Aloha and Welcome to *Liam's Wild Ride* , the Official Website of Liam Shubert. This is the mostly complete chronicle of my travels, adventures, and experiences while I was busy working in MotoGP, with stints in WSBK, WSS, and the World Endurance Championship! Please enjoy the Places, Races, and especially, the Races!
I'm currently living and working in beautiful San Francisco, California. How can I help make your auto/moto dreams into a reality? Email me to discuss your special project today.
I flew in to Bologna, Italia, this evening, after a one hour delay out of Barcelona. The flight was interesting, going over the water and along the Italian coastline before heading inland once we were past Livorna. The pilot was one of those guys who is a little hard on the brakes, then hits the gas extra hard to compensate, and it was an up, down, fast, slow, left, right approach to the airport that seriously had me considering whether or not he was a commercial airline pilot or a recently discharged military flight jockey. Upon landing, I was met by my friend, Andrea, the data technician for the Hoff. He lives about an hour outside of Bologna (where Ducati is located), in a smaller town just north of Reggio. Knowing how much I love eating, he had invited me for a genuine family dinner before we would drive to Mugello early the next morning. How could I say no?
Just look at that tower - straight out of a fairytale!
On the way back to the family residence, we stopped in the city centre of Reggio, where I managed to catch up to this beautiful little "APE". Those of you who are familiar with Valentino's autobiography will remember that he and his friends used to bomb around in a little Ape, and this is one such three-wheeler. This guy is a Fruit-ologist!
In between checking out some of the architecture and government buildings, we paused at the Miami Cafe, and did the normalist thing for an Italian to do - have a shot of coffee! Italians can have 5 or 6, or 10 shots of espresso in a day, and for whatever reason, they don't seem to stay up all night as a result (like I'm obviously doing now, hahaha).
Some of the buildings are incredibly nice, and there were a couple stores lining the towns main walking streets. Mostly sunglasses, jewelry type places, and clothing. It seems like most Italians have a thing for sunglasses, and they've got the market locked down on those big shades (think Bug Eye) lens that hide half your face behind these gi-normous black masks. Because we're in an Italian city, you get to see statues, too.
Once we had run through the city a little bit, we finally got down to some fantastic food that Andrea's mother had prepared. We started off with a pesto based pasta with walnuts, then moved on to salad with prosciutto (maybe some of the best I've ever had - so thin and absolutely divine), and finished up with fruit salads, a peach cobbler/biscuit of some sort, and champagne! Here's to Mugello, and to doing our best! I missed taking photos of the meal, which is probably for the best because then you'd all be even more jealous of me, but take my word for it, this was some of the best home-cooked food that I've ever had, and it wasn't fancy or overdone in any way. Just good, old-fashioned, regular food that kicked butt. Thanks Mrs. Oleari!!!! That was incredible! We shared some funny jokes, and while there was a communications barrier between myself and Andrea's parents (I don't speak enough Italian, they don't speak English), we got along fine and Andrea handled the translating duties well. I'll definitely have to keep working on it!
This was definitely a great night to remember, and after dinner we had a beer before trying to get some sleep. I decided to throw these photos up because I'm not likely to have internet access in Mugello, and who knows how crazy it's going to be afterwards when we head back to the Catalunya Grand Prix, which is my second home-race, haha. For your initial listening pleasure, The Mugello Kick-Off Song! Some of you may recognize this eighties synthie sounding stuff, mixed with some bee-gee's type vocals, because this guy also happened to do the entire Scarface soundtrack (yeah, the Pacino one). Oh, and this sure as hell ain't the Scissor Sisters! Ugh. One last thing, if you're having a problem with Milano-butt, just go to this place. They'll make everything better.
During Qualifying, Le Mans owned "The Hoff", but during the race, "The Hoff" owned Le Mans! Way to go, Alex, and congratulations on your best finish yet in MotoGP, 5th Place!!!
France. It's been a week since that crazy race, and already small details about the event are starting to escape me. I recently read something online about Pole Position Travel, and Gordon (the proprietor) emphasizes that, "a MotoGP weekend is like eight weekends in real life." I couldn't agree more strongly, hahaha. Overall, I'm struck by a sense of oddness. There is a strangeness that will always characterise the country of France for me, and this race only served to cement that feeling within me. While I had travelled to Le Mans last year to observe the race, along with the teenagers from the Sete Gibernau Fan Club, this time was more intense, and again, there were twists and turns aplenty. Last year I had slept both in a rentacar at the circuit, and also borrowed a bed in Hiro's motorhome/changing place one night, and this past week saw our team change Hotels three times (3x) over the course of the race week. This crazy adventure all began on a sunny day in Barcelona . . . .
On Tuesday afternoon I was packed up and ready to get a move on. I headed out to get to the airport for my flight to ORLY, the Paris airport, but leaving my building I got trapped in the elevator! Don't ask me how something like that happens, because all I knew was that I had a flight to catch and this ancient, old-style elevator was stuck between floors. Every time I hit the buttons, the elevator would shake and jump an inch or so, and then the inner doors would open back up and reveal the cross-section of concrete that separated the floors. Because this is a two door (inner and outer) elevator, the outer door stayed electronically locked so even if I could have climbed up towards the second floor, I was still stuck. ARGH!!!! Can you imagine trying to call the Team and saying you were missing your flight and jeopardizing the race because you were stuck in a friggin' elevator?!??! Thankfully, after about 20 minutes, someone called the elevator up to another floor, and everything started working perfectly at that point. I got out of the elevator immediately (no taking chances again!), and walked down a couple floors with my luggage. I made the flight, landed at ORLY, and met up with a few Team members.
Once everyone else's flights had come in from various parts of Spain, we loaded up a couple rentavans and proceeded to drive about two hours to get to the Le Mans Circuit. In the hours I spent waiting at the airport for everyone, I had a sandwich and a coke, and just ordering it was an ordeal. The bread was great, however, so I figured that somehow made up for the counter-person completely ignoring my questions and looking at me the same way a cow would whenever I said something or motioned with my hand. "THIS ONE, THIS ONE RIGHT HERE," hahaha.
Ahhhh, Le Mans, Le Sarthe (check out the track in Gran Turismo - it's fantastic that these are the very streets in the game that make up the full, high-speed, 8.3 mile road course!). It was late afternoon, early evening, when we pulled into the track, ducking under the tunnel that takes you to the paddock area behind the main straight. We had swung by to pick up the Team members who drove the semi-trucks to the track, and then get ourselves checked into our hotel and on to some dinner. Le Mans circuit is pretty strange because the paddock area is split into two sections, and this meant that everyone's hospitality and motorhome area was a little bit of a hike to get to. We lucked out because our Hospitality was fairly close to our garage, so that was a plus come lunchtime. Most of the other Team's hadn't been able to park their trailers yet, so our rigs were completely visible. So nice to see my mobile workstation.
Yup, definitely in France.
We checked in, and rolled into "downtown" to get some chow. Literally.
What's that you say? Why yes! It's French Tartare with a raw egg. Vegetarians DO NOT click on this photo! Dog chow indeed :P
I completed my French food lessons that night with this egg based dessert (who's name now escapes me) that was a little like the meringue from lemon meringue, but grittier. Honestly, didn't really care for it, but I always try everything at least once.
Wednesday and Thursday blew by pretty quickly, and the bikes were set up and prepared for the racing weekend by Thursday late afternoon. I managed to take a spin and check out the circuit in more detail, and just rolling around it was apparent that this was going to be a very interesting race. I managed to upload the video, you can check it out by Clicking Here for a Lap of Le Mans!
Andrew Northcott (right, chief GP shooter for RRX magazine), stopped by the truck on Friday, recounting a similar tale of difficulty to reach France. Some heavy storms had delayed his flights and meant he crosses back from TX to NYC, to Ohio (!), before heading across the Atlantic and making it to the track. He brought a very cool Wide-Angle lens for our resident photo buff, Andrea. Can't wait to see what kinds of photos he gets with that baby! And yes, this particular photo of Andrew stinks. He's the professional, not me, hahaha.
We initially shared a hotel with the Gresini squad, and members of the Marlboro hospitality and X2 (two-seater Ducati) guys were there, and outside I found this beautiful van just recently delivered from the F1 Ferrari team. There are a lot of connections between Marlboro's efforts in F1 and MotoGP, and this van is just a small one. I really enjoy seeing American cars overseas, but whenever I'm back in California, I find myself thinking that we have far too many giant vehicles and not enough driving skill.
The mornings were typically cold and damp, but then the sun would shine and burn off the morning clouds. Man, our Axio Hardpacks look great with our new uniforms. At Le Mans, we found out that we'll be running the Red and White for the remainder of the season, and I've hung up my Black gear for now.
One afternoon I caught up with these really weird French TV guys who were running around with a puppet. They stopped Dani and I guess they freaked him out, too. We talked a little bit just after this photo, and I could tell he was focused and ready to ride in the race. There was no trace of any nervousness about the possibly wet race conditions, and once again I came away impressed by how focused he is for his age. Plus, he smiled!
Gratuitous bike shot! I have always said that the Ducati Desmosedici reminds me of a large bull-headed Shark (many of the curves and designs are so flowing and organic on the bike), but sometimes, at some angles, I can only see a "Warbird". This is one of those shots.
And how cool is it to run into members of the Ates family again! Hey Bryan! Looks like your sister's favorite team snuck one in in Le Mans, hahaha.
Friday morning before work, we all checked out of our hotel and moved to another place just down the street. It meant an earlier morning, and after a long day Friday, everyone was tired. I think you get more tired when things aren't really flowing, and it tends to wear you down when you're not making any positive, forward progression. The new place was really quite nice, and it was run by a charming older woman who suffered from a nervous tick. She didn't speak a word of English or Spanish, but no matter what you asked her, she would wink and nod her head, "Yes!". It was a little confusing at first. My room hadn't been used in a long time, and because of the moisture in that part of the country (I'm guessing), it completely smelled of rot and mold. I think this contributed to my hayfever symtoms at the track. I knew I was in trouble because my bed was wet, haha, just really kooky in general. However, the grounds were great, and some French fans were staying there so we got to see how the bikers roll over there.
Check out this cool little number. Who can tell me more about it?
Astars got a new van this year to go to the races.
Back to the racing, haha. While the bikes were staging on the grid, light droplets of rain started to fall, and moments after I took this photo I hustled back to the garage to see if I could help set up the second bikes for rain conditions. It was a little bit of a gamble, because no one was sure how hard it was going to come (if at all), and that meant suspension, tires, and electronics settings were all based on gut feelings or instincts. I don't know, you can't be completely sure of anything, but the main thing is to do your best. We all did our best to covert the bike, and when the race started we were ready to rock and roll. Within the first laps, Alex Barros had rocketed up from 14th on the grid to second! I couldn't believe it, and seeing his new Brazil/Pirate helmet slicing through the field was fantastic. The Team was so excited, fingers crossed, just imagining the possibilities when an experienced rainrider like Barros gets going. When the crazy French pilots pulled in behind him, I got pretty nervous, because I was thinking, "Now these are the most dangerous dudes on the track". If there was anyone I didn't want to have around my riders, it was these guys, and sure enough, Guintoli later had a big splat just in front of Rossi which nearly took him out of the race. Rossi and Barros let the two French riders go by, and I think this was more of a tactical move than anything because they knew (or thought) the French weren't going to be able to go the distance. When the riders started pulling in to change bikes, we had some fast changes, and everything went off without a hitch. To be honest, I had no idea who was in the lead, and what group would be in front (as did most of the paddock). It was more of a "Let's wait and see how it shakes out", kind of thing, and I remeber thinking, "WHOA, this sh*t is just like Nascar!". I had thought the second wave of riders would have still been in the lead, but I was wrong, and when we finally knew the running order, Alex Hofmann had made up some huge ground. From 17th up into the top ten! I was tracking the laptimes, and I had a feeling his smooth style was really going to work out in the rain conditions. I was right, and he slowly started picking people off as the race progressed. Barros just didn't have the same feeling with the bike he had before, and as the rain came down harder and there was standing water on the track, he didn't factor much into the rest of the race, crashing three corners from the end attempting to pass Hopkins. Meanwhile, "The Hoff" battled it out and finished in 5th place, and we went ballistic.
After the race, we packed everything up and loaded the trucks. A quiet track bid us adieu.
Because we had early morning flights out of Paris the next day, we left Le Mans and what should have been a two hour drive ended up taking nearly five hours. I couldn't believe the traffic, and the worst was probably at the toll station, where everyone was taking these crazy lines trying to get up a single position. It was maddeningly frustrating, but I think we were all really tired from the race week.
Along the way, we pulled into a roadside cafe and had a celebratory dinner for Hofmann's great finish.
It's weiner time!
Eight of us eventually pulled into the Ibis hotel just before two, and after asking for Four double rooms, we were pleasantly surprised to see the check-in girl had given us four rooms with matrimonial (read: kingsize) beds. No one felt like sleeping in the same bed, so after going back downstairs and changing rooms, we finally settled in to four rooms with separate, double beds. Phew! I noticed we were missing a towel, and a call to the reception resulted in a ten minute argument on how we paid for a room with two beds, for two people, and that there should be two towels. Apparently, Ibis doesn't have room service, and when I pointed out that towels should already be in the rooms (it's a Hotel Service), I was kindly told to shove it. Actually, the funniest part of the story was when I initially called downstairs. I knew the woman at the lobby spoke English, because her nametag said so, but it took me five or six times asking, "Do you speak English?", before she finally answered, "Yes". Before that it was always, 'Vooovoo booboo gobbledy-gook". Final result? Ibis wins, no towel for me!
On the whole, France is a beautiful country with lush greens and (to me) a ton of roses growing everywhere. I think I was just unlucky in that everyone I had to deal with was a little rude and that probably makes me think that everyone is like that. I know there are good and bad people everywhere around the world, and truthfully, I did meet Lena (mentioned earlier in a post), who seemed pretty cool in person. Whatever, I'm wiped out! This wrap up took me a little longer to get out than I would have liked, but compared to Shanghai, it was far less fun and I couldn't get motivated to go through everything. I was a little sick upon returning to BCN, and with everything I needed to get done for work, Le Mans just kind of fell by the wayside. I've been bicycling everyday here, and tonight I'm wearing my glasses because it's been so windy I got a bunch of dirt and dust in my contacts. Wearing the glasses has given me a little headache, and at this point, all I can think about it Mugello. I re-watched last year's race again, and Le Mans just seems so far away to me right now. I'm very tired, and tomorrow is another big day. It's my last day to prep for the two weeks I'll be on the road, and I'll have a cool guest over tomorrow for the afternoon.
Just a quick little post before I put together something to wrap up the French Experience. It's been an amazing week, with a strange and unforgettable race, and I'm boosted by the strong showing we had with Alex Hofmann's fabulous 5th place and also Alex Barros' intial pace during the half wet/dry conditions, which saw him rocket up into second position early in the race. My boys are really making my proud, and I'll deliver a full race report as soon as I can. Woot! Two top five finishes in just five races already - Bring it on, Mugello!
In the meantime, I wanted to put out a second Le Mans song, which amazingly enough, was delivered to me on Saturday night before the race while I was watching a talk show on Channel 2, at 10:15 PM. On Tuseday afternoon, as we were driving to the racetrack after arriving in Paris a few hours earlier, I actually heard the song I had intially put up for this race on the radio! The song clicked perfectly with how I had been feeling leading up to the French event, but over the next few days the weather shifted, and so did my mood. I'd already been thinking about adding a second song, because somewhere deep down, I knew that the first Le Mans Song wasn't *just right*. In France, I was fighting some serious hayfever on most days, with watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, the usual, and by Saturday night I was quite tired. I made it back to the hotel around 9:45, flicked on the tv, and surfed around a little bit before settling on Channel 2, which had some talk show going on with live music interspersed throughout. I grabbed a quick shower and when I came out of the bathroom, this girl was onstage, just sitting on a stool. The song started, and I knew immediately that THIS was the song for France. I sat, entranced, as the song played out, and the tv show shifted to images of different bandmates, psychedelic colors flowing onscreen, and this woman just singing such a perfect song. Her body language betrayed nothing about her, but the vocals and words were loud (louder than the studio version), and all I gathered was that she had a slight English accent. The commentator jumped in after the song ended, but I couldn't make out a work he was saying other than . . . "VoooVoovvoo BoobooVooo avec Charlotte BooVooo je Sous", or something like that. The song stuck with me, and I asked Thomas, our French team member, the next day if he knew of anybody called Charlotte Bou-Something. He hadn't heard of her, haha, but it was worth a try. After the race, we drove back into Paris to spend the night before our morning flight, and sometime after midnight, the SONG came on the radio. What should have been a two hour drive morphed into 4.5 hours through thick traffic, and to add to my frustration, the DJ didn't say who the song was by. I landed in BCN on Monday, late afternoon, and upon waking on Tuesday morning (today), I began a quick search through the internet to find this mysterious woman and her fantastic song.
"5:55 is the second album by French musician and actress
Charlotte Gainsbourg. It is also her first album release
in twenty years. Charlotte collaborated on the album with
French duo Air (One of my favorite groups!), English musician Jarvis Cocker, Irish
singer-songwriter Neil Hannon, as well as Radiohead's main
producer Nigel Godrich (ooooh, spacey!). "The Songs That We Sing" and "5:55"
were released as singles. The album went platinum in France,
selling over 300,000 copies.
In order to be able to take her distance from her famous
father and mother (Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin) the
singer has decided to sing in English most of the album
(leaving only one song in French, Tel Que Tu Es, meaning
As You Are). Critics have been very positive in France,
describing this effort as a total achievement from all
points of view. Anglo-saxon critics have been more mixed,
saying that Charlotte's second album doesn't sound different
enough from her parents' work, maybe because Charlotte's
voice is very similar to that of her mother, Jane Birkin."
Just a few days after arriving back to Europe, the circus heads (appropriately) to LeMans, France, to kick start an avalanche of racing that will see us line up for 7 races in just 10 weeks. For those of us who travel by plane to each race, this means we will have some small breaks to go home, see family, do laundry, decompress, refocus, and come back stronger. For the mechanics and hospitality people who also drive the semi-trucks (the cambions) to each racetrack before and after every event, this means they will not see their loved ones for two and a half months. That's a long time to be constantly on the road, always working at the edge, and never making a mistake. Whereas the people can go back to the raceshop between races, it's just not practical to bring the bikes and equipment home after every race, and not to mention that moving that many tons of equipment is expensive! As soon as one race is over, the trucks will be loaded and then they're off, driving to the next venue almost immediately. A secondary duty of the drivers is to guard the supplies, so there will be as few stops as possible until the trucks are safely in the next racetrack's compounds. Two and a half months to sleep in hotels and the back of a semi-truck is a solid commitment, and just serves to confirm the commitment that we all have to racing. It's never been about the money.
Please enjoy this smart little tune, GP07 LeMans! "Take it slow, take it easy . . . "
After LeMans, I'll have a one week break to finalize some of the structure that will hopefully see the Team prepared and ready for the three sets of back-to-back race weeks, with a smooth flow of new pieces coming in from Ducati Corse, and a minimum of fuss. People often overlook how many minute details go into a Team, because half of the challenge/fun is getting everything to each circuit, and that includes all the personnel and their baggage! My Team, for example, is made up of people from all parts of Spain and Italy. I am based in Barcelona along with two other team members this year, and other's will fly out from Valencia, Mallorca, Galicia, the Basque country, Madrid, and more. Add in flights from Italy, and the language barriers each individual country and destination pose, and it gets trickier than you would think to arrange not only the meeting places, meeting times, hotel rooms (on crowded race weekends!), and rentacars. And finding a place to eat that a whole mess of people can agree on? It's no wonder we always eat Italian, hahaha. Good, simple food, and everyone's stomach can handle it. But watch out for that Rice, bwahahahahah!
You may have noticed the website getting a little more crowded lately, and this is for a couple reasons. I added Google Adsense ads to the left, more of an experiment really, to see if it would provide a way to cover the bandwidth for the site and leave one less detail for me to think about. I really like the idea of a self-sufficient website that takes care of itself, and when I have time, I can pop over and add a new post and some photos or music. If you see anything that sparks your interest, it doesn't hurt to click and check it out. The Internet, much like Digital Photos, is free once you've gotten ahold of the hardware - so use it!
Also, to satisfy my horological bug, I added a Bell & Ross chronometer which should work to show you whatever time your computer is set to. Personally, I like their simpler designs (like the BR01 Orange Hand, or BR01-96 Big Date), but as this is a racing site, I thought the chronograph feature was a nice touch and I like to watch the dual second hand sweeps. Big thanks to Evan, for helping me source the code for this. I really like it! A nice thing about Bell & Ross is their connection to the French Police and Military. Their watches reflect the austerity of a simple aviation instrument, and they've made special, commemorative models for the RAID (French National Police), are the official suppliers to the French Navy Pilots, and more. It's funny, though, because Bell & Ross used to rely on German movements and cases made by the Sinn company, but as B&R are based in Switzerland (the French connection coming through yet?), they've since started producing their own Swiss made stuff.
I confess to being a total gearhead, and one of the ways I relax and continue to dump more information into my head is to research watches and their movements. Much like a MotoGP bike is a combination of everything working together in perfect harmony and synchronization, an automatic watch is the same way - only smaller, haha. A watch is the only thing you can keep at your side at all times, and it's our closest connection to a living machine that we've developed. I've always think back to Harleys or Ducatis when I think about watches, because each watch, although manufactured to the same design specifications, works differently, and sounds differently, too. I've found a person who appreciates fine mechanisms, like high end automobiles or motorbikes, is usually into nice watches.
Automatics have a fine history, and the developments that took manual winding pocket watches to fully-auto wristwatches is a fascinating story. I really get a kick out of poking around to learn more about a certain manufacturer, or a Grand Complication. As trick as an automatic watch can be, though, it will never match the accuracy of a simple quartz (battery-powered) watch. Circuit boards and computer chips will always out perform something made up of hundreds of gears and spinning pieces - especially because these pieces suffer frictional losses and vibration induced failures. Nowadays, we even have watches that set their time by communicating with the giant atomic clocks via radio signal! WOW! How cool is that? I've used a G-Shock for years, and here's a great article about the History of the Casio G-Shock . It's a few years old, but it is great, nonetheless.
It all boils down to TIME, and how we are constantly losing it. Time is the most important thing to me, and I hope everyone is fully aware that they need to make the most of it. It's a nice thing to be able to celebrate the passage of time with a quality timepiece, no matter if it's cheap or expensive, quartz or automatic, as long as it works! I could never survive without my watch on a daily basis (who looks at their celphone for that, anyway?!?), and I've had the pleasure of wearing this Swiss Army tank-style watch since 1998. It is as battered and scratched up as I am, and is a working testimony to my life's travels and adventures, crashes, and triumphs. When we win a race this year, I'm going to treat myself to something really special . . . . .
I wrote this for someone I know who's on the fence about getting a new watch, and I hope this helps. It's all about having the time of your life - now let's get moving to LeMans!
Bonus Link from this post takes you to a strange French song that Lena, of France's Moto-Magazine, introduced me to earlier this week. She writes, "I wanted to make you discover a song that would be perfect (!!) for your site, as I love when you put a song to introduce the GPs.
It’s a really crazy song, sang by a guy who loves pink panties :-)))) It’s about a DJ who loves to stop the music, put it again, stop again, and so on…. you couldn’t find a frencher song!!!!"
P.S. Congrats on the new girl, Toby!
P.P.S. If anyone is coming out to one of the next 6 races and can bring a special package from San Francisco, it would be much appreciated! Thanks everyone, see you at the races!
Shanghai Stories - Food, Shopping, and the Life of the Waking Giant..
Shanghai is incredible, magnificent, majestic, and sad. It is a complex mix of old meeting new, as hyper-modern architecture and technology compete for space amidst the rubble and squalor of a city doubled over with growing pains. Never have I seen such a massive dichotomy as here in Communist China. The people struggle to come to grips with the increased presence and pressure from Western Society, while still retaining the grace, dignity, and priniciples of their Chinese heritage, which spans for millennias. China is THE emerging SuperPower, and as this Waking Giant stands and takes the Earth by the horns, every person on the planet will be affected in some way. This is a collection of thoughts and photos from my Shanghai adventures this past week - Enjoy!
I bid farewell to my Team mates early Sunday evening after the race. Scott and I were headed back into the city by taxi while the Team was going directly to the airport to "get the hell out of China". I had decided to stay in Shanghai for an additional three days to re-connect with this country, and this city especially, strengthen some industry connections, EAT, and generally just take a small break from my normal routine of returning to Barcelona and emailing my ass off. I figured I could just as easily email from China, but as it turned out, my hotel room wasn't equipped well and the internet was spotty at best. Literally, wires were hanging out of the wall where the jack should have been, so connecting was tricky.
The Chinese people and the culture are so radically different from anywhere else MotoGP travels to, and after living in Europe for the last year and a half, I desperately needed to hear the tongue, smell everything, and throw myself as deeply into the Life as I could. Shanghai is important to me for a variety of reasons, and she will always hold a very special place in my heart. I first came to Shanghai in 2005, and I spent a week absorbing as much as I could while also managing to catch the inaugural MotoGP race here. That was my first real contact with the Circus. As much as the race had affected me, the quiet nobility surrounding the people was what really struck me, and as I walked the city day after day, I came to find a deep respect for the plight of the Chinese. They are on the verge of joining the 21st century, but they are acutely tied to the past in a way that makes change difficult and sometimes can cause more harm than good. The government appears to be working hard to bring the people into the future, by adopting some of the Western values and ethics, but there are too many instances of insensitivity for me to believe it is a whole-hearted attempt to help the people. As some of you know, the Olympics are coming to Beijing soon, but the way so many people were displaced as a result of the Olympic construction leaves me cold. China is a faceless monolith, large, waiting. When I think of happier images, I picture roadside vendors selling fresh cooked food, smiling girls, and the tranquil green that can only come from a bamboo forest.
At the heart of China, everything is business. The people have a knack for commerce, and they are SO hungry to grow and make their family's lives better. Everywhere you go in the city, you are assaulted by the presence of small stores and shops, and as a foreigner, you are constantly subject to queries to come and buy fakes watches and handbags. The replica market is a huge industry here, but the large, open-air market which was once the epicenter for the "Fakes" is gone, replaced by something else in it's stead. Gone, also, is the street known as Tongren Lu, which had a row of bars and nightclubs I remembered from '05. It was on that street when I first met the crew from Sete Gibernau's Movistar team the night after the race, at the infamous Buddha Bar. I wanted to see and do it all again, so I had planned a special celebration for racenight by reserving a table at 18 on the Bund's fine dining restaurant, Sens & Bund. It is a killer place overlooking the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Huangpu River, and it specializes in exquisite cuisine by world reknowned chefs, Jacques and Laurent Pourcel. I ate here on Sunday night in '05, and again in '07, joined by my new friends, Scott and Kay Yu. It didn't have quite the same impact as before, but I was far more tired this time around from working all week. The food and presentation were top-notch, and it was a pure guilty pleasure to be there. Not to mention that due to the currency conversion rates in place, I was enjoying a stellar meal at prices that would make your eyes bug. Great food, and with a nice Riesling it was absolutely perfect.
Thank you, Shanghai, for welcoming me back!
While at the restaurant, I got a call from Frances saying that she and several of her clients were one floor up at the Bar Rouge , a very classy lounge on the top floor of the building that features a terrace for overlooking the city lights. Naturally, following dinner we proceeded up and into the night. Through the course of the night I ran into several GP personnel trickling in and out, and then we were joined by one of the owners of the building, an extremely dignified man named Steven. He was about six feet tall, and he sat, leaning back with his legs crossed, one hand on his knee, a glass of wine at his side and a thin cigarette in his hand. It was an image of regality. The night went long, and then we all went back to the hotel to get some rest.
The next morning I woke late and arranged to meet with Scott and Kay for some local grinds near the hotel. Only here for a couple days, they'd already sussed out a great place to eat. The entire staff was from the "back-country", and in this case that meant the far-North-Eastern corner of China, near the Northern Korea border. Their costumes were colorful, like the food, and the restaurant always seemed to be packed (yes, I ate there more than once). Spicy tendons, anyone?
And how about that "Magic Pork", which had the most amazing texture and body. I've never had anything quite like it.
Why, yes Kay, that is Flaming Dragon Fish, hahaha. The fish itself was probably sea bass, or some other light, white fish, and the crispy squares were sweet, similar to the magic pork. I'll stick with the pork in the future - it was truly incredible.
As our meal wound down, the girls jumped over and let loose with a local song that was loud, brash, and finished with something akin to an American Indian war cry. It was eerily similar in sound and effect. All the while they were twirling and spinning their small blankets and doing a little dance.
After lunch, Scott had to go back to work, so Kay and I decided to go exploring through the city for a bit. We set off to People's Square at the top of Nanjing Road, near the Shanghai Museum. The streets were full of people still visiting Shanghai from the outlying towns. Crowded is an understatement.
I managed to get a small Boba Tea drink, which tasted very strange to me after not having one for so long living in BCN. The composition was more like there was whipped cream mixed into the milk tea, but it was still good. You had to be very conscious to keep hydrated while walking through the city, because the ever-present pollution and heat could quickly sap your strength and energy. On our way towards HuaiHai road, we passed an old, blind man playing on a bridge. I gave him some money and we proceeded on our way, navigating more by luck and sheer wanderlust. It was great.
I hit up a street vendor for some freshly made Dan Tarts, and Kay and I sat in some grass next to a bright orange Hong Kong based store called "it" (there's a larger version of the store called "IT"). I checked out some fashion by 5CM, but unfortunately didn't see anything that really grabbed me. I preferred to just stay on the streets and see as much as I could. Besides, I'm a pretty bad shopper, always looking but never really doing it. I've only made a few significant purchases in my lifetime, and even concerning motorcycles, I'd rather buy something then build it up and modify it completely into my own creation. Stock is not for me.
On our walkabout, we talked about a lot of things, watched the people, and admired how "commercial" the area was. I did not feel like I was in a communist country at all, but then, this was THE shopping area in the city, targeted directly at foreigners with money to spend. I stopped into a strange Italian place because the decorations were so extravagant, and ran into the perfect example of China's economy. They use, and re-use EVERYTHING. The Chinese are notorious for taking something apart, replicating it, and selling it for cheaper than anywhere else. They recycle on a grand scale, people collecting used bricks from construction sites and chipping off the old cement so that they can be sold again. If you look carefully, you'll see more than a few instances of old parts being adapted to this artsy wall facade.
Yup, a Honda-cloned 50cc cylinder, and an old auto master cylinder.
The day wound down with the setting sun, and we returned to the hotel so that I could check and write emails back and forth with the factory. Bologna was six hours behind Shanghai, so it worked out pretty well that I could get away and see the town a bit and still get some work done. Scott had a great idea to watch Spiderman 3 at the IMAX theatre, so we purchased tickets in advance.
After I got some work done, we all went for a long walk through the back streets, trying to find a mysterious Korean restaurant that Scott had found online. 3 streets over, one up, and 45 minutes later, we found it. The food was, regrettably, not Korean. But the beer was good. Just for the record, I do not endorse or condone anyone going to see Spiderman 3. It was literally the WORST MOVIE EVER.
I finished my night back at the hotel, emailing some final files about the race and then passing out fully clothed. After a week in Asia, my body finally said, Enough, and I slept like a rock. Used to be, I could last for more than a week on extremely low sleep, relying on my enthusiasm for the races to keep my game tight, but as I get older, I find I need much more sleep now. Still, I like to think that because there was no race going on at this time, my body automatically knew it was "down-time".
On Tuesday the four of us gathered in the Xintiandi area, the "trendiest, NEW, upscale pedestrian area". There was a good number of bars and restaurants, not to mention shops and stalls to keep us occupied. There was a mall, as well, and I saw a gorgeous "We the People" special edition BMX, black with bright orange mag wheels, sitting in the Y-3 store that had me drooling. How I wish I'd gotten a picture of that! Anyway, Frances took us to a super Dim-Sum place, and the dumplings were among the best I've ever had.
They use a different technique of steaming/boiling them in a soup, so that the skins are plump and full of juice. You have to be delicate picking them up, then place them in a spoon, before eating them. Out of this world!
Next stop after lunch was the Antiques Market area, the Dongtai Road Bazaar. This area is made up of a couple large buildings with shop after shop selling all manner of things from expensive hair brushes, to ceramic kitchen knives.
We were tailed by a guy who tried dragging us to a couple small "fake" shops, and when we'd leave them, he'd lead us to another one. After the third stop, we told him to take a hike. I missed out on buying a couple more Chinese Airforce (replica, of course) helmets. I used to ride my chopper with a black one I got in '05.
The place was full of tourists of one kind and another, and Starbucks had moved in. You know you gotta leave a place when you find Starbucks.
For 5 Yuan, or about 50 cents in Euros, you could write down a wish on red paper and throw it up into this gold tree. I passed, because I firmly believe you make your own luck and good fortune through hard work and positive energy. A little luck goes a long way, too. (I'd rather be lucky than smart)
I finally bought something! I picked up this strange little "Tiger" hat, because this year I'm trying to get a collection of strange head-wear going. Rawrr!
HONDA would not be happy. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - or so they say, hahaha. This guy was rocking his ADNOH in loafers, which was perfectly normal here. The bikers, or lack thereof, were particularly noticeable on every street intersection, where bicycles and two stroke or electric scooters clogged the curbside lanes. In the city, there were traffic wardens on every corner, insuring that there was no jay-walking going on. I attribute this to the communist idea that everyone can have a job, and the traffic workers "must have failed their tests in school".
Later that night, I caught up with the biggest Rebel in China, and he rode an electric scooter through the city with no helmet. That guy has the stones! That was illegal, immoral, and I salute you, sir!
We had dinner at a pure Shanghainese place, and the food was once again, off the scale. The flavor and variety was great, the company even better!
Yes, there's a giant fish head in there. And it was GOOOOD!
The whole time we're all bombing through the city in search of adventure and mystique, I was constantly amazed by the sheer rudeness by many of the people, especially because they would be working in the "service" industry, like taxi-drivers, hotel staff, waiters, shop workers, things like that. On one level, it is rudeness, but on the other hand, it's simply a case of culture clash and ignorance. These are clever people, ingenius and innovative. They find ways to make things work, and while the solutions aren't always ethical, they are making things happen. We could all learn a lesson here. It was common to see nicer cars come out at night, like a convertible red Mercedes, and right next to it, actually, a whole fleet of Volkswagon Santana's would surround it, highlighting how special it was in China. You end up turning a blind eye to a lot of what you see, and that's why it's important to take photos and ruminate a lot later. There is always so much to learn, but we frequently just move on to the next subject. In my case, I am often headed to the next race, so these "journals" are a good way for me to reflect. My time in Shanghai was winding down, and I tried to cram as much as I could into this time away. It IS truly special to be here, and the good food and new friends only cemented the time in my life as one of my all-time best trips. I wish I could have spent more time there, but truthfully, many of my thoughts were back in Europe and on the upcoming race in LeMans. I desperately want to fight for good results, deserving results. The racing dominates my thoughts.
I know how lucky I am to be here, that this life is a gift. How many people can say, oh yeah, I just had Chinese eggplant, and in two days, I'll probably be eating French. It's strange to be so completely inside the racing, and so disconnected from reality at the same time. I lose myself occasionally, and it takes doing mundane tasks to bring me back to real. I enjoy cooking spaghetti for myself in my apartment, catching up with my roomate, Carla, and doing laundry. There needs to be a balance. I look at the Chinese working so hard, and the gap between have and have-nots is unbelievable. Going out to a nice club is a luxury here, and drink prices are astronomical by the average person's standards.
After dinner we went to MUSE , and the manager, Thomas, totally hooked us up with monster drink comps and fresh fruit. I really felt VIP in there, and the music was great, although a little loud. A little loud? Yeah, either I'm getting older, or maybe the bikes at work are starting to take their toll on me. I often stuff my ears full of paper at loud clubs, but then I've been doing that since high school. One crazy Hawaiian right here!
Here's a horrible sound clip I recorded, and it's almost impossible to hear my voice. If you can bear with it and decipher what I'm saying, you might enjoy it. Sorry, I was drinking at the time. And, gasp, we even smoked Cuban cigars. In China!
My last day in China was filled with more long walks, some more shopping/bargaining, and a last-gasp attempt to hold onto to everything I was experiencing. The day wound down too quickly, but the good news was that my great friend Eden, riding buddy from California, and now living in Shengzhen (Southern China) was flying all the way up to have dinner with me. This was BIG, and I can't thank him enough. Eden, thank you for everything - you've been a great friend all these years and I hope we can continue long into the future.
Eden took our little group, which I feel was a great little Chinese family of strangers in a strange place, to a quality Hot Pot place, where we had our own private room to celebrate in. We traded pants, showed off, and marvelled at how little we're really changed in two years - and the night had just begun.
Prawns 4 Life, Yo!
And the grand finale? Yellow Watermelon. It was crisp and sweet, and the perfect compliment to all the great food we had just eaten.
Like most nights, we all went out, this time to a rustic bar called Bourbon Street. It was a little crusty, but as soon as the staff slammed down two bottles of Johnny Walker Black, I knew we were in for a hell of a night. Eden happened to know the band, and before you knew it, he was up onstage and belting out some righteous Guns-n-Roses. Yee-Haa, get it!
Scott and Kay tried to keep it together.
But Scott just needed to do the "Y-M-C-A"
Like always, I wish the night had been able to go on forever. Spending time with Eden, Frances, Scott and Kay, and then some was an absolute blast, and I'm still feeling it now. To re-connect with old friends, make new friends, and bask in this city has been the highlight of 2007 for me. Sometimes I think that my Team mates might get jealous of the experiences I'm lucky enough to catch, but I believe you must reach out and grab what you can from life. I can no longer live my life in a box, I can't even fathom moving back to California and leading a normal life. I have no idea where the future is taking me, but I'm riding it for all it's worth and I will continue for as long as I can. The taxi ride to the airport was somber and quiet, the rickety old car held together by screw-drivers and tape. I was lucky to make it, haha.
Ate some curry at the airport, and then kissed Shanghai goodbye. It was an unforgettable trip, and I want to thank everyone involved. I really wouldn't be here without any of you.
The Lufthansa plane was almost new, the windows to the world so clear. I crossed over the Russian expanse and headed back to Europe to get things going for LeMans. Let's get to it, people!
I wish I could write more about how I feel about China and the incredible change the country is undergoing. The last 50 years have turned a simple farming land into a confused and complicated kaleidoscope of sounds and colors. To be able to witness it at this time is something I will keep with me, and tell me children about. There are no borders in the world today, only different taxes to pay. We're getting ever closer to a Global Union, and it parallels some thoughts on MotoGP and how all of us, from different countries and backgrounds, have come together with a true love of the RACE. It is a powerful and moving Force. I will catch you all later, I'm off to dinner with Hiro at our favorite Japanese restaurant in BCN, Shuunka.
Google Maps of all the Circuits on the 2007 MotoGP Calendar!
I've been meaning to get this out here for a while - the entire MotoGP calendar of Racetracks we'll visit this year! Huge thanks to Vince, formerly of Ducati North America, for sending this to me, and sorry I couldn't put it out sooner.
EXTRA SPECIAL: CLICK HERE , or on this map of LeMans, France, to select from the entire track list and get up close and personal thanks to Google's Satellite Image Feature. Outstanding!
Shanghai, the race that never materialized for us, the race that almost never was.
It's been six days since the race that didn't happen; where my team was thwarted on the first lap by an incident involving Toni Elias and Nicky Hayden , forcing both Pramac d'Antin riders into the grass and almost completely out of the race.
The immediate feeling in the garage was one of shock, disappointment, and total frustration. To have travelled this far, worked this hard - to see our bike stuck in the grass, engine off, and Alex Barros struggling to free the front end from Elias' machine, it was numbing. You have to understand what it takes to go racing at this level. You have to look at what is driving all of us, and then you step back, breathe deep, disconnect, and realize that things happen in life that you can't predict. Especially in racing.
This is MotoGP - where riders push the limits of both man and machine every single time they get on the bike. Ship happens. That's the race. And we move on to LeMans.
We arrived on Tuesday, flying in on a Lufthansa plane alongside Rizla Suzuki, Ducati Marlboro, Gresini Honda, Bridgestone, Tech 3, and more MotoGP and 250cc personel than you could shake a stick at. Gino is all thumbs up after winning 4 of the last 5 MotoGP races . . .
The flight was longer than I thought, over eleven hours from Frankfurt to Shanghai. In economy. I sat with the electronics data engineer from Melandri, and he surprised me be reading National Geographic magazine and Star Wars books the entire flight. On my left sat Pepe, the personal coordinator and assistant to Alex Barros. And people think this life is glamourous, hahaha.
Grey skies welcomed us to Shanghai's airport, which is large and clean.
After dropping off our luggage at the Hotel, we asked our drivers to take us into the city where we had a fantastic day exploring the touristic areas of Shanghai's Bund district, and a few of us got off the beaten path and into some of the Real Life of China. Our hotel was located in the Anting area, known as Auto City. Unfortunately for us, the Chinese taxi driver's had no idea where this was, and on occasion it could take upwards of two hours to drive back from the city center. I should point out that it is illegal for any foreigner to drive on Chinese roads, so you're always at the mercy of your hotel driver, or more likely, your taxi-driver.
An average wage for a taxi driver in Shanghai is just under 200 USD a month. Our Hotel Driver was dumb as rocks, and he even complained and whined that we worked too long during the day because he had to wait for us. Not to mention he was late in the mornings to pick us up, also. His job was to sleep in the van while we were busting ass at the racetrack all day, so to hear him bitching was kind of weird. This was probably the easiest money he ever made, but part of the style of doing business out here is to (apparently) kick up a fuss and moan and groan about how hard things are in order to get more A) Money, or B) Time. It's always about Time and Money, unless there's Passion involved. We're always running low on time and money, but we got oodles of Passion to go around. And we always Rock the Shocker.
An example of passion outside the hotel. These electric scooters were everywhere, and it was creepy to see them rolling along without any sound. When the charge would get low, they went slower than I could run. In the outskirts, scooters and bicycles seem to be the main mode of transportation.
This shoe cobbler was working on the street, and we saw many things that indicate that China is still experiencing massive growth pains as it struggles to adapt to the 21st century. It is very much a mix of old and new, and I'll touch on that subject in a future post.
I missed taking some photos of a group of ancients playing cards in the street, but I had forgotten my camera charger and I was conscious to preserve the battery life as much as I could. As it was, I went through two batteries while in China. Maybe playing cards is the wrong description, because as we all know, you only need two Chinese people before you can start gambling, hahaha.
Wednesday was warm, and we erected our garage with a minimum of fuss. Everyone was eagerly anticipating the weekend's race, thoughts turning towards dreams of Wins and Podiums, blinding power down the two massive straightaways, dominating the competition.
Perhaps more than anyone else, the members of the Team understand "build-up", because when we are not at the races, we are constantly planning and preparing for the races. This year brought the new Ducati GP7, Bridgestone tires, and more importantly, Alex Barros, a rider capable of challenging anyone on the track when he's on form. Alex Hofmann brought his enthusiasm and commitment, and between both riders, two solid crews, and increased professionalism from the organization in general, we are looking at 2007 to be our break-out year. Shanghai was a perfect track for us to shine, to show who we are and what we're made out of. I look forward to LeMans, and truthfully, I look forward to every single race. No matter what happens, I remain hopeful and optimistic, and I know deep down that our faith will be rewarded.
Wednesday was not a good day for me. We ate some fantastic food in the city on Tuesday at a place called Ajisen Ramen (I know! Japanese fast food in China!), and I also sampled a few of the local foods from street vendors and whatnot. I am not scared of anything. I woke up far too early on Wednesday, nearly 5AM, not sure if it was the police training outside the Hotel's windows which stirred me from my sleep, or the strange stomach cramps that had my back aching. I skipped breakfast, suspecting a minor case of food poisoning, but as the day progressed, I realized I was suffering from a kidney stone. I've had a couple before, but it's been years since one has caused problems, and so here I was at the racetrack, forced to sit on the floor with my knees to my chest trying to stretch my lower back and ease some of the pain. I managed to get some things done, but nowhere near enough. The pain wreaked havoc with my guts, and I got to know the toilet in the paddock pretty well, unfortunately. Clinica Mobile wasn't at the racetrack that day, but luckily a few team members had some potent pain medication that helped. By Thursday afternoon, I was completely fine, strong and ready to fight.
The backside of the Paddock. The hangers are huge, and the towers on either end of the main straight help support a gigantic roof. It is truly and engineering marvel. Here's Dario Raimondi and Pernat, Loris' manager in the foreground.
The excitement for this race meant that the mechanics were chomping at the bit, and they began working on the bikes by Wednesday afternoon, instead of Thursday. There were a lot of things to change on the bikes, owing to Shanghai's unique circuit characteristics, which include incredibly long and fast straights, heavy braking areas, and very tight and twisty corners. Passing would be difficult, so we knew that getting a good position and a good start were critical. The bikes were prepped over the course of one and a half days, and while some of the mechanics had hoped to finish early on Thursday so they could go into the city for some shopping (the Holy Grail of Cheap Fakes was the mission, a 15 Euro iPod replica), we ended up working until 8:30PM, leaving the track after all the other teams had gone.
On Thursday, a few of us ventured into Shanghai, to eat at Park 97's Baci restaurant. My Italians proclaimed it the best Italian food in China, and as we saw the Gresini crew with Marco Melandri also enjoying their dinner, this was confirmed. We were joined by Bob Haro, owner of Harodesign and Axio Hardpacks, who was here to deliver the first run of Pramac Dantin racepacks to the team. Here we are with Bob and Frances, a beautiful and intelligent girl who works in the bicycle industry sourcing parts for all the major manufacturers. Frances was kind enough to be our umbrella girl later that weekend.
I caught some flack from the boys because I ordered a seafood pizza. I figured, Why Not? If I'm having pizza in Shanghai, I might as well make it special! Nonetheless, it wasn't very good.
After dinner we spent some time at the Park 97 club, which was banging. This little Chinese girl was spinning some seriously heavy beats, but we needed to leave early so we would be ready for Friday's sessions. Frances helped us communicate with the taxi drivers, and although we had cards with the hotel's address and directions written out, everyone managed to get lost and this is when we learned that it could take two hours to get back to the house. That was NOT good.
The rest of our team dinners were at a bizarre German restaurant in the middle of nowhere (read: Anting), with a staff of country folk who were pleasant and somewhat in shock as the Team ordered beer after beer and were generally loud, the volume level going from "Ten" to "Spanish-level". The food was almost exclusively deep-fried, chicken cordon-bleu, french fries, things like that. The T-Bone steak was pretty good, though, and that's what I usually had along with a Chinese potato pancake that would arrive about ten minutes after I'd finished my steak, hahaha. The ketchup was also weird, the bottles being re-used and re-filled with a slightly spicy mix of herbs and sauces. Actually, I was surprised they even had Ketchup, but those in the know realize it's one of the four main ingredients to making a cheap version of Sweet-n-Sour (ketchup, honey, red vinegar, and sugar). It was impossible to really know what you were having, so I just went with it. My stomach was fine.
Would you trust this bottle? I've trusted worse!
One deep fried potato pancake. MMMmmm, greasy.
Friday and Saturday saw us experimenting with various chassis set-ups, always looking for the right feeling that would see the bike and the tires last the entire race and give our riders the confidence to go out and do their job to the best of their ability. We didn't set the world on fire, but we were improving step by step, which is exactly what I like to see. I was quietly confident for Sunday.
Friday evening at the circuit I ran into a fellow Barfer from San Francisco, Scott Yu and his lovely wife, Kay. They had recently moved to Shanghai from Hong Kong and are both avid race fanatics. I always try and make time for the people who love this sport, because without them I wouldn't be here. Scott has one of the "whitest" accents I've ever heard, but he says everyone else just sounds too asian. Here's Scott and I verifying the Barf secret sign.
And how's this for random?? I ran into a couple of the Portugese guys from the Estoril circuit out here! They were working the track, like in Qatar, and they really seem to get around. Hi Guys! I should point out that the skies were almost always uniform grey, making telling time difficult. It was light at 5AM, and everything looked relatively the same all day long and into the evening. This is about 6:30-7PM Friday evening.
I also spent time with Bob Haro, making sure he had a great time at the race with his friends Gary, Phillip, and Frances, and it was really good to see that the relationship between our two organizations is only getting stronger. I'm sure it was a treat to see the bikes and all the action up close, and I hope they can join us for a race in the near future.
The hardpackspacks are just gorgeous, and I know the other teams are jealous. Bob - Thank you for making us look great!
While at the racetrack, I also met with Ben Grenon, of the Zhuhai Intl. Circuit, which is China's only other fullsize racetrack. He was here to check some things out, and even cooler, he's a diehard MotoGPod.com listener.
The real reason we're all here: This really hits the nail on the head. More Americans are getting out to the International races, and although there were definitely more people here than in 2005, there's a lot of room for improvement. Now that Turkey has officially been replaced with Indianapolis in 2008, I'm hoping more people catch the racing bug and start venturing out from behind their tv's and computers.
I went to sleep late Saturday night. After working on some files I had started to prepare my luggage because we were checking out of the Hotel on Sunday morning before going to the circuit. Most of the teams were flying out immediately following the race on Sunday night, so we wanted to carry all our luggage to the track that day and then proceed directly to the airport that night. Both of my A*s bags were open, clothes everywhere, computer equipment scattered across the room, and then the building's power went out. Lights Out! I stepped outside the room to see some of the hotel staff checking on us, but we couldn't communicate with them at all so everyone just went back into their rooms and tried to sleep. I turned on both my computers and used the light from the screens to see what I was doing. I managed to have everything bundled up before my batteries died. A large storm had blown in that night, and I went to sleep listening to thunder and heavy wind and rain against the hotel's windows. I was nervous, thinking that if the rain was heavy enough it might wash some of the traction from the track surface making for a tip-toe kind of race. Not to mention that I just really don't like the rain, even if it does make the grass green. For me, rain is only good for making the earth tacky for riding motocross. Anyway, I finally fell asleep and hoped that I would wake when my mobile phone alarms went off. And they went off too soon.
I woke on Sunday, refreshed and pumped. The hotel staff had been kind enough to find some Soy Bean milk (not common in these parts) so I could eat my Chinese donuts the way I used to as a child in Singapore. My team expressed their digust with my eating habits once again, telling me I was going to be in big trouble.
Quote of the week? "This one time, in Japan, one boy from So-n-So's team only ate rice because he didn't like the food there. He ate rice for three days, and then he HAD A BALL OF RICE IN HIS STOMACH." I kindly let them know that there were two billion rice-eaters in this part of the world, and they were just fine. The lack of cultural adventurism from some of my European teamates is staggering, and I sometimes wonder why they are travelling the world if they're not able to reach out and really grasp it all.
One plus to the heavy rains was that it washed away a lot of the pollution that really overpowers the skies here. Typically everything is hazy and grey, and if not for the auto-contrast, auto-level feature in Photoshop, I probably wouldn't be able to see anything in my cityscape pictures. Here's an untouched example.
Sunday's warm-ups were good, and the team continued to make changes to the bike to find the optimum race set-up. I was happy, the bikes were ready, the race was an hour later in the day than normal (meaning we had more time to work in a relaxed fashion), and the track was in good condition. Perfect for racing. The Red and White bikes lined up one in front of the other for the race, and I knew that if we nailed the start we'd be right in the thick of things, battling with the lead group. Both riders got great starts, moving up and into the swarm that wound it's way through the first three corners like a school of darting fish. Except one darted too much, Elias rear-ending Hayden and sending my riders offtrack. Everyone except Elias made it back into the race, but Barros was 40+ seconds back, an eternity in a race series where half a second is an eternity. The garage was seething, and more than one commented about how Rossi and Stoner had already made allegations of dangerous riding following the Turkey race. It really felt like our race had just been flushed down the drain, and while I was happy no one was hurt and the bikes were ok, I was bitterly disappointed because I truly felt we had something for China. Barros rejoined the race, setting fast laps as he refocused and targetted KRJR, 35 seconds ahead of him. As the laps dropped off one by one, so did Barros' times, the personal best lap Blue Helmets appearing onscreen. He was getting faster, and the momentum was pulling the team together so that we were no longer cursing, but cheering him on. Faster, Faster! Barros' pace was solidly in the times that 4th and 5th place Pedrosa and Melandri were running, and more impressively, Barros was setting these times while running around by himself without anyone to mark off of. You always ride faster when there's a carrot in front of you, so to see these times was astounding, much like Vermulen's times in Turkey. I know that AB would have been in the mix had he stayed with the lead group, and while I can't say whether we would have challenged Hopper for the Podium, we would have had a magnificent race. You never know how it's going to go, and that's why we race. Meanwhile, Hofmann was steadily picking people off, settling into a good rhythm in 9th place, unable to gain ground on Capirossi on the factory machine or Chris Vermulen. He didn't lose time, either, which was important to see because it proved the set-up of the machine. I was very proud of my riders for putting their heads down and getting back into the race after the near catastrophe on the first lap. For the Hoff, two top ten finishes in four races is a great start to the season, and I onlly see him getting stronger as the year goes on and physical fitness comes in to play more. For Barros, he is a proven winner, and when he's ready we're going to be here to give him the best bike we can. While we were breaking down the garage, the FIM was doing a teardown of the race-winning GP7 of Stoner. You couldn't believe it - there they were with the engine wide open in the garage, measuring the bore and stroke to insure that yes, it IS 800cc. This was undoubtedly one of the proudest moments for Ducati Corse, and while some were initially angry that another team had challenged them in this way, hinting that Ducati was cheating, here was solid proof that the pasta-makers had actually done it. They had knocked the Japanese back on their heels, showing that hard work and the core principles built into every Ducati were sound. I was smiling broadly as I checked everything out, because these are my bikes, my friends, and Ducati is the big brother to my team. Rock On, pasta-makers!
After the race, we packed up and left. Just like that. Everyone tried to take a shower in the offices behind the paddock, and I've got to say, these are the best facilities in racing that I've ever seen. There's a lake that surrounds the offices, and the buildings are suspended on stilts.
Narrow pathways wind around the offices, sometimes shrouded by trees.
It's just beautiful, and I wish we could have enjoyed it more at the time had we a better race. Scott had decided to stick around and catch a taxi with me back into the city because I was to stay in Shanghai for a couple days to check out the city and firm up some relationships. I said goodbye to my team with hugs and warm wishes, and it would be scarely a week before we would rejoin one another in Paris, enroute to LeMans, France. The Chinese race was over for me, but the Shanghai adventures were just beginning . . .
More on the Chinese experience as time permits. The weather is Beautiful here in Barcelona this weekend and I'm anxious to spend some time on two wheels, BMX'ing through the city streets on my way to getting some Pizza!
We arrived to Pu Dong Intl Airport early Tuesday morning. The long flight had taken us through Frankfurt and then overnight across Russia before veering south over Beijing on our way to Shanghai. We rushed through customs, got all our luggage (score!), and quickly met up with our three non-English speaking driver's who would take us first to our hotel in Anting, and then wherever we wanted to go for the rest of the day.
I arranged to have the team dropped off in Wai Tan, the Bund area.
The sites and smells of the city are over-powering, radically different from the European places we visit. The first week of May is a huge holiday time in China, and the streets are full of people - many not even from Shanghai but visiting from outlying towns and villages.
There's a marked difference to the reality of Chinese life that always shocks me a little when I'm here. In a way, there are so many beautiful things to see, and although there are advertisements everywhere for commercial goods (celphones, iPods, cameras, and jewelry), the average person has no hope of ever buying anything. At times I feel this country has advanced too quickly into the 21st century, and the people are not ready. More thoughts on the Chinese situation later.
At this point of the afternoon, I simply wanted to keep it together with some of my group, which was nearly impossible. Within the first few minutes of being dropped off, the entire team was separated. This was actually good, because trying to walk in a large group, always stopping for one person to lok at something, is horrible. Better to stay small and tight. Thank goodness we were very specific on meeting back at the drop-off point later that night - because we had 8 hours to ramble around and trying to explain to a taxi where our hotel was would have been impossible.
You know it's a tourist area when they're pumping McDonalds and Pepsi everywhere. I ate a ton of good asian food this first day (local treats from street vendors, too), but it wasn't until a late night snack (on the run!) that I finally got sick. Do NOT eat the burger with spicy thousand island dressing and cucumbers. Actually, it's been a couple days, and I'm still not feeling well - there's significant pain in my lower back that has me wondering if I'm passing another Kidney Stone. Anyway, that should be the last of the junk food I eat for a long time, and the unfortunate thing was that we simply had run out of time to get anywhere else because the pick-up came too fast. The food adventures will continue, hahaha, and they should be fantastic.
My primary goal for day one in Shanghai was to get away from all the people and get off the beaten path. Success. A few of us navigated through alleyways and small streets, seeing up close how some of the people lived and survived in this city. We made it through mazes and steep stairways, and as always, I was impressed by the openess of the people. Sure, they were going to try and charge us triple for whatever it was they were selling, but the average person was pretty cool. Babies and young children would stare, and some started to cry if we stared back.
It's just after 6AM now, and this is the second day in a row I've been up at five, courtesy of the the police station downstairs which has some yelling and training going on at that time. And it's already light, too. I should point out that the sky is constantly grey and it's very strange. It gives a whitewashed effect to everything. Combine that with the ever present concrete dust and dirt from a city that is constantly building and growing, and that only adds to the overall strangeness. Thursday means we're working on the bikes, and it's about time to go racing. I'll probably see you guys next week - lots to do in the meantime.