November 22, 2007

It's Cold at the Factory

I'm spending the week with Ducati Corse at the Factory and workshop in Bologna, Italy. I arrived on Sunday evening, and spent the night laying sleepless.

Perhaps it was just nerves, or just an ominous feeling that I just couldn't shake, but either way I wasn't as fresh as I wanted to be on Monday when I would meet with my contacts at the Factory and begin our annual Inventory process. Italian coffee, notorious for it's strength, did the trick that morning, and I enjoyed my morning walk from the Hotel del Borgo to the back of the Ducati Factory, where the Corse facilities are located.

Every morning I would head towards Borgo Panigale and pass the original Factory buildings. We are checking the Team's stock and removing any material that would be obsolete for next year's race machine, the GP8. It's an arduous project, with eyes and fingers buried in code after codigo after codice, but I was lucky because every day of the week a different Italian member of the Team would drive up to Bologna to assist me, and also help with some translations, if necessary. It's been great to spend time with them, away from the pressure, stress, and drama of the races, and we listened to fun music all day while we counted, checked, and verified things. The process gets a little tricky because during the season we've prepared many intricate and complicated pieces, ready for installation on the bike in the event of a crash, and at the end of the season, those parts get dismantled and every piece goes back in it's little box, back to the Factory, and waits for the day when a museum bike might need a replacement part. Some of the older bikes are re-skinned with alternate fairings, or just dressed to look like a certain rider's bike (which is why I saw photos of an older GP Ducati wearing Stoner numbers at the San Mateo motorcycle show in San Francisco last week), and while many of the bikes are runners, some are simply shells with empty crankcases. Typically, we finish up for the day just after seven, and I walk back to the hotel in the dark, watching my breath before me. Growing up in Hawaii, I've never gotten used to the idea of waking up and coming home in the dark, and it unsettles me greatly. After a quick shower, I then walk to the Pizzeria la Stella, which produces absolutely divine pizzas, without mushrooms if you want.

The day begins with a light breakfast at the hotel, two glasses of orange juice, two cups of yogurt (preferably lemon), two slices of toast with jam, and a strong cappucino. I'll grab my computer and my Axio hardpack, then head over to the Factory. I don't have a rentacar, so everything I do is by foot, which is just fine because one of the best Pizzerias I know of is within walking range of the hotel, and getting to and from the Bologna airport is a piece of cake and about half the price of going from my apartment to the aeropuerto in Barcelona. Getting into the city center of Bologna is another story, though, and the taxi's are horribly expensive in Italy, so I've yet to venture there again this time around. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see it again in December when I'm back here to help restructure my flight cases and build up our racebikes for next season. Anyway, when I get to the main entrance I sign in, then make my way past all the production lines, past the sitting Hyper's, Monsters, 1098's (the pearl white on the new 848 is just gorgeous), past all the heavy machinery cutting cylinder heads, crankshafts, and more. The workers are all bundled up in their gray Ducati/Shell sweatshirts and coveralls, forklifts swinging around corners and painted lines on the floor at high speed loading and unloading material, and except for the hum and screech of the cutting machines, and the occasional firing up of a bike, it's quiet and serious. I would find out why later. It takes a little while to get your bearings within the confines of the massive building, because there's no direct path to get to Corse's area, and one morning I mistakenly entered through the engine design department which allowed me to see a long row of engines tracing the Ducati lineage from the earliest bikes, singles, inline three cylinders, the pantah twins, just about everything up through the GP8's, the highest level of engine design in the Factory at the moment. It was simply beautiful, a display of Italian engineering that any gearhead could appreciate. From there I maneuvered my way into the Test Team area, said good morning to all the guys, and finally made my way to the warehouse section, where my flight cases were stored. Because Corse's doors are all protected by keycard entry, I was lucky again that the Marlboro Team was present, putting the finishing touches on their four racebikes and getting everything ready for next week's testing at Jerez. They always had a backdoor open, so I was able to go in and out whenever I needed a smoke. The new bikes may look like GP7's, but there's a host of changes, and like life, it's what's beneath the surface that counts. Anyone else notice that the air intake on the Ducati looks smaller than all the other GP machines? And when the engine size went to 800cc, did anyone notice if the the intakes got smaller from the 990's? Does air really matter anymore? The engines in our bikes create power through a cold fusion technique known as gelato, and when we really want to crank up the juice, we turn the knobs to tagliatelle alla bolognese ragu and kick in the pasta burners. After counting things for a few hours, we'll break for lunch around 12:30, walking back towards the front entrance where the Ducati cafeteria is. I get to use a lunch ticket to load up my tray with a first and second plate, a small dessert, and a bottle of San Benedetto water. Everyone eats together, and it's a little highschool the way everyone sits together in small groups. Nonetheless, it's fun watching everyone, and today's polenta with meat sauce was good. Polenta is Italian for yellow Cream of Wheat. The afternoon begins after a quick coffee, and we've really been able to push through a lot of work these last days, so it's been satisfying day after day because I know we've been steady and consistent. Unfortunately, some of the big changes I was hoping for might not come to pass before the season starts, and the Team is also undergoing some other changes which will affect 2008. Some changes really make me sad, but I'm hoping the addition of a serious sponsor like Alice (Telecom Italia) will bring a higher level of professionalism to the Team, and I'm hoping our results show the Team's true potential. I believe there will be more work this off-season than in years past, as a sponsor of this size determines the level of show we need to put on, and the Team will be preparing things for 2008 throughout the winter, breaking only for Chrismas and New Year's. Man, I want to win races, and while I dream of winning a World Championship one day, one of the secrets of life is never being satisfied. One would not be enough. Life is never enough. More learning, more laughter, more music, more joy. Everything else naturally falls into place when this is happening. Watching the workers in the Factory always makes me think about their lives, their ambitions, what makes them go in and work the line day after day. I simply cannot accept that anymore, life will slip through your fingers if you fail to grasp it tightly and live like you mean it. Life is hard no matter where you're from, and whatever you do, so you'd better be prepared to do whatever it takes.

Thanks to my friend, J-Boogie, back in California, I was able to watch the MTV two hour special on Nicky Hayden, The Kentucky Kid. I thought it was great for the American market, and while it might not have been enough for a die-hard MotoGP fan, it was nice to glimpse into Nicky's life and his attitude towards racing. "One is not enough, I want another!"

This morning these was a Strike at the Factory, with more than half of the employees absent from work. I had expected a huge gathering of people picketing the front gates, but it was a fairly small group and I didn't have any trouble getting through them and into Corse. After about two hours, everyone came back to work, and the Strike was ended. From what I gather, strikes are quite common in Italy, just a natural part of doing business. My work wasn't affected, Corse continued to work on their projects, and it was business as usual for us because the racing never stops. There's just a little more time before the lights go out, the starting flag drops, and heartbeats stop. March will be here before I know it.

I've been quite depressed for some weeks now, dealing with big fires on many fronts. Professionally, there are ongoing issues that need to be resolved, and I also want to step my game up next year because I want to improve. I need to. This means a renewed focus on my projects, possibly more time in Madrid at the raceshop, and because of some Team personnel changes, a fuller plate, so to speak. I also got very sick in Valencia with an allergic reaction I've never encountered before. I continued to work through it, and the following week and a half after the Valencia tests were filled with Doctors, waiting rooms, blood tests, and inconclusive results that left me with some stress and some altered dietary habits. I'm still going through it at the moment, but I think I'm getting better and hopefully I can get some better answers soon once I'm back in Barcelona. For someone so used to exploring and adventure, having to limit my food choices is fundamentally bothering me. The time away from my friends and family back in the States was also beginning to show, and with everything going on with work, etc, I needed them more than I expected and not having them close at hand only added to everything. At times, I felt ragged, distant, and alone, but it's all part of the game if you want to live and work in MotoGP (and you're an American with a very small budget, haha). Now that I've had some time to check in with the Factory, and get my personal life in better order, I'm starting to feel more positive about things, though I still have a lot of uncertainties about what's going to happen in the future, and how it's going to go down. That's why we race, right? Because you never know what's going to happen when it's time to go.

This Song perfectly captures how I've been feeling lately. It is beautiful, somber, but is mixed with rays of light, drops of sunshine. It fits the factory, too, with it's staggering blend of old and new strewn throughout. I will not wait for my ship to come in, I am swimming out to meet it. And I am smiling all the way.


This is why i like your blog so much: there's real life and real feelings behind it, with no apparent fear of expressing doubts about life, work, friends, team. Respect !

Thanks for the updates during the off season, we all appreciate it, and even thought we would all love to live the dream of working for a GP Team, we know it is not all glamour and cool stuff all the time...

Take care of yourself and just remember, we do appreciate your blog and the reports you bring to us. Peace, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

Hey Liam - Great update and sorry to hear than you haven't been feeling well, both mentally and physically.

I really enjoyed this post because it brought back so many memories of my trips to the Ducati factory. (Although I always stayed at the Hotel Amadeus, right next to Pizzeria La Stella!) But the walk down the street and through the front gates, I remember it so vividly and really miss it. It's a unique company and a unique experience to work at the factory in Italy. Enjoy it for as long as you can.

Take it easy and happy Thanksgiving!

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