks ago was actually a hammered dulcimer. I read a little about it, and it turns out there is indeed a Persian version, which is what I believe I saw. It's called a Santur, or Santour. I also checked out some video of Istanbul, which was very nicely shown in that beautiful film From Russia with Love. Can't wait!!

Hopefully I'll get a chance to run into a great little family I met in Germany, who are travelling to the race from their home in Amsterdam.

Cathy was the very first person to get a photo of herself over to me showcasing the new Squadra delle Pecore Nere shirt. Awesome! Now then, where are the rest of you who picked up some new MotoLiam clothes. Incidently, I've heard a couple things about the US and the Euro versions of the store, and for those of you in the EU, I believe you can order direct from the States - and the shipping might even be cheaper than ordering from Europe! If you find out, let me know please.

That's all the time I have for now, see you guys at the races!!

Stay tuned!

Axio in MotoGP!

It's with immense gratitude and enthusiam that I welcome AXIO to the MotoGP World Stage! AXIO is a leading manufacturer of computer backpacks (Hardpacks) and other outstanding riding equipment, and this partnership with the Pramac D'antin MotoGP Team represents a major commitment on Axio's part as they become one of only a handful of U.S. companies taking part as an active sponsor in MotoGP. This is something that has been in the works since I first met with Bob Haro at the USGP at Laguna Seca in 2005. Bob's already had a fascinating career, starting off as an international BMX freestyle star, which led to successful line of highend BMX's (of which I've had the pleasure of owning two of), and now he can add MotoGP Technical Partner to the list of his impressive achievements! Eventually, Bob stepped away from the bicycle empire and went into custom design with his company, Haro Design. I'd been using Bob's hardpacks for years , both with my sportbikes and choppers, and we struck up a friendship that now see's Axio as the Official Supplier to the Pramac D'antin MotoGP Team!

I can't think of a better place to showcase these incredible hardpacks than in the Technologically Advanced and Fastpaced World of MotoGP, and these custom Pramac Dantin editions *powered by Ducati* and utilizing Axio's patented polycarbonate , hardshell technology, will be worn by all members of the team as we travel to all the races this season! I want to say Thank You to Bob for seeing this through and helping us to do our best as we compete at the highest level of Motorcycle competition.

Best of all, these Pramac Dantin limited edition hardpacks will be available to the public later in the season! For more information and images, check out the extended entry by clicking below.

How Cool is THIS?!?

Pockets for my chargers, jumpdrives, and everything else I'll need to carry with me to get the job done!

Convenient cel phone pocket . . . . or will I be stuffing my camera in there for quick, on-the-go, shots?

And shouldn't that be a Road Racer X Magazine in there? I can't wait to get ahold of my new Axio Hardpack (my third!), and I encourage all of you interested to contact your local motorcycle shop to see if you can get your hands on one of these uber-cool, limited edition bags! Personally, I stick with Motostrano for all of my motorcycling needs. Thanks Bob!!

April 13, 2007

What It's Like . . . . Part 1

Been meaning to write this for some time now, but something always got in the way. Like John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans", and he was right! My best friend Brad recently sparked some reflection by asking me some questions, and here's a partial answer. Sooooo, What's it Like - What is my life like?

I'm know I'm not as qualified as most in the Paddock to be writing this (having been here for just about a year), but for me, to truly capture the essence of what's it like to work in MotoGP, you have to understand some background of the people involved, what drives us, and then we can start getting in to the "life" - the often tumultuous and incredible series of journies that carries us across continents to distant lands the world over. And while every little journey is incredible, the Life Journey is that much moreso.

I can't speak for everyone (naturally), but from what I've gathered talking to so many different people working on teams, in the media, and the riders themselves, one thing is perfectly clear. We are here because we love the allure and the promise of Big Speed, and by Big, I mean the Top-Level, Ultimate, World Class Machines, Teams, and Riders going head-to-head. This literally is the best of the best, and just being a part of it all, a "Cog in the Machine", really makes me beam with pride when I think about it. In an interview on Superbike Planet, Former SBK World Champion Neil Hodgson, already having raced in BSB, MotoGP, and AMA Superbike, says that, "by far, in my opinion, MotoGP is still head and shoulders—talent-wise and difficulty-wise—above any other championship."

For Motorcyclists and Gearheads alike, there is no holier grail than a full-on MotoGP machine, capable of flying at fantastic speeds around some of the most magnificent and grand racetracks the world has to offer. From a rider's perspective, these are the best motorcycles in the world, and to wield one in fury is the greatest test of Man and Machine. This year, the measure of that combination is 18 races. I had a long talk with Alex Barros, who returned to the MotoGP fold after a year in WSBK, and he empahtically pointed out, "I really like the MotoGP bikes more. They're the best. The Superbikes are just streetbikes - THESE are Race Bikes!"

^^^Street Bike^^^

^^^Race Bike^^^

I'm going to start putting my own spin on things as I get more detailed, because my point of view is primarily the basis for this piece. I became really interested in MotoGP in 2001 (I know, not so long ago!) when the series was confirmed to change from 500cc Two-stoke to 990cc Four-stroke machines. Sure, I'd followed all forms of motorcycle racing by reading magazines to stay current and watching on TV when I had the chance, but I really wasn't as passionate about MotoGP until they went to the big, booming 4-Strokes. I never had any experience with Two-Smokes, and the Fours? They were like magical creatures to me, Wrrrrraaaaaah WrrrrrrrrrraaaaH! I began to watch every race I could, and this fit in nicely to my work schedule because I worked at a motorcycle shop from Tuesday through Saturday and would then go on spirited Motorcycle rides to various bars throughout the San Francisco area on Sunday mornings to catch the races on Speed TV. Ricky's in San Leandro, Benders in San Francisco, Babe's in San Jose, Fred's Place in Mountain View, wherever and whenever - this is where I watched the future. I dedicated myself to learning as much about the series as possible, in particular, the machines and systems they used. The internet was a glorious treasure trove of photos, ideas, and opinions, but was just a taste of what it was really like. I was racing a little here and there, mostly minibike stuff, and watching the '02 and '03 season really captured my attention - heck, I even geared my bike differently and ran sport-touring tires just so I could manage long acceleration slides easier on the street. Something was definitely infecting me. Supermoto was undergoing a renaissance in the States, and this did Not help. I played all the MotoGP video games, memorized movies like Faster, and it would be safe to say that I was the biggest Die-Hard out of everyone I knew or rode with. 2005 rolled around, and everything went a little crazy for me.

"Torqued" my way out of this one.

I had been stuck in a groove for a couple years, working at a Harley-Davidson dealership and generally spending my extra time and money riding motorcycles. They dominated my lifestyle. I was never brand specific, though, because I share a great love of "All Things Moto" - if it had two wheels and a motor, I was interested! Quite common to see dismantled machines of all breeds littering my apartment (don't get me started on my garage), and I even had a little display at my shop, a 49cc (3 Cubic Inches) Honda piston next to a piston from a 95" high-compression Harley Twin-Cam piston. I distinctly remember having my Buell transmission completely apart on my living room coffee table, while the heads and barrels where on my bookshelf - and I was scrouging for space so I could rebuild one of my other engines!

Clean and Simple.

My personal life was fairly normal, always had a impressive girlfriend, and I wasn't really stressed or pressured by anything outside of bike projects. Sometimes my relationships suffered because I was too focused on my own world, but I didn't know any better at the time. I was also becoming unhappy working on streetbikes, because year after year the Harley's didn't change much. Except for their increased electronics, alarm systems, and more "Show-Not-Go"parts , I wasn't feeding my hunger enough, I wasn't feeding my obsession enough. The completely Prototype MotoGP bikes were completely the opposite, undergoing changes regularly. I went to Shanghai, China, to visit with an old riding buddy (and see the first GP China was to hold, also, my first GP) and everything got a little clearer for me. This was the first time I heard the Four-strokes in person, and they left a mark. I watched the bikes from across the mainstraight and vowed to get up close at the next race. That's pretty much it. I HEARD them.

Fast forward a couple months later to the 2005 USGP. I had met one of the sponsors from Movistar, Nacho Delgado, in China and we met up in Monterey for the American race. Thanks to him, I had virtually unlimited backstage access at the GP, and I didn't waste a moment. I watched everything I could, studied the Gresini mechanics working on Melandri's and Gibernau's machines, and something inside my head went, "CLICK". I knew immediately that this was where I had to be, this was where I needed to work, and everything else in my life was about to take a back seat because I was going to find a way to break in to MotoGP. Over that weekend, I met with virtually every team manager and coordinator, all the riders, and anyone else I thought could help me. It was the beginning of the adventure that is still going strong today.

So, I've explained a little bit about the passion I have for this sport, and while much of it centers around the amazing machines, there's a lot more to it than that - as I was to discover once I arrived in Europe. It's really in Barcelona that I got the true taste of what it's like - the lifestyle behind the lifestyle. At this point, I had sold off most of my stuff and was pretty much down to two suitcases, one large bag, and my ever-present Axio hardpack stuffed full of my laptop and electronic essentials.

Coming from Honolulu, Hawaii, and having spent time in Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles and San Francisco (ok, ok, Sunnyvale), CA, the European way of life shocked me. Read More in Part II . . . .

Smooth Grooves before Turkish GP

Not much time before this "mini-break" is over and the GP circus descends on Turkey for the third round of the season. Here's a great track to keep you happy until I have more time to collect my thoughts and photos - and then write about them here. I had written an extensive piece that was unfortunately lost when my browser crashed (too many open forums, hahaha), and as a result I've been hesitant to sit down and compose something else. Plus, I been busy!

GP07 Turkey!

Some of you Gran Turismo enthusiasts will no doubt recognize part of the mix from the intro/playback, and others may remember this from an early Chemical Brothers album. Even if you don't know it, I hope everyone likes it as we get ready for MotoGP to return!

April 04, 2007

Sounds of Barcelona, and Bikes, too!

Walking through the older areas of the city, like the Gothica, Raval, or El Borne, you can see various cathedrals, roman columns, and ancient architecture from civilizations past. Invariably, there are street musicians playing their notes in the natural soundchambers the narrow alleyways create. As I walked towards my favorite pizzeria, I heard an instrument I wasn't familiar with . . . .

It was a ten stringed instrument with a crossbar through the strings just off the center, and it was played using small, wooden sticks, sort of like a mix between xylophone sticks and drumsticks. Except the sticks were hooked to work with the index and middle fingers, and didn't have any form of padding on the tip. It was fascinating to watch him spool those things up and really get to playing, and he went on and on with different songs, rhythms, and flows. I nabbed a quick video, and if you can't see it, click on the direct link below.

I'm not exactly sure how it all worked, but different tones and notes were achieved by striking the strings in different locations. There were no markers anywhere on the device, so it was purely by feel, experience, and ear, much like a standard "classical" stringed instrument. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him, and I passed along some coffee money afterwards.

Direct Youtube Link for Above

The weather has been hit or miss lately, virtually raining for the entire week that I've been back here. Ocassionally there are moments of dryness, a few hours to get out and stretch, and I've been noticing a lot more bikes on the sidewalks and streets as Spring is here. It sure doesn't feel like Spring - I've been bundling up quite a bit everyday. The longer I'm out here, the more convinced I am that at some point I will restore a vintage Vespa for light duty usage if I return to the States. I love the lines and the utility, and they're just plain cool.

This scooter featured a rather unique gattling gun exhaust, and the license plate indicates that this is a full 50cc's of pure mayhem. Take that, Jesse James!

Another interesting bike I ran across was this matte black Aprilia 6.5, the Stark edition. I've always liked looking at the packaging of this bike, how everything fits and goes together.

This big, beautiful KTM Adventure towered over other bikes in the area. Much as I like "trailies", if I was going to go for a V-Twin powered KTM, I'd be all over the SuperDuke. The only catch I see with owning a SuperDuke is the shape of the tank, and how that could be VERY dangerous in the event of a sudden stop. . .

A Yellow Duke?!? I couldn't get the image of a yellow Buell Blast out of my head after seeing this.

Had a chance to get a close up look at the Benelli Tornado Tre . . . . and I came away disappointed.

I think if you're going to spend a bundle of money on a unique bike, there shouldn't be bare wires hanging out - especially wires dealing with the charging system (which also featured an exposed section with the stator coils being "air-cooled"). Then again, I rode Buells for years, and if ever there was a case of "things just hanging out", that was it. At least, the early models. The new stuff seems fairly rock-solid and it's all packaged together really well.

That's all for now, catch you guys later!

April 03, 2007

More From Jerez . . . . the Red Bull Rookies!

On Saturday evening, I finally caught up with Norm Viano, who is managing Red Bull Rookie's Cup riders, Cameron Beaubier and J.D. "Jiggy Dog" Beach. Norm is the manager of current AMA riders, the The Bostrom Brothers, but he's also set his sights on helping to raise up some of the "new breed", in this case, two of the youngsters who are competing in seven different MotoGP support races. Only Kris Turner, the third American competing in the Rookie's Cup was missing, but I'm sure I'll get a chance to say hi in person at some point.

After a few emails and some international text-messaging, I invited the kids over to the garage to check out our Ducati Desmosedici GP7's, and get some more of the inside line that would hopefully encourage them to keep working hard and staying focused so that one day they might be able to play with the big boys. Their Target: World Domination. Just kidding, haha. At this point, it's important to keep everything light-hearted, and the true goal should be to simply have a good time, absorb as much as possible, and thank Mom and Dad for helping to put them in such a lucky postion. How many other kids get a chance to go globe-trotting at such a young age - and to rip around some of these racetracks in a real race?!? Fantastic! I'm envious as hell. . . scooters just don't compare!

While Cameron can't quite reach the clutch lever, he's well on his way to reaching the top levels of this sport. If not for a rough elbow during Sunday's race, he would have been in contention for the win. Six races left!

Norm joked that there are now 18 or 19 Americans involved at the GP races, and that reminded me that brother Mark was just next door in the Marlboro Ducati garage, so we got him to show us their pitbox as well. Mark and the guys toured through our garage, and it was fun to watch the kids and see what they naturally looked at - of course they were checking out the bikes!

We spent some time with the Satellite machines, then went into the Factory box while Mark explained some of the interesting facts about the creation and evolution of the Desmosedici. When the kids asked about the space-age heat protection fiber under the seats and near the fuel cell, Mark would rattle off stories of Loris in 2003, flying into the garage after a race and ripping his leathers off to reveal a red, rosy bum and thighs. Or how his hands would be fried from the heat emanating from the F1 derived engine. Italian cooking at it's finest, haha. Such issues were quickly sorted out with additional venting on the side-panels, and Mark was cool enough to describe in more detail some of the changes the bike went through during successive years in GP competition - the kind of stuff you can't read about! I don't know if Cam and Jiggy were able to soak it all in, but for a sponge like me, it was great hearing about it straight from the source and Mark's laid-back style and fun loving attitude hopefully rubbed off on the kids. We let them get up close to the machines, and because my camera wasn't working well, Norm grabbed a couple pictures. How close are we to the action? Look in the background, behind J.D. to spy Casey Stoner, his new wife, and BeefCake discussing their plans for Sunday's race. At this point it was after 8PM, and Casey was still working. That is great stuff, and it's this kind of dedication that I trust will pay off for him in the future.

Big thanks to Mark Elder, and to Norm Viano, for going above and beyond to help inspire our next generation of U.S. riders!