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!