France GP07, Race 5 "How Bizarre"
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.
Anyway, that was France. 13 more to go!