June 12, 2007

Mugello GP07, Race 6 "Magia Di Mugello" part 2


The Race week in Italy was pure magic, and I lost myself as the days flowed in and out, edging closer to Qualifying, and then, the RACE.

I always forget what day of the week it is, remembering only what time we're waking up in order to be at the track by a certain time in the morning. It goes; set-up day, be there by 9, bike prep day, be there by 9, warm-up day, be there a minimum of two hours before the session starts, Q-day, same thing as warm-up day, and then Raceday, which can mean getting out of bed before the sun depending on the crowd and crazy traffic that ensues. Mugello is a magnificent racetrack, and here are some photos and memories of that beautiful spot tucked away in the hills.

They've just painted fresh markers on the track, a fresh start/finish checkered stripe, and the walls are bright red, just in time for the white Alice's to be sprayed on.

Just in case you forgot where we are, remember the main entrance to the Autodromo Internationale. It's MUGELLO, baby!!

The opening days before the race were hectic, and the weather was beautiful. We spent Wednesday morning setting up the garage in near record time, and then part of the afternoon tearing down the Barro's machine that had crashed during the Le Mans race two weeks prior. Fully stripped, it was apparent that we would have our hands full on Thursday getting everything sorted so that we'd be ready to run at the front come Friday's free practices. No problem, haha, our crew is tight and they work well together, so it was mostly a matter of time separating the pieces that would be salvaged and/or re-used from the damaged material. When you're playing with motorcycles as expensive as these, you try not to let anything go to waste - not to mention that things are sometimes produced in extremely small and limited quantities, and it might be months before another run of pieces could be produced. While the Barro's crew was steadily getting it done, the Hoff's guys had some free time to walk about, take the bicycle for a couple laps around the circuit at the end of the day, and they were ready to get it on. Martin Zabala, the number one mechanic for Alex Hofmann, spent a few minutes checking out the latest streetbike from Ducati, the 1098 Tri-Colore. It's fascinating to watch him poke and prod around, looking for design quirks, and commenting on the overall package. You'll notice he's wearing my EVS wristbrace, which I got a couple years ago after breaking my wrist in a mini-motard crash. Martin was recovering from a motocross accident of his own, but I'm happy to say he's since stopped using the brace and is almost back to full strength.

This was our most crowded race yet, with many people from the Team's sponsors making an appearance over the three days of competition. The box was usually full of guests, and we had several special fans drop by and spend some time with us. While there, I met Fabio, a great fan of Alex Hofmann, and also of the MotoLiam website! I was so shocked when I stepped out of my truck one afternoon and heard someone call out, "MotoLiam!". It was great! Fabio was super cool, checking in on the Hoff's progress after every session, and I hope he had a great time. It was nice to meet you, Fabio!

Probably the biggest stress for all of us this weekend was the frequent weather shifts. The morning sessions were cool and dry, but thunderstorms in the afternoon meant frantic bike set-up changes, and a huge anxiety for me because it's that much easier to step over the line and lose it when you're riding in poor conditions. Qualifying was outrageous, starting off wet as heck, then drying up in some powerful sunshine, then storming again about midway through the session, only to start drying up completely towards the final minutes! It was like four sessions in one, and it meant the riders had to mentally switch gears every time they got on or off the bike, because we would change more than just tires to give them every opportunity to excel and make some good times. All the while, I was being filmed by TVE's Historias Sobre Ruedas (Stories on Wheels), the Spanish TV show I would be featured on the following week. In any event, we qualified and were happy with our race pace, and I couldn't wait to get it on here in Mugello. Studying the time sheets of all the riders, it was obvious that Dani Pedrosa would be a factor, and there were several other riders who also had a shot at the podium. You can never, ever, count out the Doctor.

The evenings were spent having dinner around 8 in our double decker hospitality unit. The food was especially good at this race, owing to all our sponsors being there I think. In particular, we managed to enjoy some home-brewed beer made by Lele, the Hoff's chief mechanic. He says, "I don't like beer. Beer likes me!"

You just couldn't beat it. Lele was also stoked because we were joined at this race by the Hoff's friend and training partner, pro-mountain biker and multiple time World Champion, Brian Lopes. When Alex's scooter wouldn't start one morning, he rolled down to the garage on Brian's runabout, and I stored it in the back of my truck, haha. You could tell this thing was set up for downhill, because it sat like a real chopper.

Along the weekend, we were also joined by Vitantonio Liuzzi, of the Toro Rosso F1 team. He was really laid back, and spoke highly about his experience riding John Hopkin's 990cc GSVR last year at Valencia's post race test days.

Raceday! It was cold, dark, and predictions of afternoon showers had everyone a little on edge. Would it be another Le Mans, with bike switches going on mid-race? No one knew. Looking back into the valley, the only thing you could be sure of was that everyone was going to have to deal with the same stuff. Mugello's climate can change rapidly, rain blowing in and filling the valley before you really know it. It just happens. All I was hoping for was a clean ride by both my pilots.

Everyone always asks me, "What is Pramac?". Well, they make generators. Big Generators, and they're used worldwide for all types of applications. Here are a couple helping to power the circuit.

And then, it was time. The skies were dark, the wind had a chill to it, moisture in it, and while people were staging on the grid, all the bikes in the paddock were undergoing the "flip" to rain settings. Would we need them? I was almost sure of it. At this point, choosing the racetire became a genuine gamble, because even if it stayed dry, would the track temps get warmer or colder? This is when race-craft, experience, and self-confidence would come into play.

I think every racer in MotoGP knows what they're capable of, but sometimes it takes a little more to know that you can do it even if the package isn't 100% perfect. It takes you-know-what.

We had these Miss Italias underfoot during the race, but everyone's eyes were glued to the monitors. This was a serious race.

Don't ask me how, but this one got her fingernail stuck in a lighter. I gave her a rotary cut-off wheel and told her to work it out.

Its a strange time, during the race. I focus intently on the monitors, checking out everyone's laptimes, who's going fast where, who is making time. I almost watch the time screens more than the video feed, and watching Barros set top speed time and again had me smiling. After a beautiful start that saw him rocket up from 10th to 3rd or 4th in the first corner, I was trying to remain calm as we dropped positions over the next two laps, settling in 8th for much of the race. It was a seven man train that wound their way through Mugello's gorgeous curves, and while out of screenshot on the tellie, Barros was slowly moving up. I later spoke with Jeremny Burgess at the Bologna airport, as we flew into Barcelona together for the Catalunya race, and he was obviously so proud of Valentino. As we talked about the race and the string of top riders in the train, JB mentioned with a grin, "You know, whenever there's a group of riders, there's only one who's going to end up first." We had fun analyzing and dissecting the race, and it was a fun flight, too, that next Monday, because everyone was reading the Italian and Spanish newspapers which all featured front page coverage of the race with great photos. Anyway, watching Barros in 8th, I began to see the laptimes showing, and as rider after rider dropped before him, Barros moved into fifth and set his sights on John Hopkins. Outbraking Hopper is difficult enough, but with the closing speed Barros had on the first corner, it happened. I should mention that I was extremely happy to see the top speeds shown by Barros, as it indicated to me that he was getting a better drive out of the final corner and onto the mainstraight that all the other Ducati's. Once Hopped had been dispatched, there was blood in the water, and Barros smelt it. He closed on Stoner, and from four laps to go, it was on. After the pass, those were the longest three laps of my life. You could feel the tension in the garage, and everytime our boy came onscreen, people were yelling, chanting almost, "Dai, dai, dai" (go, go, go). I don't know how to spell it, but that's how it went. Everyone was on pitwall for the finish, Barros narrowly edging out Stoner over the line, and we all went ballistic. Security shut down the end of pitlane, the crowd flowed it, and several of us ran to the parce ferme to great our rider after the cool down lap. It was intense. The track temps had actually gotten much hotter over the course of the race, instead of getting colder like we'd anticipated, and maybe we didn't go with the best choice after all. All I know is that Barros went out there and wrung that Ducati's neck in a fantastic race that left us breathless, speechless, and tearing. Meanwhile, the Hoff was engaged in a battle with Vermeulen and Hayden, finding it hard to pass the World Champion and his slightly sideways cornering technique. It was a solid performance to hang with Nicky, and I'm proud of him for bringing it home strong. From this point on, instead of the usual breaking down of the bikes and the garage, we were beseiged by fans and sponsors, all trying to get in the box and celebrate with us. We spent the next several hours taking photos, talking, and for once, actually enjoying it - revelling in it - that we had taken a podium at Mugello. After the last few years, this result was crucial, and helped breathe new life back into the Team.

Fabiano Sterlacchini and Marco Baileron were ecstatic over the result. Fabiano has worked with Ducati Corse for years, and was responsible for the chassis design of the new GP07. He's Barros' chief mechanic this season, and his hard work paid off with a win at his homerace in front of his factory. Marco is one of the few Brazilian's working in MotoGP. For him to be with the best Brazilian rider to ever come out of that country, well, let's just say that they share a deep bond that goes far beyond a common language. For Marco, this was a beautiful moment. All the hard work at the track, the late nights, the work at the raceshop in Madrid, the weeks and weeks without a day off. This was his reward. Like me, he's not here to get rich. He's here to race. In Mugello, he scored his first podium since the two stroke era. D'antin got another podium in 2004, Qatar, with Ruben Xaus, but Marco was wrenching with Hodgson at the time. And for me? It's all a blur.

The smell of smoke and fireworks. The constant cheering of the crowd, the roar. The smell of Champagne as it rained down from the podium. Shaking hands and hugging everyone. There's only one thing that could be better. Well, two things. Winning races, and winning World Championships. That's next on my list.

Thanks to whoever sent me this photo - not sure who took it, but it's great!

I also cannot say enough about what a gracious Champion Valentino is. Looking into his eyes after the race, he was destroyed, utterly exhausted. And he was over-joyed. Valentino came over to all of us, taking the time to shake hands and genuinely congratulate us on our finish, and this was a true sign of what makes him such a magnificent Champion. He didn't stop there, he made it to all the mechanics from HRC/Repsol and did the same thing. Maybe because my emotions were already on such a high, I'll never forget shaking hands at that moment. The same goes for when Barros arrived. These are some of the highlights of my racing career thus far.

Valentino Rossi showed his heart that day in Mugello. He rode a perfect race and put all the doubters back on their heels once again. How can people bet against him? His hospitality guy (shown here), spent some time just talking to himself, kissing the heart on the helmet, and just soaking in it. Soon after the kissing session, the helmet was thrown by Valentino from the podium into the huge crwod of fans gathered on the racetrack. I don't know who ended up with it, but he sure is one lucky racefan, haha. One day I am going to beat Valentino Rossi.

My biggest congratulations and thanks to Alex Barros, for giving me my first Podium in MotoGP! This is the top of the World Level! There are 36 more podiums available this season, and I'm looking for as many as we can get!

Michelin in 1-2, Bridgestone in 3-9. Where were all the other Michelin riders?

Yee-Haa!!! The place went absolutely nuts. We pulled in all our gear as soon as the racers came over the line, tv monitors, chairs, everything, but we still managed to have our weather station stolen, and that's one of those items that is a little tricky to replace. Oh well, I blame it on mob-mentality. People do crazy things with all the emotion after a race, and anytime there are that many people around, things get a little nuts.

At Mugello, we shocked a lot of people. I've always maintained that when everything was lined up and clicking, we could run with the best in the world. That Sunday, everything clicked.

Boo-YAh!!!!!! The day finished up with a slow and elated packing of the trucks. No one was driving out that night, we were all staying to celebrate over a nice dinner. Everyone deserved it, not just Barros' crew, because we're all a Team, a Famiglia, and we all share the successes and disasters together. This is one more moment that makes everything "worth it" for me. It's always been worth it, but now it's getting even better.


Wow,what a race and what a write-up, Liam. A huge congrats for winning your first podium. I can (or, rather, can't) imagine how it feels. Have always liked Barros and am so happy for him and for you that Mugello went so well.


PS: Now my elder son (9 yrs old) recognizes you and looks for you on TV :-)

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