June 16, 2007

Catalunya GP07, Race 7 "Fight For Every Inch"

Catalunya, the second Spanish GP this season, came too quickly and passed in a flash. After the race in Italy just one week prior, where we scored our first podium this year, everyone was hyped up and feeling (creating?) some pressure to repeat the performance in Montmelo. For me, there were some added complications to this race that I hadn't considered, and they led to some interesting moments.

The Catalunya GP is my "home-race" here in Europe, as I'm based in Barcelona about thirty minutes from the circuit of Montmelo. I arrived in my apartment late Monday afternoon, and Tuesday was a free day for rest of the team. The boys walked through the city, checked out the beach scene in Barceloneta, and we all met for a celebratory dinner in the Port Olympico area at a beautiful outdoor restaurant with our riders, Alex Hofmann and Alex Barros. I spent Tuesday recovering from the previous week of racing, emailing with the Ducati Factory, and more importantly, doing laundry! When we have back-to-back races and there's no chance to go home, the team has the hotel do our laundry, and you'd be surprised at how much something like that costs!

And then it was time to work, and get everything going again.

Dinner was great, delicious seafood on the seaside, and truly, there are few things in life as good the smell of the ocean air and something tasty. Every course was better than the last, and it all culminated with a great dessert. The Hoff uses his "laser-vision" on his, and you'll notice Lele wearing last summer's limited Original logo shirt.

We need to get on the podium more often, so I get to eat things like THIS! Speaking of podiums, I have a running bet with the Hoff, as do several other members of the Team, and they all involve haircuts, hahaha.

"No, seriously, the scorpion was this big!" You can see some swelling I had under my right eye, because I managed to get a small infection after some firegum (exhaust sealant) got blasted into my eye when I started up one of the bikes in Italy.

I spent Tuesday night in my apartment, getting ready for the race week, and with fresh clothes, some solid rest, and my bags all packed and waiting, I was ready to rock! A few minutes before my team mate (and normal sleeping/hotel partner) Felix, was due to pick my up on Wednesday morning, he gave me a call and asked me how many bags I was bringing to the track. I replied, my normal two Alpinestars carry-ons, plus my backpack and computer bag. He responded by saying he was swinging by on a scooter to collect me, which meant a fevered repacking of my normal kit so that I could travel with just one suitcase instead of two. We piled everything on the scooter, then had a break-neck ride through the city streets on the way to the carpark where his Mercedes wagon is stored. Tricky? Just a little bit. We got hung up in traffic but made it to the circuit in time to help everyone unload the trucks and get the garage built. Meanwhile, the other Barcelona based member, Alejandro, had a brisk ride (bombing past us through a tunnel exiting BCN) on his 996 SPS. A little squidly, no doubt, but that's how they ride out here. Summertime? Shorts and motocross gloves, hahaha. I gotta admit, that color scheme is just perfect with our Axio hardpacks.

Owing to the fact that I don't own a car or motorcycle here in Barcelona, I opted to stay with the Team in the Ibis hotel just behind the circuit, a ten minute walk from the paddock. It meant an easier time for me in the mornings getting to the racetrack, and I think it's better to stick with my crew when it's race time rather than fighting traffic everyday and having to shift gears if I went home. My apartment may be small, but it's in a great neighborhood and it's where I want to be when I'm not at the races. I think had I gone home every night, I would have had trouble getting up every day, and I prefer to be as focused as possible when it's gametime. Because Felix was staying in his house with his family, that meant I had a new room mate for this race, the hospitality boy from Valencia. He made it to the hotel before I did, and completely "made himself feel at home". I know we come from different places and cultures, but who leaves their dirty underwear on the bathroom counter top, day after day? Although we can communicate in Spanish, I tried to ignore him most of the time because I have much bigger concerns to occupy myself, and besides, it was only for one race, right? If any of you have heard me snoring at night, that should give you an indication of what kind of natural revenge I'm capable of, hahaha.

I made do with the smaller side of the room, which was barely big enough to hold my carry-on. No matter, I'm here to race, and every day brings new challenges and hurdles to overcome at the racetrack. I just wanted to show that travelling everywhere and staying in Hotels around the world isn't always as glamourous as it seems, haha.

Thursday brought about another cool surprise - this time it was Jon Farjado all the way from California! We'd met earlier at the Turkish GP, and this time he was styling in one of the latest MotoLiam designs, the Tiki Skull! You just know I had to get a picture of that, because this was the first time I'd seen the new design in person! Jon put together a Neat Little Thread on his CBR forum where you can find more pictures from his GP adventure in Spain. Jon, you rock! Great hanging out with you, and I'll see you at a future race this year.

Jon managed to catch a photo of myself and commentator, Nick "Absolutely Flying" Harris. I know he looks pretty small in this picture, but that's actually because I'm standing on something.

Speaking of neat visitors, my Mexican buddy, Omar, dropped by and got a little creative with a photo I took of him in the driver's seat. He even managed to change the Italian flag motif on the AGV helmet to the Mexican one! Omar is a competitive cyclist and training partner of Hiro Aoyama, which is how we met up. I can't keep up on the ole' BMX, haha.

This is just cool.

But not as cool as watching the Hoff's telemetrist, Andrea, getting blown away in a MotoGP 4 race (playstation!) with this little kid in the Red Bull Energy Station one night after work. Boo-yah! Andrea is 6'6", or something like that, and this kid was 4 foot nothing. He barely spoke, just tilted his head every time the bikes were leaned over, and he was quick in the game. Then I promptly lost to Stevie Bonsey, who's having a rough season learning the ropes in the 125 division.

We had a difficult couple of days getting the bikes sorted on Friday and Saturday, but it wasn't until Qualifying where we seemed to make any real progress. The boys from the Factory had made a siginificant improvement to Casey's bike, and they suggested we try a similar set-up. It really felt good to know that they were behind us, too, and they were willing to give us some advice and help when we were struggling a little. We had a small problem with the Hoff's #1 bike, and all of us jumped in and got bike #2 changed over to the same settings as fast as possible. To me, this was perfect teamwork, and we all came together after the session and shook hands. That's what it's all about in racing. As Nicky says, "You win as a team, and you lose as a team," and I feel the same way. The Hoff managed to get into 10th spot on the grid in the final seconds of the session, which was outstanding considering the lack of tracktime he had that afternoon, and Barros continued to get faster right up until the end.

The race was also a hard one, but we never gave up hope and kept plugging away lap after lap. The Hoff duked it out with the new and improved Dunlops, and Barros crept up and passed Melandri in the last quarter section of the last lap, which solidified him in 8th place for the race, and also moved him up into 8th in the World Championship standings. We're looking at the next two races like we always do, knowing that they'll be hard and that we'll be ready, haha.

Nacho and Rafa showed up, this time as more than spectators. Nacho helped a young 125 Wildcard, and Rafa was modelling some Imatra sunglasses. Ahhh, Spain, where they love their eyewear.

Also, the Hilferty clan made an appearance. All the way from San Carlos and the East Bay in San Francisco, the boys are both teachers and the father is retired. Joe lives here in Barcelona, teaching at the University, while his brother Clay teaches at Berkeley. Their father was big into flat-track, creating custom camshafts for racebikes and instilling a love of racing into his children. Actually, their family story is fascinating, and I'll get into it more in the future.

Clay was entrusted to bring over this guitar from California for me, which is a gift from one of MotoLiam's biggest supporters, Eric Frech. I've been jonesing for a guitar for months, but with my travel time and general life-craziness, I haven't had a chance to pick one up. Eric donated this one, a beautiful Carvin that plays as clean as it looks, and Clay got it to the track so that I'd have something to play as soon as possible. As it is, my forearms are a little sore, and I need to get back into guitar shape! Huge Thanks go out to Eric and Clay for making this happen.

This is the only photo I have of Eric, having only met online, but it's obvious he's got the sickness. Guys, can't wait to see everyone at Laguna Seca!

But back to the GP. After the race, we packed up as much of the garage as possible. We were scheduled to test at the track on Monday after the race, so that meant a quiet night on Sunday, and I was so tired I missed the Team dinner and just slept in the hotel. Another reason why I decided to stick close to the Hotel was the disaster I suffered last year after the Catalunya GP, when my wallet was pickpocketed the night of the race. No Way was I letting anything like that ever happen to me again, so sleeping was just about the best option I had. And it was worth it. Monday I was fresh, testing went well, and then everyone loaded up the trucks before heading home. Some of the bigger Factory Teams stayed to test on Tuesday, which was surely a rough day because we've been racing for two weeks already. That would minimize the Team's downtime between races, but it's important to get as much data as possible, now, because the next test isn't coming until after Brno.

There's more to the Catalunya Race, but this is the busiest time of the season for all of us, and I've got to get out and get some dinner now. I should have something up tomorrow about Historias Sobre Ruedas (Stories on Wheels), the Spanish television show that shadowed me before and during the Mugello Race. The show came out during the Spanish race the following week, and people approached me about it at the track, and here at the internet cafe I'm working at, which was super cool. "Dude, I saw you on TV!" It's since shown four times on national tv here, and if I can figure out a way to distribute it, I'd love to show it to you guys. What's especially cool for me is knowing that I helped put up 30 minutes of Team footage on national TV, which is great for the Team and the Sponsors. To capture the emotion and excitement of our podium in Italy was the cherry on top!
See you guys tomorrow!

We are also working on something spectacular for the USGP, something that will blow you all away. And no, this isn't it :)


What a great weekend that was, perhaps not the race results we're expecting, but a priceless experience overall.
You know you wanna try on the sunglasses!!!

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