August, 2007

August 28, 2007

Misano - We're headed there to go backwards

I leave in a few minutes for Bologna, and from there it's a short drive to Misano. My first time. I'm not sure what to expect, but I know we'll be getting an extra hour of practice come Friday morning, so hopefully my riders will suss things out and have a clear direction on how they want to take the bike set-up. The circuit will be run in the opposite direction as normal, so we'll be headed round backwards, so to speak.

It was short, this time in Barcelona, and I used it to gather my strength for these last six races. They are coming so very fast. Spoke at length with some old friends over the weekend. Some things left me Speechless.

August 23, 2007

GP07 Brno Czech GP, Race 12 "Burned in Brno"

Seven days at the track. Seven days to tune back into racing, fire up the monsters, and then test new solutions for the remainder of the season (and moreso for next year!). Seven days is a long time away from home, but to see the evolution of the bikes continue, to hear the bellow and bark of brand new engines, to feel the joy of Casey Stoner and Ducati Corse as they put to rest any doubts that they wouldn't be competitive after the Big Four had used the summer break to flex their engineering might - well, the seven days were fantastic to say the least.

It didn't seem long enough, a couple days in Barcelona that was. I arrived in Europe on a Friday night, prepped over the weekend, and by Tuesday I was enroute to Prague (Praha) to meet up with some team mates and drive to Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. I actually didn't know my flight details until Monday afternoon, when I double checked my status with the team coordinator and he subsequently emailed me the flight plan. I made myself a nice dinner on Monday night, then flew to Prague with Felix R. and Raul, two members of the team. We arrived after a slight delay in Barcelona, and from what I could gather, most of the CSA (Czech airlines) flights coming in were delayed at least an hour also. That meant waiting even longer at the airport to meet up with the crews. No worries, I was armed with my Nintendo DS and my iPod. Note to travellers: it's more expensive to buy your smokes from the airport "tax-free" places, then to buy them from the local stores or hotels in Brno.

I was so stoked to see my team mates again, and almost all of us arrived together from Spain and Italy. The only people missing were the riders (and their entourages), and the four members who drive the semi trucks to the races. We said our hellos, then spent the two hour drive to Brno catching up on what we did this summer, as much as we could have a "summer break" in just two weeks. It was great, and the drive went by quickly. Normally, I use times like this to sleep, because in a strange way, being in MotoGP is like being in the military. It's like we're all part of the same military (the racing community, or something like the U.N. of racing), but we're all separate units competing with one another for top honors. Or, you could split it up by countries, and then even smaller, into different team factions. And believe me, every single team is made up of different factions. Anyway, to me it can be like the military - because I've learned I can sleep anywhere, anytime, even sitting up (and I'll snore, too, hahaha).

Brno Bound!! The little "v" above the letters radically changes their pronounciation. The craziest thing I heard all week was a Czech girl saying the number 3,333 - you wouldn't believe it and I wish now I had it as a sound clip. Next year!

Lots of neat billboards in Czechlandia, too. I didn't get a chance to try me some Kactus Juice! The city of Prague is absolutely gorgeous - maybe the nicest in Europe. There are waterways that criss-cross through the city (much like Amsterdam, another favorite of mine), and the buildings are magnificent. You need only google search the images for Prague to understand what I'm talking about.

Day turned to night as we were headed to Brno, and we pulled over to a roadside restaurant in the early evening. I think we were all starving, not having eaten since we had left our home countries, and the portions we were served would put Claimjumper to shame. We are talking HUGE portions, and the salad I ordered (for 3 Euros) was large enough to feed two people - if all they ate for dinner was salad! Afterwards, someone wanted to use the restroom, but we found out you needed to pay 5 Kroens (crowns) to use it. None of us had any Czech money, so we drove a little further before pulling over and taking option #2. No! It wasn't me.

The next day we started working at the track. There were no crash bikes to repair, so everyone managed to swap engines and prep the bikes pretty quickly. I think we also had a ton of energy before this race, because we'd been sitting on our hands for a couple weeks and everyone wanted to go racing. Well, almost everyone. Seemed like people I spoke to, both on my team and others, wished that the break had been longer, and more than a few mentioned that they were still in "vacation-mode" and were having trouble getting into it. I received a ton of material from Ducati Corse, so I was hurriedly trying to check everything into my stock and organize the supplies we unloaded from our freight containers. Since this was our first race back in Europe after Laguna Seca, we had to repack the semi's full of all our supplies. It was like tetris a little, but more fun because Corse really came through and I was loaded for bear, so to speak. Last year, Thomas and I usually washed the trucks alone, but this time everyone jumped in and the trucks were spotless in record time.

On the first days of a GP week, I usually have a chance to head off on my own and eat by myself. The hospitality units aren't set up until the race weekend, when they are to serve all the team's guests and team members, so in the evenings the whole team will head out to a restaurant. I don't really understand why 16-20 people need to go out together on these ocassions, so I typically will go out on my own and check out the city sights and eat what I like. Other teams will usually separate, with one crew all together in a rentacar, and other crews and team members doing what they like. It's common to see Colin's crew together at night, or Valentino's, and in a way, it solidifies their working relationships because they're always together. As one crew needs to beat the other, it's only natural that they go their own way. However, my team usually goes together and that makes for a long dinner! Not just because we're so Spanish, but because it's hard to make so many pizzas for a whole team. I'm all for efficiency, so a quick bite somewhere plus some sight-seeing is what I try to do. This time I ate at a cool cafe, and had a great dinner of Duck, sweet potatoes, and some form of chutney mix.

By chance, Thomas had joined me at dinner, and later while walking through the city we ended up at a place we knew from the previous year - the Piano Bar! They have this funny little green drink there. . .

This weekend, we were working with our European back-up rider, #22, Ivan Silva. He didn't have any experience with the GP7, and coupled with some fitness issues resulting from a serious crash in the Spanish Championship, we definitely had our work cut out for us. We did our best to set the bike up, and Silva ran hard, passing Tamada during the race. He later said that his goal was not to finish last, so succcess! It was another difficult weekend for Alex Barros, but he did his best and came out on the top of a five rider dogfight that lasted almost the entire race. Once again, we finished in the Top Ten, but deep down I think our potential is higher and if it means we all need to put our heads down and work harder to achieve those results, then that's what we'll do. Over the race weekend, I ran across this fruit, which I'd never seen before. I also managed to get stung by some strange insect again, not bee's or wasps, but something else that hurt like no one's business. I will have to be more careful in the future.

On Sunday night after the race, I decided to walk through the city a little, and low and behold, a Red Bull truck! This thing was awesome, showing extreme sports footage and blasting the bumping beats. It drew me like a moth to a candle, and I was soon swept downstairs into the Mandarin Club, a great little place.

Several paddock personalities were spotted within, and after saying my hello's to the Dorna guys, I ran into my old friend, Jordan Miller, Red Bull US director of coolness. He was busy fending off a cute German girl who knew who the Baltimore baseball team was (I think, or something like that), and we shared some beers and laughs. Oh! The beers in Czech are quite potent, with many advertising that they are 12 percent alcohol (and up). They creep up on you and then - whammo! I went back to the hotel early that night, because the next day we would be testing tires and parts for the new GP8. Last year I had only watched, as my team wasn't testing, but this year, we were in line to assist the Factory Marlboro Team with additional data. Woot!

You just know you're going to have a good time when you see the white whale at the track. This indicates the T-T-T team is here, the three T team, the Triple T's, the Tire Test Team! Shinichi Itoh was back on his feet after a horrific crash in Japan that broke one of his legs, and all of us were to hear the magic sounds of their test engines . . . . which are a teeny bit different than the ones we race with. WaaaahhhhhHH!

Some of us stayed on pit wall, listening to Rossi's new pneumatic valved motor power down the straightaway. . .which really didn't sound too different from his previous one, when accelerating. This could be because of the silencers they use, or maybe there really weren't too many changes to the valve timing despite the higher RPM ceiling being explored. Either way, this motor is in it's early stages of development, and although the Doctor is preoccupied with his Tax issues in Italy, once he gets in gear, he's sure to make this motor into something sweet.

While some people played outside, others of us stayed inside to play with the new goodies from Corse. You know, I used to have very long hair . . . now look out Elvis!

Because there's a lot less pressure during testing, we often get a chance to talk to other team personnel and the riders will spend time with one another. Both Loris Capirossi and Alex have been on the circuit for so long, they're old friends. They hung out a bit talking tires and life, but things really got cool later when Loris mounted Alex' bike and starting comparing basic set-up information with my crew. Handlebar positions were very different, as Loris likes them a little bit more "motocross" like, whereas Alex prefers them to be closer together so there's no extra leverage to cause front end tucks. It was fascinating to watch how differently they ride the same bike . . .
Anyway, I frequently get a chance to talk to Loris, and he is a grade "A" guy. Always cool to talk to, joke around with a little, and when he rides, man what a sight. I've always held an affinity for his riding style, as I tend to use a ton of body english myself when riding, and it's hard not to imagine yourself pushing a machine as hard as he does. This week he announced he was moving to the Rizla Suzuki squad next year, and I'll be sorry to see him go. This is two years I've been around the Ducati garages, and it just won't be the same without him. Best of luck next season, and I guess I should say hello to Marco Melandri, who is due to take his place on the Factory team.

Speaking of Loris, here's his dog, Nikki. Oh, and Ingrid, too, hahahaha.

We wrapped up testing an hour early, because once again the weather started to shift in the negative direction, and we quickly broke down the garages. Half of our crew had left the day earlier, when Silva finished testing on day one, so that meant we all pulled a little extra weight to get it all packed in so the trucks could drive to Misano that night. Before we rolled out, we took turns rolling a Honda 50 around! AWESOME!

We drove out at 6:30PM , then ended up driving back to the paddock later because someone forgot one of their luggage bags, haha. Then we headed to Prague, to spend the night before flying out Wednesday morning. At least we caught the mistake before we were halfway there! This is the view from my hotel window. Czech land is soooo green, and the forests are thick and beautiful. After a great dinner with only five people, including Alex, a couple of us went out for a night on the town. Alex knew a few nice places, so we had a drink and talked racing. It's amazing how much Alex remembers about every season and every race. We talked about his favorites, Assen (you guess the year), and what he remembers about the bikes and teams he's been on since '86. You wanted a racing encyclopedia? There he is!! Anyway, thanks go out to Alex for taking care of us that night - it was great! Anytime I get a chance to add to my own racing knowledge and experience is great, but to learn from someone I respect is even better!

Oh, and I guess since we were testing new stuff, you guys probably want to know a little bit about what some of it was . . . . thanks go to Livio Suppo, Marlboro Ducati racing director, for allowing me to show you a little of what that was. . . . Thanks Livio!

The boys from Bologna have done it again, and while I personally think the GP7 needs nothing, they've come up with what I think is yet another home run. Obviously, Casey has been doing stellar on the machine, but can you imagine what he's capable of on something even better?!?? I think it was super cool of Corse to let Loris ride the latest spec stuff, because he's moving to Suzuki next year and then he'll know more about who he's racing against after riding with this. I think it shows absolute trust and confidence, and it's also a sign of respect for the man who helped develop and pilot the Ducati Desmosedici for the last five years.

My bike was also looking STE - Sexier Than Ever!

Does it get any better than this? YES! And it will . . . .

Spent my Thursday morning here, taking care of some important business, and now it's time to go get dinner with Hiro. Italian again! hahahaha, gotta carbo-load, you know. Lots going on right now - see you guys soon!

August 13, 2007

I'm Back. Let's get it on.

It's time. Time to stop riding, and start writing. These are some of my first thoughts outside of California.

My break is over, and after three days in Barcelona, I'm ready to take up the challenge of racing in the World Championship again. It's about time, because after roughly two weeks since the Red Bull USGP at Laguna Seca, I was starting to forget what it was like to be a part of this crazy whirlwind. The Team is coming back as strong as can be, and we've scheduled two additional days of testing after the Brno race this upcoming Sunday. That's five days on-track, and a lot can happen in five days.

There's so much I want to write about, and the last two race weeks were amazing. Sachsenring was full of highs and lows, and Laguna Seca was a another back-to-back up and downer. Actually, Laguna was a bit of a disaster, but we all did our jobs and hung in there, and the record will show another top ten performance by Barros and a stellar debut in the category by Chaz Davies, subbing for the injured Alex Hofmann, who was taken out by an errant Frenchman. The Hoff has been recovering from THIS with the help of Dr. Ting, and I'm hopeful that he can make a comeback at Misano in a few weeks.

While I'd like to start talking about the last races, I'd really rather catch up with how I've been feeling lately, what it was like to ride through the Bay Area again (and on a DUCATI!), and go through a bit more of what it's like. Maybe this should be Part 2, but there's no time now to clearly separate things. One thing is for sure, the weeks away were wild, bold, and beautiful.

I left Barcelona on July 10th for Germany, and I finally returned to Barcelona on the afternoon of August 10th. That meant a month out, and I packed accordingly. The big rig ( my Alpinestars 747 gear bag) and my smaller carry-on made it all the way through, laden with keepsakes for my friends back home and clothes aplenty. It was a rough trip, though, as the big bag was torn upon arriving to Dresden in (former) East Germany. Not a problem, because the on-track Alpinestars folks hooked me up and repaired it at the racetrack so I would be good for the journey home. I won't get fully into Germany right now, except to say that I had one of the busiest weeks of my life - until Laguna, that was. I was exhausted when I left for California, ultra early on Monday morning. Mentally, I was worried about both my riders, who each had suffered hand injuries that week, and also I was concerned about the bikes, because the distance to Laguna meant that emergency supplies from Ducati Corse in Bologna were not going to be there for me if anything serious went down in California. I should have had more faith, but my job is to plan for the worst, and worry the rest of the time. It was pointless to stress about it though, I had what I felt the Team needed and I knew that everything would work out in the end. It always does.

As soon as we were airborne, I knew I was coming down with a serious sickness, enough that I had chills the entire flight and slept with a blanket over my head the whole time. Like a body in the morgue. We touched down on Monday afternoon, thanks to a nine hour time difference between California and Central Europe, and I immediately took the boys to get some authentic Mexican Taco Truck food. We ate in the grass, sat the sun, and watched all the big flashy cars driving around Burlingame. Seemed like everyone had rims on their ride, and like almost everything, the exterior flash didn't match the true value within. I passed off the driving duties to Andrea when I was too tired to make it out to Monterey, and promptly passed out in the backseat. I would sleep for virtually the next two days. Wednesday brought us to the racetrack, and the work week began in earnest. I was so pumped, but still weak, and some trick vitamins from the Fujii clan slowly brought me back to the land of the ass-kickers. Skip past the race weekend, all the people I met, the photos that were taken, the nightmare for the Hoff, and everything else, and I was driving back to San Francisco with my friend Brad on Monday. Just in time for lunch at Foster's Freeze in Santa Cruz. I was still on the brink, tired, alert, but mostly tired. The adrenalin of being with my friends again kept me from sleeping, and after stashing my gear at Brad's place, we drove south down the 101 to Ducati North America's corporate headquarters, in sunny Cupertino. I was there to pick up a Sport 1000 S, which John Canton had made available to me for the duration of my stay. It was something I have difficulty explaining, because it meant so much to me to be able to ride again - and not just by borrowing a friend's bike. I'd have this one every day I was home, "like" it was mine. And this is where it got complicated. I loved riding it, and when I switched to a 999S in race colors, I loved ridiing that even more. I hadn't realized how much I missed the solitude of riding, the purity of being out there, all alone, me and the wheels. Popping out of the bubble for a high speed sweeper, lifting a wheel, and commuting. Yes! Commuting. What I had taken for granted so many times before was beautiful once again. I am a commuting monster. I love reading the traffic patterns, watching the wheels, the people's heads, the applying of make-up, the cel phones, the nose-picking, the endless procession of slow moving cars in line - I passed them all.

The keys to the bikes were yet another blessing and a curse. Another chance for me to show the split in my life - the personal, the private, the work related, the MotoLiam related, etc (it never stops). I know I will probably alienate some of you by saying this, but sometimes I felt like I was on the run. Always running. Running to a meeting here, a beer there, lunch over that way, running away from people, running to see people, running to check my email, and just running, running, running. My friends have all gotten married, or had children, or are about to be married, and these are huge steps that I envy. I wanted to see them all, laugh with the children, let parents vent, rejoin and participate, reconnect and talk about everything I'd missed. Seeing some of the domestic issues, I felt like I'd been sleeping these past two years. I honestly don't think about things like that when I'm on the move. It's always about the next race, the next event. There's planning to be done, preparations. People in my life fall by the wayside - they fall out of my head. I become so single-minded, so focused, I lose sight of my friends. I stayed in California to eat, which is what I tell myself, but really, I was there to see all my friends and just hang out, no races, no drama (HA! Impossible!), nothing but a chance to relax. I did and I didn't.

I tell you, it's so easy in America. I see with different eyes now. You want something? Want to buy something, do something, eat something, ANYTHING, and you can. I've never seen a place brimming with so much possibility and potential. I hope that is not lost on anyone living and working in the USA.

Anyway. I rode up and down the peninsula, and when I could, I'd sit at my favorite cafe, Fantasia, near 280 and Wolfe, have a boba tea, use the phone constantly, and just people watch. It happened three times, and they were all good times. I would ask myself the same questions, and I checked in on my commitment and desire to race. The fire burns as brightly as ever, but the longer I'm out, the more I look at my friend's lives, the more I wonder about who I would be if I'd stuck around. I'm not writing now to express anything negative, I just hope that everyone can take a moment and think about why we do certain things and make certain choices.

I love racing, which is why I'm here.

Almost forgot - here's a Song for Brno! Now let's race!

August 03, 2007

MotoLiam on!

Hey Everyone,

Thanks for the compliments about the article! That was really fun to put together, and I guess compared to some of the other guys, I might have been a bit long-winded, hahaha. But the company is great! Stuart Shelton, Michael Bartolomy, and more great GP folk to come! And although I have no idea when that photo was taken (probably Assen, because I was having trouble with my eyes), it looked cool!

I'm putting together a little thank you project for Ducati USA and Oakley and I hope it turns out as well as some of the photos. Gotta stay busy during the summer break! The main problem I feel I've been running into is the traffic in the Bay Area. Seems like I lose so much time commuting and trying to touch base with people. It's been great. Obviously, I'm not riding the Sport 1000 S right now, but instead have access to a 999S, on full Ohlins with the awesome four pad calipers. It rides like a dream, and I'm loving it. In fact, I've been burning it up a little bit and not getting enough things done just because I like riding it so much!

I really want to say that I've had a fabulous time meeting with you guys around town, at Ace, or Lucky 13, even Zeitgeist! It's just hanging out and talking bikes again (in English!) that feels good, and without the pressure of a race or a workday tomorrow, I'm really trying to revel in the holiday. Which is weird, because although I spend a couple hours a day on the phone and writing correspondence with people, I find I'm still behind on the emails. Even weirder, I know the Japanese are working 36 hours a day to get ready for Brno and the rest of the season. It's a shame that Europe closes for August . . . . but we'll see what happens as the season plays out. Not much time left until we're back in full swing! Time to ride!