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.
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!