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.