October, 2007

October 30, 2007

Off To Valencia

Sepang's write-up will have to wait, because it's time for me to jump into Felix' Mercedes station wagon and bomb down to Valencia at high speed. Hopefull we take the coastal route that I once took with Raul Jara in late 2005. To keep the energy up along the way, I'll be listening to a wide range of music, with a couple choice tracks from the Shoot 'Em Up soundtrack, and also these two:

GP07 Valencia 1-- I love MotoGP, I love the racing. This simple, high-energy song makes me smile - just like the races. I'm going into Valencia to finish this season that I started so long ago.

GP07 Valencia 2-- The Remix! I'm going to Valencia to put the wrap on 2007, as next season begins for me officially on November 5th. Bring on 2008!

October 27, 2007

2 Years In

This weekend marks the Two Year Anniversary of my having left the Bay Area and relocated to Barcelona, Europe, and the World.

In that time I've seen so much, experienced a lot of personal and professional growth, and consciously tried to keep my feet on the ground (not literally) and stay in touch with the friends I left in California and Hawaii, and also the many new friends that I've made at the races around the world.

I spent parts of Friday and Saturday reviewing my travels and photos, both from this website and also from the Bay Area Rider's Forum (Barf) , and I find it simply incredible that the motorcycle community as a whole has been deeply supportive of me and my dreams. It doesn't matter which kind of bike people ride, or which country they're from, it's a simple bond that connects all people that put themselves out there, in the wind. Whether they're into laying it all on the line, casual commuters, or just making their bike unique and different from the rest, we all share this link, and it's this spirit of motorcycling that has helped keep me motivated when times weren't so good and I didn't have a job. The period from September '05 through January '06 marks the longest period that I have been out of work since my earlier days in highschool, and as you're all aware, it was in June of '06 that I joined Pramac D'antin and began my career in MotoGP. Things happened faster than I could have imagined since that fantastic Mugello race, and while it feels like a lifetime has passed, I know deep down that this is only just the beginning. The start.

2007 brought about a new job for me within the Team structure, and I eagerly stepped up to learn as much as I could, and provide for my Team as best I could - because at the end of the day, we're a small group of racing fanatics and each and every one of us is critical. In a way, I no longer view us as only supporting the rider, or the sponsors, but instead I think that we're all living a dream, chasing the Big Speed, the Big Dream. The rider dreams of winning, the mechanics dream of winning, the staff dream of winning, the sponsor dreams of winning. It all boils down to this idea, this dream, this spirit of competition that is so vital to humanity.

2007 also brought me to a new apartment in Barcelona, with new roomates and a new area. It was a fresh start and it helped reinvigorate me and put some of the sparkle back in living in Barcelona (if you can imagine that!). I'm still in contact with my old flatmates, though, and we all had a fantastic birthday dinner last night for Hiro (three years running now, haha).

And for 2008? Well, traditionally with the D'antin Team, plans for next season are finalized in Valencia at the final race, and oftentimes agreements aren't met until early December. For myself, I envision another year of learning, and hopefully with more responsibility and a greater understanding of what it takes to be part of a successful team. I don't want to stop, I don't want to quit. I can't.

For my anniversary dinner, I prepared a simple Chinese egg noodle dish with black mushrooms, bamboo, and beef for my roomates, Carla and Aina. They take good care of the apartment when I'm away at the races, and always welcome me back with a smile. We watched a few movies over dinner and a bottle of Champagne, and then it was time to get out and celebrate in style!

The next night, I met up with Hiro for his 26th birthday celebration, and it was more good food, laughter, and good times. Happy Birthday, Hiro!

Looking back through all my photos (more than 3 thousand at this point), I think that one of my absolute favorites comes from a day trip I took with a great friend to the Sintra Castle a few hours outside of Lisbon in early '06. The future was uncertain, the skies were simply ominous, and as we trekked higher and higher up the mountain, things began to fall into focus, and soon I was on top of the world looking out at everything around me. The whole time the wind continued to blow, strong and fierce. The winds of change are never still.

More photos of Sintra HERE

October 25, 2007

GP07 Australia, Quiet and Cold Phillip Island (Long)

Less than two weeks since I was last in Australia, home of hearty people, hearty laughter, and particularly in Phillip Island, unpredictable and often freezing weather! The biggest hurdle the paddock had to overcome was the initial transit to this far-off paradise nestled near the southern tip of the Australian continent, a virtual stone's-throw from the Antarctic (in flyman's terms). For the first time in recent memory, at least among my team's older and more experienced travellers, we were flying straight to Australia from Europe, without a stop at either Motegi or Sepang first. It was something like 30+ hours before we were able to hit the sheets at our hide-away on the isle, but it was fun seeing how hard everyone was pushing to get back to the races, to get back into the race. Most will likely remember the fantastic get-up that local hero, Chris Vermeulen, was sporting, which consisted of a Barry Sheene Suzuki replica paintjob, replica leathers, and helmet, but they'd be overlooking yet another slam-dunk by Casey Stoner, who ran away with the race in dominating fashion once again. Chris flashed me the high sign while staging on the grid, but his luck in the race wasn't the same as in 2006. Nonetheless, this was a serious race and although the Championship had already been wrapped up by Stoner and his crimson Corse missle, this was a racer's race, and all the rider's wanted to win this race at a track that everyone unanimously enjoys.

I flew out to Amsterdam first, the dawn flight testing my morning resolve, and somehow on the way over from Holland to Malaysia, the cold, dry air on the flight left me with a sore throat. I almost felt feverish. We landed early in Kuala Lumpur, so early that most of the stores and restaurants weren't even open yet. The passengers on our flight milled around for a bit, then as soon as places started to raise their gates, everyone shuffled in to the bars and restaurants to get some "real" food. I had quite possibly the worst pizza of my life at the Sbarro joint. Fortunately, after a few hours we left Malaysia and I bundled up for a chilly flight to Melbourne, sandwiched in the very center seat of the row between the noisiest of my Spanish team mates. It didn't matter even once, because I mummified myself and passed out immediately, waking up after we had landed. The shortest 9 hours EVAR! While I was happy that I missed out on the long flight dragging on and on, I had woken up feeling horrible. I spent the next hour working my way through Australia's very strict customs service, where I was asked by about four different people for my passport - even while standing in a crowd while waiting for my luggage! Much to my delight, my bags all showed up (unlike poor Andrea, who was without his gear for almost three days) and I was off through yet another check-out and examination counter to explain that the big boxes I was bringing in were filled with "motorbike parts" for the upcoming GP. I had some trick wheels from Marchesini with me, as well as some sprockets and such. It was much faster to explain that they were for a bicycle for some reason, and were not ninja stars, hahaha. Once I cleared everything, I hurried outside and ran into my Daggy, the patriarch of my Aussie family unit. I was zoned out and kind of a zombie, so I wasn't able to launch into my usual high-energy self. In fact, I just about passed out and ended up sleeping from the airport to our dinner joint, Lazy Moe's. I'm not sure why, but everyone working in the place lived up to the moniker, moving slow and not a care in the world. I slept the rest of the way to Phillip Island, fully clothed in jeans, shirt, and sweater, and before I even realized it I was bundled up in bed with the electric blanket warmers cranked up to full, still fully clothed. I didn't even notice.

Two days later when I woke up, it was Wednesday, and it was time to "GET IT ON!". My nap had done me some good, and I was ready to go. We arrived to the track bright and early (and this is why these photos are so great - they clearly show how varying the weather is here - changes every ten minutes or so, hahaha), and we built up the garage in record time. We had a lot of work to do converting the bikes over because Chaz Davies was coming to ride, and also the usual changing of engines and so on.

Step one - change the rider board! At this point, we had gone four races with four different riders.

While the weather had been sunny and cold the first days we were in Australia, by Friday morning things had started to change. Predictions for Sunday's race were mixed, but everyone was leaning towards the idea that it would be another bike-swapping, wet and dry race. I hoped not.

Chaz showed up, and it was the first time we'd seen him since Laguna. Everyone said hello and we proceeded to get done to it. We needed more data to study his riding style, and the weather wasn't giving us a clean shot at the racetrack, so everything was subjective.

Friday morning's Free Practice one brought us a small crash that seemed innocuous at the time, but upon closer inspection was actually a series of small, somewhat complicated repairs that took longer than expected. The boys worked hard and the bike was back to full strength for FP2. It was an odd crash, to say the least, as there didn't appear to be any reason for it, and mere seconds after Chaz went down, Stoner also fell in the exact same spot, in the exact same way. Probably something on the track.

Ready, Set, FP2! One thing about having races in English speaking countries is that I'm more recognized in the paddock, and I end up with more visitors. It's always cool to meet with MotoGP entusiasts around the world, but I usually try to make stuff like that happen in the evenings. Unfortunately, there's just not enough time to see everyone, and as they say, the action is in the paddock! I should also mention that throughout the weekend, it was COLD. To the point where everyone was bundled up in sweaters, jackets, and me in my trusty Alpinestars beanie that I picked up at Motostrano back in the states.

The earlier days of the week were my favorite because I was able to hang out with my Aussie crew, Dags, Tezza, Vanessa, and Theresa (the chocolate chip cookie). We had dinner in the small town of Cowes and whether it was at the fancy new place, or a simple sandwich, the food was always good and the conversation was light-hearted and hilarious. Here's my first sampling of Wallaby, a smaller version of a Kangaroo. Like a total goof, I forgot to take photos of all of us those nights. DOH!

Later that night, I saw the funkiest police vehicle ever - a bright yellow and orange high speed pursuit vehicle. The boys pulled over so I could take a picture, but I hadn't counted on the flash taking the color out and only showing the reflective material. Apparently, road deaths are up, so these outrageous cars are being sent out to remind people to take it easy on the freeways.

One day at the track, a whole mess of Mustangs showed up. You could hear them rumbling around through the parking lot, and then at some point in the afternoon they made a lap of the circuit with all the riders. It was very cool, but everyone was wearing white mechanics gloves. It was cold!

Matt showed up over the course of the weekend, bearing snacks of one kind and another. It was great, and he was able to pick up the last available Squadra Delle Pecore Nere shirt that I'd been holding for him since the Laguna round.

Matt brought me a really cool shirt from a fantastic little shop called DEUS that specializes in one of my favorite styles of bike, the Street-Tracker! Spindly little forks complemented by full Ohlins in the rear, not to mention the overly powerful Brembo monoblocks hauling the little 400 down to speed on those bias-ply tires, hahaha. There's something about wretched excess and motorcycles that just goes together. Bring It!

US announcer Greg White showed up to chat during a lunch break, regaling me with tales of crazy outback enduro adventures, and Cycle World's Matt Miles taking a serious shot when he ran into a tree at a good clip. Hope you're feeling better, Matt!

And another reason why Austalia was the perfect place to make The Road Warrior. These are a driving people!

Did I just say something about driving? The older couple, Norma and John, that runs the rental home we stay at usually takes off three months a year to go travelling. Where? How? They drive this little self-sufficient RV throughout Australia just meadering around. When the Team is staying at the house, they stay in the truck, too.

If you're looking for a beautiful, well maintained, and modern place to stay at when you visit Phillip Island (not during the GP week, however) you can check out Banksia Park Estate. It's a great, welcoming place, and I recommend it.

The views from the house are outstanding, and you can hear all sorts of animals making noise at night, and if you're lucky you'll see horses, monkeys, and beyond.

Here's something cool I came across, the trophy presented to Loris Capirossi and Ducati Corse at the Japanese Gran Prix. This was Loris' third win in a row at the Motegi circuit, and I hope he can challenge for the win again next season when he's riding the Suzuki. How cool was it for Loris to pull out another win!

Along the weekend, I ran into Fezzick, a true motorcycling enthusiast. He rode nearly 3000 KM to see the race! That's like going cross country in the USA, and as a small reward, he ran into Westie and Chris Vermeulen, too! Thanks for the photos, Fezz, hope to see you next year!

Fezz caught me catching up with young Stevie Bonsey, who I try to check in on when I can. Here's hoping he's learning a lot this first year in 125's and getting ready for an assault on 250 sometime soon! Hey, there's my hat! Normally, I had to take it off because it totally clashed with my outfit, haha.

Raceday came, and the morning was dark and wet. We pulled into the circuit hoping to improve the bikes a bit after Qualifying, and we were all excited because with Alex Barros had been consistent and fast throughout all the sessions, no matter what the weather. It was our best race start of the year, thus far. Warm-up was extra important, because no one knew what to expect for the race, and sometimes you get this thought that you just busted your ass to get the bike ready for a race that will be completely different and all your information kind of goes out the window. This is where experience comes in, knowing how the bike works and what it's going to take to make it work if the weather changes. I was confident that we'd be ready.

Great moment of the weekend was when Randy Mamola came over to show me a bird that was hanging out mid-way down the mainstraight, right on the side of the track. The bikes would go ripping past and ful song, and this bird just kept hanging out, pecking in the grass. It's like he was totally used to it. I watched him for a while, waiting to see when he would spook, but he never did. Crazy Australian Bird.

And going from one crazy bird to another, this girl must have been freezing! She's talking with former World Champion, Franco Uncini (he checks out the tracks to make sure they're up to FIM standards every now and then). Not sure how she managed to deal with the cold in that outfit, but then again, she is Canadian.

And then I caught Vanessa two-timing up with Pasini's group! Grrrr, hahahaha

Turns out she was just warming up her Umbrella goodness.

The race went off without a hitch, the weather staying fairly bright and Stoner just crushing the field. We scored our fourth top five of the season, but weren't able to really move up on Nicky Hayden for ninth position in the championship standings, despite his motor letting go while he was in contention for the win. Actually Nicky was the only rider who looked capable of challenging Stoner for the win, so it was a shame that he DNF'd. After the race, we packed the garage as fast as we could, because we had a midnight flight out of Melbourne, and we still had a 2+ hour drive to get to the airport.

I was lucky enough to say hi to an old friend from the Bay Area who was visiting the race, Ducky Fresh, and he got a good glimpse into what it's like to tear down the garage at high speed.

When everything was wrapped up, I said goodbye to my Aussie crew, starting with Dags.

Then I kissed the girls goodbye, 'Nessa and Chocochip.

And finally, Tezza. It was great seeing everyone again, and I can't wait to hang out and catch up in January for the pre-season tests.

The crowd for Casey after the race didn't let up for hours, and they were constantly cheering and chanting. It was a real special gift for Casey to be able win on homesoil for all the loyal Australians. They're fanatical about MotoGP, and they do the sport proud with their enthusiasm and high energy "vocalism". You should have heard the group that showed up in Malaysia the following week, "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oy Oy Oy!!!"

As the sun went down and the weekend drew to a close, the cold set in and everyone was shivering. This is a perfect photo of our vibe, we love racing, and we love to have a good time. Lele was bundled up with two sweaters, doing his best Cornholio, and he was still cold! But the biggest surprise was yet to come.

As we pulled out of the track sometime after seven, we ran into TRAFFIC! Holy Smokes, we were in Australia and there was traffic after a GP. This just goes to show how many people showed up for the race, haha. Goodonya, Aussie GP fans! We rolled back to the house (our luggage was in the car from the morning, in case we had to split directly for the airport after the race), and luckily we were able to get in a quick shower before heading to Melbourne. I had the Australian version of Burger King before the flight, and managed to buy one of the books I had been looking for in Barcelona to no avail at one of the kiosks, so that was a plus. The flight to Malaysia would be good, quiet, and restful. I spent half the flight reading and laughing, and I was ready to pounce upon Kuala Lumpur as soon as we landed, which is a story for another post.

October 18, 2007

Hot and Heavy in Malaysia

Back to Kuala Lumpur for some good foods and crazy shopping times. We landed on Monday at dawn, spent two days traversing the shopping areas of the city (which vary incredibly, from super high-end luxury malls, to digustingly dirty open stalls). The racetrack looks good, but I haven't had a chance to check out the resurfaced areas. It has been raining every afternoon, massive showers the last two days around 4PM, but a light shower today just after 1PM. Might make things tricky for Qualifying and Practice, as heavier showers are expected.

Rock out to this jam, which I heard on Lele's iPod (piped through the rental van's sound system).


Spent some time with a few of the guys who won't be coming back to the series next season, and the feelings are a little bit like a high school friend going away to college. I simply can't believe there's only two races left. I remember how long this war looked back in March and April. It'll be over before I know it, and then onwards and upwards. Oh well, at least I got my coconut.

October 08, 2007

GP07 Australia, Phillip Island

Coming to you live from KLIA, Kuala Lumpur Intl. Airport! It's 6:12AM, and I've been on the road for the last 20 hours. Luckily, we've got a chance to rest and re-group here in Malaysia for the next four hours before boarding our flight to Melbourne. Once we arrive in about 12 hours, we'll hotfoot it as best we can driving directly to Phillip Island, and hopefully stop for some good food instead of Mickey D's. Here's a little booster song to get us going for Australia:

Get it, for Aussie's sake!

During our 3.5 hour stop over in Amsterdam's Schipol airport (one of my absolute fav's!), three of us mobbed a PS2 display and played Tourist Trophy for at least an hour. It was great, as none of us had any experience with the game, but we pretty much knew all the real tracks and had a funny time trying outrageous bikes and riding styles, competing for top times. I couldn't wrap my head around the physics of the game engine, and I confess that I didn't do very well. Oh well - there's always real life!

I want to send some special congratulations to some of my old high school friends who are getting married this weekend and during Sepang's MotoGP race - sorry I couldn't be there in person to share in the glorious ocassion. Congratulations to Hae Young and Dave, Christie and Damon! My heartiest best wishes to you all. I expect to be fairly internet limited in Australia, as the rental house we stay in isn't equipped with the net for all, but I'll likely have some time in the evenings to continue choosing and editing the rest of my Motegi photos. I'm hopeful to run into a couple of old friends in Australia, like my adopted outback family, Matt L, and possibly a few California connections (Hi Andrew and Ducky!).

October 05, 2007

GP07 Japan, Motegi - "It Means Gamble" Part 1

Ok, so maybe Motegi doesn't mean Gamble, but it sure felt like it! Lots of things happened at the Japanese Gran Prix, but before we even got to the racetrack, we had to get there - and that's where the fun begins! I absolutely LOVE Japan, and I hope some of my enthusiasm bleeds off on you.

After leaving Portugal at dawn on Monday, flying to Frankfurt, and then boarding an older Lufthansa flight to Narita (Tokyo), we arrived mid-morning on Tuesday. Getting ahold of the rental car is always a time consuming process, but after about two hours the Team had shuttled over to the car lot and picked up our little vans. We quickly stuffed them full of our luggage and began making plans for our assault on Tokyo proper. Language difficulties ensued, and one of the prime reasons is that everyone was so eager to please and say "yes" that we were never really sure if people understood what we wanted. What we wanted to do was leave the rental cars on the lot, loaded with our gear, while we shuttled back to the airport so we could take the Express Train into Tokyo central. Later in the day, we would come back to pick up the cars and take off for Mito, about 2.5 hours from Tokyo. That's not so hard, is it? IT IS.

We made it back to the airport, exchanged some Euros for COLD HARD CASH (YAY!!!), and bought our train tickets. You could take the normal train to Tokyo, which is two hours worth of sleep, or spend a little more and take the Narita Express, which only takes about 50 minutes. It leaves every half hour, and that's the route we took. Once onboard, we learned you have to sit in a specific seat, but as the train was mostly empty, the boys sprawled out wherever they wanted and napped most of the way. Most of the team complained of being tired, so they didn't end up going to Tokyo, instead driving directly to Mito. The adventurous sorts came with us, and we were a pack of eight headed into the heart of the Rising Sun. I was too excited to sleep, so I stayed up talking with David, from Galacia, and we ordered some drinks and snacks when the food cart came around. It was surprisingly affordable for a sandwich and some cold coffee drinks (best I've found in cans anywhere in the world).

We finally got off at the appropriately named Tokyo Station, made plans to meet back at the 4:30PM, and split off to catch the local metro to Akihabara, the electronics district that features stores selling new and used gear at incredible prices. We were headed into Nerd Heaven, and I couldn't wait. The metro to Akihabara was quick and easy, and because we'd been on planes and in airports for the last 36 hours, the first thing we did was get to eating. I had already started, but that didn't stop me and Lele from finding a good Japanese sushi bar. Everyone else hit an "American" joint, complete with burgers and steaks. Gross! How can you eat that stuff when you're in Japan?!?

No seriously, do you know where the White Rabbit is?

After eating, we navigated our way through a maze of small streets and small stores, checking out used Cameras (which looked brand new) and other electronic doodads. I couldn't believe the prices, and because I was already set up for it, I picked up a 2004 Sony handheld camera on the cheap. This was going to be the next camera for me, as it featured MACRO, and I had memory sticks and extra batteries just waiting for it back in Spain. That's right, I'm officially off the Casio and back in the Sony fold. Phew, it feels so good to be using something I'm familiar with, even if it is a couple years old.

While walking around, you're constantly noticing how different things are here. It's not just the way people dress, it's how radically goofy everything can look when you're from the US or Europe. Strange costumed girls handing out fliers, giant 7 story mega-stores selling everything from iPods to Rolexes to luggage, tiny specialty shops that only sell porno video games, it's truly bizarre. And the bikes! Woot! This little Suzuki had some of the fattest knobbies I've seen in a while, and like older Harleys, it too, marked it's spot.

Mister Mister? Not quite, but Mister Donut is a dieter's nightmare. I swear, I gained a kilo just smelling the air when I walked past this place.

We ran into guys from Kawasaki wandering around, chatted with Davide Brivio and a couple peeps from Fiat Yamaha, and I was surprised how many other Team folks had made the journey into Akihabara. Turns out everyone was looking for the Video Nano iPod. I'm so sick of the scroll wheel, there's no way I'll be running one of those again. I had my eye on other goodies. Namely, true to this year's pattern, I picked up another hat! "Is this Pimp, or what?"

No, no, this is how Rocky looked!

Or did Rocky look like this? Special thanks to my Italians for modelling so well, Lele, Andrea, and Sergio.

I came across this cool mid-nineties Monkey, complete with rider! I don't understand how he could have left it "stock" for this long. Modify or die! In all things.

Even though we'd just been to a bicycle store in Estoril, we still managed to find another one in Japan. After just having translated the press release that cut Hofmann from the team, I thought this was strange to see. One crew had no idea who we'd be working with at the Japan race, because time was short and we were on the opposite side of the planet from Europe. Would we be having an easier weekend with only one rider in the race? We had no idea at this point.

With all the travel we'd been going through, I hadn't been riding my bike a lot through Barcelona, instead preferring to walk most of the time. Seeing all the nice, trick equipment got my mind running again. "Man, I wish I was in better shape, hahaha" On out way out of Akihabara (where I learned you can bargain somewhat with the smaller vendors) I caught this war wagon just hanging out. Turns out you also can't smoke in public or on the streets there, so passing little bars/cafes you'd see smoke billowing out while everyone was jam packed inside puffing away.

We caught our trains back to Narita airport, everyone taking time to show off the goods we'd collected, and then we got lost trying to find Mito because our onboard Nav equipment was completely incomprehensible and it led us around in circles. It took much longer than expected to make it to the hotel, but eventually we found it, checked in, and had dinner. Our shipping containers weren't arriving to the circuit until Wednesday night, so instead of starting our normal routine the next day, we slept in and had a free day in Mito to wander around and just cruise. A few of us had a nice combination meal of Miso Ramen at a small place, possibly with the worst gyoza ever, and I got a little ill from it. It didn't hold me back from pushing on, but if you end up in a place that looks just like this in Mito, turn around. That's me sitting with our 2 coordinators. Yes, this year we have two people doing the job. Last year we had one.

Mito Time! Although Mito is 45 minutes from the circuit (on a clear day with no traffic), I still prefer staying here to some place out in the boonies. The town is easy to figure out, with most things surrounding the train station located in the center of everything. There are a ton of vintage clothing stores, some strange motorcycle shops (like the actual Nankai store), and it's fun to just walk around. Rizla Suzuki, Honda Gresini, Bridgestone, Marlboro Ducati, and more teams were staying here, so it was neat walking around and bumping into people. What'd you buy? I got this! Stuff like that. The Euros were so out of place it wasn't even funny, except to me!

At the Nankai store, everyone tried on helmets. The Arai's in Japan have different shapes and sizes (internally), and they're definitely cheaper here than buying them anywhere else I've seen. This is obviously NOT an Arai.

Wandering around might possibly be one of my favorite past times. I like to think I'm good at it, being able to watch my surroundings and figure out if I'm going to get in trouble. It's also the best way I've found to really see the lives of the people, where and how they live. I found a little back alley in Mito, and all the way at the end I spied this!

Boo-Yah! Special Edition Fast Freddie Spencer colors! Or is it Rothman's colors? Who can tell me more about this?

I walked back into our hotel in the afternoon to see two of the hotel girls standing around with cameras, watching me as I headed to the elevators. Surely, they didn't want pictures of me - so I took one of them just to make sure.

Turns out they were waiting for these two to come out of the elevators, Captain Jack Sparrow and Trinity!

More war wagons, hahaha.

My day had wound down and I was a bit tired from all the travel and walking around. I split off from the group and had a quiet dinner at a luxurious sushi bar a little ways from the hotel, and that's a photo post for another time. Will be back with Part 2, and the Motegi race, tomorrow. What - you didn't know that Casey Stoner and Ducati Corse locked up the World Championship at this race? Where have you guys been?

October 01, 2007

GP07 Estoril, Fight to the Finish

Estoril was full of firsts for me, and will never be forgotten. From the beginning to the end of the weekend, it was strange.

For a lot of reasons, this photo is emblematic of our run with Alex Hofmann.

We flew into Lisbon's airport, and immediately started to wait because our luggage was taking forever. There were a ton of backed up flights, and in the meantime we met up with various team personnel from other squads who were flying in. Some people got so desperate, they climbed up the loading "chute" and started pulling their bags out. I'm sure if something like this happened in the States, they'd be FBI and national security going nuts, but no one even looked twice in Portugal.

After a bit, our luggage started to drop and we piled into a van and drove to the circuit at breakneck speed. Seriously, we were hauling ass, Felix at the controls and speedometer buried. I'm not sure why there was such a huge rush, but it might have had something to do with the Felix' son (Felix Jr.) racing a 125 support class at the GP that weekend, and he still had a few things to get squared away at the racetrack. It was super hot when we got there, and we took some time so the boys could finish parking the big rigs before we headed to our little hotel just past the exit to the track, Estoril 7. It's the same place we stayed at last year, and was within walking distance from the paddock. For me, it was a good 20 minutes with the iPod, and I enjoyed the peace it gave me to walk back to the hotel alone at night when I was finished working. While everyone was doing their thing at the track, I poked around a little and checked out some of the corners. Once again, the track is pretty narrow, and it's got some really oddball righthand corners to it.

One of the best and worst things about our hotel is that it is so close to the circuit. This means we didn't have to wake up as early to get to the track before the crush of people. However, being close to the circuit meant that we were a little ways outside of the city proper, which is gorgeous because it's right on the water. However, right across the freeway from the hotel is a huge commercial shopping center, which was pretty convenient for getting food on the days and nights when we wouldn't have access to our hospitality unit. Coincidently, the Dantin squad from Madrid was racing in the World Endurance series in France that same weekend. We'd all walk through a tunnel under the highway to the food pavillion, and usually we'd eat at a Brazilian meat place.

The food wasn't too bad, for shopping mall fair, and you'd be surprised you'd see wandering around eating an ice cream. This guy was totally anonymous here, just cruising the mall like anyone else. What's most amazing to me is that my camera can take such lousy photos, hahaha.

Once the work week started, it was on. We had the bikes put together and ready to go. Theoretically, it was possible for Casey Stoner to wrap it up the title in Estoril, but that would have been asking a lot. I don't think you should call it a chance if it depends on another rider doing poorly or crashing out of a race. Really, you should win on the merits of your own racing, otherwise we could say things like Rossi can wrap up the championship in March if everyone else DNF's for the rest of the season. One nice thing in the Marlboro Ducati garage was this brilliant poster of one of the sexiest bikes ever made. Not surprisingly, it will be Bridgestone shod when it hits the streets.

Here's another cool thing I caught in Portugal. Ducati Corse Gatorade - fastest drink out there! I actually went through a couple liters of this stuff over the weekend. Everyone knows my trucks are black, and unfortunately at this racetrack, only some of the electrical outlets were working inside. This meant that I was working all my equipment off of one power strip that ran along the length of the trailer, and worst of all, the air conditioning units weren't working. This meant that my truck became a sauna, and I was melting day after day. Thank goodness for these cool gatorades, and also for the phenomenal fruit that we had day after day. I think I had possibly the best plums of my life while in Lisbon that week, and there were peaches that were just divine. I'm not sure how I missed out on photographing my dreamy peaches and plums, but they were outstanding. Ah yes, now I remember. No Macro setting on my casio camera, so I gave up on it.

Walking back to the hotel one day, I came across six horses just wandering on the side of the road. They looked pretty hungry, and two were calves (horselets). I tried to bring them in, off the roadside, but they were pretty skittish and kept moving away from me. From there, I went on this huge looping walkabout trying to see where they had come from. I found a place with tons of cows, a place with more cows, and mostly I kept running into wild dogs who would just lay around sleeping. I couldn't believe how many different breeds of dog were just hanging out in the bushes.

One night I was checking out a motorcycle parked at the hotel, and I'd totally forgotten about this feature. What bike is this?

Walking through the circuit in the mornings we would pass these little vendor tents and this pretty neat little Yamaha. It almost caught me out, and I'm surprised I don't see more like this on the road, since it's a relatively easy replica to make.

The weekend was frustrating. Both riders weren't coming to grips with the track, and it was particularly disheartening to see Barros struggling with qualifying. Once again, his race pace was alright, but we just couldn't put the bike up there when it counted for the grid position. It was also very hard to see Hofmann running around towards the back. The crews kept their heads down and focused, but after conferring with Ducati Corse, there really wasn't much else to do with the bikes and it was going to be up to the riders to make that difference during the race. The weather was also a bit tricky, hot during the days but cooler in the mornings. One my way to work I snapped this as I left the hotel parking lot.

This photo shows some of the problems we were facing that day on the grid. There are so many things wrong in this picture. Alex said he felt a problem with the clutch, so you can see the side fairing off the bike and the boys studying the data from the out up lap to try and identify what was going on. Alex ended up pulling in after the warm-up lap and switching to his B bike, which meant he had to start the race from pit lane. It all went south after that, and I am not at liberty to discuss any further details. As far as I'm concerned, anything happening between Alex Hofmann and Luis D'antin is their business, and I'm going to stick with making sure my bikes are ready to race, no matter what. It has been somewhat of an up and down ride since Laguna, and I can only imagine what it was like for Alex to face a possible career ending enjury when he was t-boned by Guintoli at the entrance to the Corkscrew. On Saturday before the Estoril race, it was announced that Guintoli would be taking one of the Pramac Dantin Ducati seats for 2008, replacing one of our current riders. Anyway, it looks like everything will go to court at some point, so might as well just focus on these last three races and then onwards to 2008. Wherever the Hoff ends up, I wish him the best of luck.

So the race was about to get underway, and everyone was lining up. Sergio was getting a good eyeful of something!

Rossi had to get the lead out in this race to keep the Championship out of Casey's hands. He did it, too. Massive win in front of Pedrosa and Stoner, and then the circus flew out to Japan. An incredible distance to cover in a few days. Not only physically tiring with the long travel and time change to deal with, but forcing that many crates through customs and to the racetrack would be challenging as well.

The bikes are getting so close. Check the angles of the front aerodynamics.

Hofmann pulled in early during the race and didn't say a word to us. You could feel the frustration coming off him. Barros broke down in the race with a mechanical failure. It was truly a race I want to forget. We packed up fast, which was more difficult than normal for me. I wasn't just getting ready for a single race outside of Europe, I was prepping for three, which meant a lot more things had to fit into the same, limited amount of space. It was a challenge, and I like things like that. I didn't like that one of my main containers got knocked over, and that meant redoing everything inside the first day I would be in Japan at the track. As it turned out, the boxes arrived a day later than normal, so setting up in Motegi was a big push. And we had a new rider to adapt to. We did it, though, we always do.

Sunday night in Estoril meant a quiet little party at Coconuts, where I met another MotoLiam fan (with a really cute girlfriend, haha). I had a few drinks, then rolled back to the hotel to meet up with the team at 4AM, so we could begin driving to the Lisbon airport for our dawn flight to Frankfurt and then to Tokyo. Going down to Coconuts to meet up with some of the team there was probably the best part of the week, because I got a chance to really see that little beach town, and it's really beautiful. I would recommend this track to couples who want a break at the beach, and a day or two at the races.

See you guys later this week, when all my Japan photos start to surface.

Liam is "Tyred", Catching up before Australia

Ever since Laguna Seca, it's been a little crazier than normal for me. At that race, we lost #66, Alex Hofmann, to injury, and have since fielded a number of replacement riders. In a way, it causes you to shift focus, because the team you're used to working with is now different, and there are several uncertainties that this brings. I've always maintained that to be successful in MotoGP, you have to be adaptable, and the situations presented after Laguna definitely challenged myself and the team. I'm back in Barcelona, plotting out my off-season already, and hoping to make the most of it before the 2008 Championship begins. But before any of that can happen, we have three races left this year, and we'll be fielding Chaz Davies alongside Alex Barros at Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia.

I'm back in Barcelona, and I've been preparing material for the website this past weekend, so expect to see a ton of photos from the last races in Estoril and Motegi. In the meantime, we might as well speak a bit about the proposed tire regulation changes that could be in store for 2008.

Carmelo Ezpeleta, the main man at Dorna, proposed on Saturday before the Motegi race that the series should move to a one-tire rule, meaning that Dunlop, Bridgestone, or Michelin would be the sole tire supplier, and not only that, the tires used would be control tires, meaning that every team and rider would have access to the same material. It's a very interesting idea, because effectively it would negate any advantage that one team or rider had over another because of specific tire development for them. No longer would Michelin be feeding the "best" tires to Rossi or Pedrosa, and Bridgestone wouldn't make tires that suit the Ducati, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. Instead, a generic set of tires would be available to everyone. There is a huge groundswell from fans around the world who are in favor of such a rule change, but the feeling in the paddock is that this would neuter the bike development and turn the series from cutting edge, prototype racing, into another series where tech isn't the most important thing. Personally, I prefer the competition between all the tire companies, and while this sometimes means that the races are a little boring, without significant lead changes at the front, the balance is always restored and with more time I'm sure the everyone will improve and challenge for the lead. Significant discussions have been taking place on forums around the world, and the rumour now is that it has already been decided that the MotoGP championship will go to a Spec Tire. Just who that will be remains to be seen, Dunlop, Bridgestone, Michelin, or even Pirelli. We wait for the decision to be publicized, which should be in three weeks at the Sepang MotoGP round in Malaysia.