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.