September, 2007

September 19, 2007

The Hoff is Off - Gran Prix of Japan.

As many of you already know, Alex Hofmann was let go from the Pramac Ducati Team earlier this week. I want to choose my words carefully, so I'm not going to write about that subject until I've had more time to reflect, and to be honest, this week has been quite emotional for a variety of reasons.

I'm not sure where the time has gone since the race in Estoril, but we lost a day travelling from Portugal to Japan, and tomorrow work starts early in the morning because our flight containers arrived a day later than normal - meaning we're pulling double duty on Thursday to prepare for Friday. Alongside Alex Barros, we'll be joined by Shinichi Itoh, a rider who's career spans nearly as long as Barros'! This will be the sixth MotoGP rider I will have worked with in less than two years within the Championship, from Hofmann, Cardoso, Silva, Barros, Davies, and now Itoh. To help get in the mood for the Gran Prix of Japan, here's some music and a funny video clip on Youtube about how to eat sushi.

Motegi 1

Motegi 2


September 11, 2007

Estoril, Get Ready - 'Cause Here We Come!

I'm off in a few minutes, the time has come to get over to Portugal for the Estoril GP. Unlike last season, I won't be flying to Madrid and then driving the rest of the way. Instead, I'm flying directly from BCN to Lisbon! This is great news, and I'm overjoyed. No wasting of hours and hours this year, we're on a mission. I'm so happy, that we'll be featuring 2 songs to get pumped and ready for this important race. The time has come! Massive shout out and thank you to Jay R. for tracking down and sending me the coolest and most appropriate of G-Shocks to wear while we're at the races. Red and white is just right! Expect a full write-up on my newest timepiece shortly - Thanks again, Jay!

GP07 Estoril 1-- The genres this song bridges are not to be missed!

GP07 Estoril 2-- The Funkier, Fresher version of the previous song, haha. One of my favorites!

See you guys at the track, catch me if you can! Should be a bunch of crazy people there, and the track-workers are notorious for their passion about the races. Maybe I'll run into the guys I met in Shanghai? Time to GO!!!!!!!

Oh, and here's some video clips of Historias Sobre Ruedas, the Spanish Moto-Documentary series, from Laguna Seca at this year's Red Bull USGP.

Laguna Part 1

Laguna Part 2

Laguna Part 3

Laguna Part 4


September 09, 2007

GP07 Misano GP, Race 13 "Misery in Misano" Part 2

Looking for results.

Before we set up the pit-box panels, I snapped this horribly low reading tachometre on the garage wall. Just think, the 3T test bike goes even higher . . . much higher.

The big story of the weekend was the torrential downpour we suffered on Friday at lunchtime. I didn't see a ton of material on this when I checked the internet sites later, but let me tell you, it came down on Friday like I never would have expected. The weather when we got to Italy was great, too hot, even. Bright sunshine, clear skies, not a worry in the world. And then on Friday: Ka-Boom! Thunder and lightning during the morning free practice session? This was as ominous as it gets . . . and it only got worse. Unfortunately for me, I missed seeing most of the clouds coming in because I was spending my time in the racetruck working on some files. I skipped going to lunch because I wanted to get some things done without Team members barging in and interrupting me, and the quiet was good. I got a lot accomplished, but every hour or so the power would cut out at the circuit and everything in the truck would die - like the lights. Eventually, the power outages got to be too much, so I decided to go get some food. Thankfully, Alpinestars had given me one of their huge track umbrellas (just like a grid girl, har har!) so I figured I was going to stay pretty dry with all the rain coming down . . .

I was wrong! I was wrong! I jumped out of my truck (locking the door behind me - we are in Italy, you know), flipped open my giant umbrella, and tried running down the side of my truck to get to the hospitality unit. DOH! There was a RIVER running under all the trucks, especially on our side of the paddock garages. We were lucky enough to be on the downslope so all the water was coming our way. I ducked back, headed upstream, and tried crossing between the Suzuki trucks next to us, and then the Kawi and Yamaha trucks further on. No luck. I was going to have to cross the fjord one way or the other, and by this point, my shoes were already completely soaked through and my socks were totally wet. What the heck, I thought, just go for it. I plowed through as fast as I could, useless, I know, and when I got across, I quickly ran to get something to eat. Well, I wouldn't call it running, because I was drenched and there wasn't much point in hurrying. I squished my way into our hospitality unit, grabbed some pasta, and hung out with the rest of the team who were watching the camera feeds from around the circuit. We saw the flood coming in, but we weren't ready for what came next.

It wasn't until the video feed showed the Marlboro Ducati garage filled with water that we realized our box was flooding. And I mean full of water, several inches deep. That kind of kicked us back into action and we rushed back to the garage to find that everything on the ground was submerged. Things like all the power strips running the tire warmers, all the personal effects (Paolo had a 500GB hard drive in his hardpack - and it was full of 500GB's of water), everything was drenched. And the water was slightly muddy, meaning that we would have to clean everything if we were going to salvage anything.

This is about an hour after the rains had stopped. We weren't able to get rid of the water for a long time, because just outside our garage bay doors, there was even more water running past. It wasn't until that had mostly cleared that we were able to open the doors and start pushing the water outside with whatever we could, like brooms, large pieces of plastic board (with rider's names on it, from the pit board), and anything else we could get our hands on. It was the same for almost all the teams, and we were (kind of) lucky that it happened at a European round, because most of us had replacement carpet in the trucks. Replacement carpet?? Thaaatt's right. Eventually we pulled all our equipment out of the garage, ripped the soaking carpet off the floor, and laid down new stuff when everything was dry enough to let the double stick tape do it's thing.

Because the track was so wet, we knew the settings were going to have to be adjusted accordingly. Lele backed off the compression two clicks. We would be ready, no matter what.

Meanwhile, the mechanics had fun calling their wives and girlfriends, "Check it out, we are flooded." I know Barros is an amazing rain rider, but even this was a little much for his #1, Marco, to deal with.

Anyway, the rain, and the subsequent garage rebuilding, meant that Friday was a very long day, and after the heat from Wednesday and Thursday, we were all pretty beat. Saturday was a longer than usual day (and earlier morning, too) because the two Friday sessions that had been cancelled we slightly rescheduled. Slightly in that the morning free practice on Saturday would be two hours long, and would start one hour earlier than normal. We jumped back and forth with the set-up, always looking for an incremental jump up the timesheets, but it just wasn't clicking. We struggled with Qualifying in the afternoon, ended up 17th and 19th on the grid, and things were looking grim. The only ray of light was that our race pace was better than the qualifying showed, so I was confident we would make up some ground.

I was right, and both riders started cutting through the field during the race. Barros charged up into 7th, but then he broke down as he was still advancing. My heart just sank when I saw the bike in the gravel on the side of the track. What happened? We had no idea, only that one side of the garage was done. Many of Ducati Corse's engineers were at the race, not to mention many of our sponsors and the people from Pramac, so it was even more stressful. All eyes focused on the comeback ride of the Hoff, and he was pushing past people despite his hand injury. Sure, the wounds had closed, but the damage was internal and we didn't know if it would last throughout the race. The thumb brake and clutch had been modified slightly to allow Alex to fight with all he had, and as he passed Guintoli he gave a little wave to show that his hand was on the mend - and on the gas!

The race was another blow-out for Casey Stoner, and he was followed home by both Rizla Suzuki's. It was an amazing sight, those beautiful blue bikes crossing the line. When I was waiting outside our garage for the Barros bike to be returned, I caught a couple guys from the Suzi team standing around. The two crews were nervous, because at that point no one knew which Suzuki would finish in front of the other - and which crew would have bragging rights that night! With both Hopkins and Vermeulen tied in points going into the race, this was a battle to determine who would be tops. John has been with the team for a couple years, while Chris is only in his second with the British squad. John's leaving for Kawasaki next season - but I'm sure he wants to finish this season as best he can, and with the run he's been having lately, I'm sure his results are only going to get better. Later in the afternoon, the whole crew came out for a photo in pitlane, and I could see that everyone was tired but really, really satisfied. I want that. I want to know that I worked to get on that box again. I want to know that everything I'm going through will have a purpose, a meaning. That purpose is to win races.

Why were the Suzuki's so fast in Misano? Only they know . . .

September 08, 2007

GP07 Misano GP, Race 13 "Magical Misano" Part 1

What an area - right on the water, quaint little towns running connected along the coastside, a historic racetrack - everything looked fantastic! But . . . . .

looks can be deceiving.

This was one of those really strange race weeks, where I was very happy to have gone there, very happy to have welcomed back Alex Hofmann to full MotoGP competition, but ultimately pretty bummed by the race because one of my bikes didn't finish when Alex Barros suffered an electrical issue during the race. So, it was a mixed bag - magic and misery.

I flew into Bologna's airport, waited a little bit for everyone else to arrive, and then we jumped into our team transporters (read: rental vans), and took off for Rimini, San Marino. We stopped along the way for some road grub, then navigated our way towards the circuit to pick up the guys who drove the semi-trucks there. The gas station/diner we stopped at had a little mini-mart, and it had a nice little display set up. I'm pretty sure this is here all year round, and wasn't just for the GP weekend. One thing I need to mention, it is 2007, and I now own a 7 megapixel Casio digital camera. How is it possible to take such a horrible photo?!? ARGH!

We pulled into Misano circuit, everyone kind of sleepy from the intense heat, but we put down the Nintendos and PSP's and took a walk to check out the facilities. The track itself is gorgeous - and the paddock garages we would be using were new, not here when the GP's last visited (or even a few years ago). I said hi to a couple of the other team-folk, and chatted a little bit with the guys from Tech 3. They really put in some long hours and some longer days, because this season they finally have their own hospitality unit, and all the mechanics and technicians show up early to build it. They also stay later, because after the race is done and their trucks are packed, they break down the hospitality the next day. I really gotta hand it to those guys - they work HARD. Hopefully next season they'll pull a big sponsor and be able to hire a separate crew to work the Hosp. Anyway, my guys finished parking the rigs and it was time to head out to the hotel to check-in and drop off our gear.

I spent a few minutes checking out the Hot-Rodded BMW's that check the track before each race. This is a sharp looking machine, but until I actually put some miles on one, I can't comment on whether or not I'd really like it. Function over form - Every Time!! Then again, I'm not Italian. I happen to like tractors - that pull like freight trains!

Can you believe the whole fleet goes around the world with us? I once got dusted by a rogue Z8 headed up the 101, and I've had some measure of respect for the higher end beemers since. Course, I was geared to top out at 105. Braaapp!

Ok, back to Misano, haha. We piled in the cars and made it to our hotel, the Alexander, on the edge of the city along the coast. The beach area is made up of several (many) connected little towns, and the main one is Riccione. We were two towns over in Gabicce Mare, but within walking distance of some of the cool things, like the night area in Cattolica. I wasn't sure what to expect, as we hadn't been here before, but our hotel was amazingly cool, with excellent staff, cold drinks, and unfortunately, only one computer down in the lobby and no in-room internet service of any kind. Doh! If you come to Misano next year, this would be a nice hotel to get if you want a little privacy. Not to mention it's 100 yards from one of the top discotecques in the region, the Baia Imperiale.

We checked in with a minimum of fuss, and checking the clocks it was just shy of 5PM - plenty of daylight left to enjoy on a Tuesday afternoon in Italy! Most of the team wears the Axio Hardpacks that Bob Haro made for us, it's a nice way to show how much we appreciate the gear and it's a fabulous way to advertise the sponsors and show that we're a team. Big Thumbs up to Bob!

The hotel was a couple stories tall, with a clean and new interior. Stylish!

Yup, still stylish. We are definitely in Italy now.

I arrived shortly before my roomate, so I settled in and checked the place out. Two beds? CHECK. Fancy furniture? Check (and this was actually cool - not the normal bare necessities place we are usually at). And a balcony? WOO-HOOO!!! I could just tell that this was going to be one of those places that was a real treat.

I had been lucky enough to the get corner, or end unit on my floor. At first, I was a little annoyed, because that meant I had the longest walk to my room every night (and I'm not sure why, but I ALWAYS seem to get the farthest room from the elevators, lobby, civilization). However, the end unit had some spectacular views, including this one of the little pool downstairs. I'm not exactly sure, but I could have sworn I heard someone jumping in from one of the upper floors of the hotel! Yee-Haw! That is one of those crazy things that just makes me smile. Eat your heart out, Pastrana!

Turning to my right, I was greeted with one of the most beautiful vistas I've come across in a while, the Adriatic! This was so reminiscient of my home, I couldn't help but start smiling, and start shimmying down so I could jump in the water!

I threw on some trunks, grabbed a towel and a (GASP!) fannypack, and hurriedly crossed the street to find a narrow, winding path that led down to the beach area. Yeah, yeah, I have a fannypack. I bought it for 5 bucks at Target, and it holds all my bathroom supplies. I usually clip it to whatever towel holder/bar is next to the sink in the hotels we go to because it saves counterspace when there's two people to a room. Some of the bathrooms we've gotten are pretty small, but I gotta say, the one in the Alexander was H-U-G-E. Seriously, I think it was bigger than my room back in Barcelona.

Can you believe this is a part of my MotoGP adventure?!?

I scouted the beach to find the safest spot for my gear, but I needn't have worried. The beach was full of stumpy, obese, and elderly folks. This is the home of the "round-shoulder". I don't think they could have run away from me, but after Catalunya 06, I don't take any chances. Honestly, this was one of the rare times I've actually gone to a beach without a reason why. Growing up, I would hit the water to A) SURF, B) FISH, or C) eat a plate lunch while watching people do A or B. I was never the type to go and read a book, or just hang out. Except at night. Then the rules are a little different because the Moon comes out, hahaha.

A little while later, some other Team guys showed up, and after they splashed around in the water a little, they started doing what comes natural for the Spanish in the summertime (especially when they're at the beach!). I stayed in the water for a bit, pruning up, and was very surprised by the consistency of the sand. It was ultra fine, and was mixed with a light algae, making it kind of slick and slimey. This could also be because the shore was blocked off by a large rock jetty, preventing the in and out flow of the freshest water. Not sure. One thing I noticed was how salty the water was. It was very easy to stay buoyant, and when I later dried off, a thick layer of crystals developed in the sunshine.

Dragging my toes through the sandy floor, I would constantly pull up these small hermit crabs. There were tons of them, buried about two inches below the surface.

Eventually, I walked over to a beachside cafe with one of the boys and I had a beer. It was pretty chill, just sitting around with the sun setting, and we had fun watching a bunch of people playing badminton (whatever the beach variant is). That night I decided to go walking through the small town of Gabicce, which is filled with small streets lined with little stores and pizza parlors. One interesting stall was an outdoor art gallery.

Another reason I really enjoyed this place was because of all the waterways coursing through the towns. A small river provided a physical boundary between Gabicce and Cattolica, and it was lined with boats of one kind or another. This restaurant looked great, smelled great, but was out of my budget for the night (err, week, haha). Cattolica was like a suped up version of Gabicce, with bigger streets, brighter lights, better stores and restaurants, you name it. I stuck to Gabicce more, though, because it was quieter.

There was a loading dock that would pick up the boats for repair or cleaning, and a couple big ships were sitting on stilts nearby. The smell of the sea was potent, and the seaside restaurants were mostly seafood places. How could they not be?!?

While walking around and people watching (seemed like mostly tourists like me in the streets - but all Italian), I ran across this great little whip, rolling on phatty 13's!

This might possibly be one of the best, if not THE best, combination of two of my motorized favorites - the Mini (and all other micro-cars), and station wagons! I've had the biggest, a '79 Chevy Caprice Classic, a Turbo Volvo (Nordic Edition - wipers on the headlights!!), and small cars, too, and about the only thing cooler would be a sidecar attached to my Honda Monkey so that I could tour around with my chihuahua, Spike. This is close, though. OMG - CARGO DOORS!!

There's a couple other reasons why this area is so cool - namely food related. It is said that the best food in all of Italy comes from this region, and I'm inclined to believe them! Sergio and I went out one night and he introduced me to Piadine (PEE-AH-DEE-NEH, a flat bread made in the area), which was old school. I can definitely imagine ancient Romans eating this stuff, and it was cheap, too! Big shout out to Jay, for throwing a bunch of videos onto my spare hard drive, namely the HBO show, Rome. After watching a couple episodes, I can really see the resemblance with the locals here. It's like time hasn't changed - or rather, the people in the show are from modern days, haha.

I know you are all jealous as heck, so to make everyone feel better, I had TWO instead of just one. I had one for you!

Places stayed open pretty late here, the stores I mean, but when I figured it was a good idea to get some rest for the work week I headed back. Several of the Team brought their bicycles and rode to the circuit in the morning. This is the roadbike duo, mechanics #1 and #2 for "El Hoff", Martin and Michaele. They are awesome guys to work with. Sooo, that's the background of the area we were staying in and racing at, and Part 2 will feature a little bit more track-oriented material . . .

Oh boy, I am so excited that Estoril and Motegi are right around the corner! We're getting down to the nitty-gritty, and this is when it all counts. I know the Championship is pretty much on lock-down, but we're on the cusp of finishing in the Top Ten in points with both my riders, and I want to be in there!