February, 2008

February 25, 2008

Time to Run - off to Qatar

I'll be updating with IRTA Jerez photos and thoughts sometime later this week while I'm in Qatar. There's a lot of information that I'm still sorting through, and the work rolled right along through this past week. I should have some personal time soon, between the Qatar Test and the Qatar GP, because we'll be staying in Doha the entire time instead of heading back to Europe in between. We have our first "Night Test" in just a couple of days, and hopefully that will get us pointed in the right direction because the first race of the season is upon us, in two weeks! I had a few days here in BCN, with constant construction noise waking me early while our building underwent renovation to the water supply lines. That meant no running water from 8AM til 8PM. It was trying, hahaha, but I survived to fly another day. I'll land at dawn with the rest of the Team on Tuesday morning in Doha, and then it's off to the racetrack.

Bumpy little tune for the Night Test

Mad Props to my boys and girls back home who are looking out for me - you know who you are. See you guys there (and hopefully the Ates clan, too!).

February 13, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sonaba com encontrar en MotoGP los secretos de los grandes maestros. Aquellos que me ensenarian a saltar hasta las estrellas.

El MotoGP al que llegue se parecia al que habia sonado. La unica differencia es que mi MotoGP era mucho mas ingenuo.

Una nueva ciudad te brinda la misma oportunidad que un escenario: puedes decidir que personaje vas a ser cada dia.

Cuando consigues lo que llevas mucho tiempo deseando se produce un vacio, es el momento de valorar tu intropia. Que significa haber alcanzado tu sueno y cual sera el siguente.

Ganar carreras, y ganar viviendo.

-el "L" con tamara rojo

February 12, 2008

Let's Head to Round Zero, Jerez Preseason Official IRTA Test

Unlike previous seasons, where I have flown from Barcelona to Madrid and then driven down to Jerez de la Frontera, 2008's IRTA Test will see me flying directly there, which is a welcome change for me. Woot! Other Team members will be flying in after me, so I'll have a short break at the aeropuerto to relax with my PSP watching a movie, or maybe I'll manage to see something interesting there, as I have never been to that airport and that area of Jerez.

We'll be rooming at the Hotel la Cueva Park, which is technically within walking distance of the track. I expect to walk/jog back at least once or twice, because another goal of mine this season is to start exercising more when I'm at the track. I wasn't able to do much last season because the typical time for the mechanics/crews to work out is at the end of the day, usually on a set-up day or Friday/Saturday. If the work gets wrapped up early enough, sometimes the boys will run around the track once or twice, or maybe they'll roll out on a road bicycle. Usually, bicycles are only at the European rounds, because one or two can easily be stored in the race trucks and carried without a weight penalty. Because I work with both crews on my team, each one fielding two bikes per rider, I am usually unable to get away from my Spares and Flight Containers for the amount of time needed to get in a good solid work out. If one crew has finished up early enough to have some free time before the 7:30 or 8PM (the normal time Teams eat at the Hospitality Units), the second crew is usually busy changing engines or continuing to work on other projects, like preparing additional fairings or other complicated items that require installation of several pieces, like electronics assemblies or chassis components. This year I'm going to set myself up to be able to spread my exercise out of a several five minute bursts, haha, and I'll go into more detail later in the season as I see what kind of results I can come up with.

One new cool piece of hardware I'm taking with me for this event comes from J-Boogie, and was delivered to me in BCN by yet another traveller friend of mine, Marty, who lives just a few minutes away from me here in the city. I'll be bringing another Casio digital with me, this one equipped with dual stopwatches, multiple alarms, flashing lights, bells and whistles, and most importantly, World Time functions so I can keep track of everyone and everything going on in my life around the globe. It's a clean design, about 55 grams, and is touted as being extremely mud and dirt resistant, hence the MudMan moniker. We'll see how it holds up to some of the greasy messes I oftentimes find myself in, haha, because I have yet to find a GreaseMan G-Shock! I usually travel with a different "G" that is solar-powered, atomic-clock radio controlled, and has a mixed analog/digital face, but it doesn't come close to matching my sneakers as well as this one! Big Ups, J and M, this is one cool watch and I'll be sure to put it through it's paces this coming week.

The Official IRTA Tests at Jerez will be the first time all the Teams will be getting together for a real competition, in which the prize is a new BMW car, usually a convertible roadster of some kind. There's no points awarded over the three day trial, but the bragging rights are a great way to kick off the season, and more importantly, the confidence it can provide a rider is a tremendous boost. I know I've said it here before, but Rider Confidence is the biggest factor in being successful in this arena. All the Teams will be throwing down in a big way, and we'll finally get a clearer idea of what everyone is capable of for the start of this World Championship season. I'm hoping that my boys take it right to the edge and lay down some shockers, because I'm confident that we have a competitive package and the desire to kick ass. It's also a good time to assess how well the Teams' members are gelling with one another, under pressure situations, and I'll probably get a chance to evaluate things more at the Venta Esteban restaurant just a stone's throw from the racetrack. You may remember the scene from the MTV Nicky Hayden Movie where Nicky and older brother, Tommy, are having dinner and Nicky asks how Tommy knows the word "Seared". Crews and riders are a common sight at the restaurant during the testing week, so if you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check it out. Sometimes there's no time to hit the hotel and change clothes, so Teams will show up in full regalia for dinner. The IRTA test is also when Teams will start to show their full colors for the season, complete with Paddock Garage (Box) and race trucks fully decked out in the design scheme of the new sponsors. The Black should theoretically be gone, but no matter what, we'll always be the Black Sheep Squadron, and this is a point of honor amongst my friends and team mates. I'm not sure why this has become known as Round Zero amongst the riders and paddock people, as there's a second IRTA test to follow in Qatar in just a few weeks, but it's the official start of the war that this season will be, so maybe Ground Zero is a better way to describe it. Either way, I hope we're ready.

I'm off to my house now, with just enough time to get to the grocery store and pick up some last minute supplies before I pack my things and get ready for tomorrow's travel. I'll probably convert the Movie, WAR, to play on my PSP, which is another entertaining action flick with a good soundtrack and effects from the same group who put together two other movies that I enjoyed, Crank and Shoot 'Em Up.

Here's a couple tunes I've been listening to lately, in preparation for this event.

GP08 Jerez Preseason 1 -- Classy little jam from a rising French mix-artiste, you may recognize the "sloppy" keyboards from previous songs I've loaded on the website for you guys.

GP08 Jerez Preseason 2 -- This one's a little disko, "Stick to the B-E-A-T, and do the Dance - you're always there for Music and Me!"

Let's get reeeeeaaaaaaddddy to Ruuuuummmmbbbbblllllleeeee!

February 11, 2008

Xmas '07 RoadTrip! SF->LA->SF (Dad/Brother Time)

Naturally, this post comes a month late, but I think about this roadtrip all the time now that I'm back in Europe and working daily on the Alice Team MotoGP project. This trip took place a few days after New Year's, just before I had to pack up and get back to Europe before the Preseason kicked in. Now that Chinese New Year has hit and I'm busy responding to family emails about that (plus receiving a super awesome care package from my California Crew), I knew it was time to get this out, because it was yet another special moment in my life, memorable and meaningful.

Christmas and New Year's week rolled through pretty fast, even for me, and before I knew it, there were only a few days left to be enjoyed in the USA during my Winter Break. My brother happened to be visiting with my dad for a few days before he had to go back to school in Utah, so I made it Priority Numero Uno to get myself down to LA to spend some time with the men of my family. My brother is growing up so fast, and I wanted to see how he has been developing as a college freshman. Hanging out with my Dad was a total bonus, because he's always teaching me something new, whether it's about our family's history or about the latest music he's been listening to. He has definitely been a major influence in all aspects of my life and musical tastes, and he's just picked up a two-wheeler after a thirty odd year break, so maybe the influence runs both ways, haha.

I played the timing right down to the wire, opting to drive down south overnight so I could maximize the amount of daylight hours I would be able to spend with my family. Michelle was totally onboard, too, and I relished the chance for us to spend a couple hours in the car listening to music and talking. Plus, what fun is a RoadTrip if you're going by yourself?!?

We took off on a rainy afternoon from SF heading south on the 280, while I silently groaned because I had just washed and lightly detailed the car and rims. You just can't start the New Year with a dirty ride, and when they're clean, the TTrooper's wheels shine like great big pie dishes! Fighting our way through the rush hour traffic was a little tedious (because it always seems like SF is full of traffic!), and after an hour I pulled over in San Jose so we could stock up on Boba drinks (Milk Tea with Pearls) and walk around a little bit window shopping in the luxury outdoor shopping center, Santana Row. My aim was two-fold, to let us wait until there was less traffic on the highways, and also to see if it would stop raining so much because the car was getting filthy! Actually, I just wanted to relax a little because I knew the drive was going to take a lot out of me, and besides, this was supposed to be an overnight mission, so arriving in LA too early would kind of mess up our plans.

The previous night I'd organized a small MotoGP gathering at my local watering hole, the Ace Cafe, in San Francisco on Mission and 14th. A lot of enthusiasts came out and we had a nice discussion about bikes and racing until On Any Sunday started playing on the big screen . You just can't compete with that kind of moto-goodness, so we all stopped talking and kicked back, shot pool, drank beers, and marvelled at one of the greatest motorcycle movies of all time. Thanks to PopMonkey for this great panorama shot!

By 9PM it was time to get the show on the road, and I took off down the 101 through Gilroy. The rains had taken the heavy scent of garlic out of the air, but you could still feel the sharp bite through your eyes. The rains picked up, and we slogged our way through pot-holed roads and construction areas along the 152 until we met up with the Notorious 5. The 5 is one of the most boring stretches of road there is, two lanes wide with people either plodding along at 65 or playing around between 85-95 MPH. I had just made a seven cd mix of music for the trip, so we cruised along bumping to some great beats, mostly mixed electro and chill-out (downtemp). Our goal was to hit up the Flyin' J's restaurant/diner/gas station at the bottom of the Grapevine, the series of mountains (they're just big hills, really) that surrounds the northern area of LA. Weather reports said the the biggest storm in three years was coming in that morning, and temperatures were to be in the high 30's in the mountains, so my pop texted some safety messages to watch out for black ice on the roads there. It was a little daunting, but what the heck, we had Quattro power so I figured we'd be safe.

We stopped once for fuel (50 bucks!) and coffee, and before too long we pulled in to Flyin' J's and got a booth. I fully expected road cuisine, which is to say, the greasiest, nastiest, gnarliest kind of food you can imagine. You know, big Trucker plates of mystery meats dripping with oil and low grade butter. We got a couple of coffees, and for some reason, I always think about the Blues Brothers when I get American Coffee in a diner, but anyway we ordered up and prepared ourselves for the worst. These fries showed up and got the thumbs up.

A deep fried burger dripping with cheese and topped with bacon?!? Why Not! This was Americana at its finest - that I could roll into a place at almost 3AM, in the middle of nowhere, and order a cup of joe and a hot plate of diner food. God Bless America! Michelle actually put all this away, because I wasn't too keen on the greasy mess and had a normal cheeseburger instead. And it Rocked! Suprisingly good food, with all the trimmings, and now the Flyin' J's restaurant comes with the MotoLiam seal of approval.

We decided to spend our first hours of being within LA city limits by revisiting the areas we had each lived in, and as it was on the way, we drove all through Hollywood and the surrounding areas. The roads were deserted, and it was like driving through a ghost-town - very 28 Days Later, especially with all the crackheads and nightwalkers popping out at the intersections looking for who knows what. The city didn't really start to wake up until 5:30AM, which was fine for us because we were just cruising along, not really in any rush. We popped through Santa Monica, and then one down through the beaches (Venice, Manhattan, Redondo,etc). I got lost in Marina Del Rey! There, I said it, haha. We toured through Torrance and Lomita on our way to the Vincent Thomas Bridges that soar above the boat harbor/shipping area of Long Beach, the LBC. Everything was lit up magnificently, these giant industrial parks with strange tubes and towers, how I envision a moon base to look like. I always get a "Robocop" post apocalyptic feel whenever I look at big fuel/oil refineries.

Right around 7 AM we pulled off the PCH coastal highway and slid through Costa Mesa on our way over to Dad's place. Crazily enough, as I was driving over a freeway overpass I noticed a big golden truck and mentioned to Michelle that my pops had one just like it, and that was probably him. A few minutes later when we pulled over to reload our coffees a quick phone call to my dad confirmed that it was actually him, haha, and it's amazing to think that in 500+ miles of driving I would end up passing one of my few family members on the road. It was just coming light, and we piled back in the cars to follow my dad to one of his mountainbike exercise areas, the Back Bay Loop on the outskirts of Newport Beach. We paused for some important family pictures, and it's true, my dad and I have the same legs, hahaha, only I'm fatter. At least, that was all part of my master plan, to stock up on the tummy-dunlops so that I'd have some emergency blubber for when I was stuck eating Spanish food all the time.

While I had just seen my brother overnight a few weeks earlier in San Francisco when he lucked out and missed a connecting flight out of Utah, I really hadn't had a chance to just hang out and spend some time with him. He's been growing up so fast, going through the normal trials and tribulations of being a teenager on the verge of understanding himself and becoming a man. I've missed out on a lot of his experiences in the last few years, but I'm happy to report he's well on his way to achieving his full potential, all the while being calm and thoughtful. He recently secured an athletic scholarship to BYU, a Division One school, and he's learning a lot about life, Tennis, and cracking the books! Just days after this photo was taken at dinner, Thomas got a little recognition of his own.

My Brother rocks, and I couldn't be more proud of him! Click it.

It's been a serious goal of mine for the last 20 years to get my brother to start eating more adventurously, and it seems like he's finally grown into his multi-cultural heritage because while I was visiting with the fam we managed to eat a fantastic variety of foods. Here we are that night enjoying some seriously good Korean Hot Pot fixings. Speaking of 20 years, my Brother just had his birthday 3 days ago, hitting 20 in stride while on a school trip to Santa Clara University in San Jose, CA, so I guess technically he's not a teenager anymore! Thomas went on to win a neck and neck match against SCU's top gun, handling himself with class and maturity against a decidedly noisier opponent. Michelle was on hand watching the match, and nabbed this shot of them together after the match this past weekend, lucky girl!

By Friday afternoon, I was looking for something interesting for all of us to do, and because the weather was cold and generally not cool, I struck upon a great idea to visit the Oakley Headquarters in Foothill Ranch, CA. I've been using Oakley products for so many years, the thought of seeing where everything is thought up, designed, and produced, sounded like a nice way to spend an afternoon. Plus, I work with Oakley sponsored riders, like Toni Elias, and my favorite pair of sunglasses were a gift from Loris Capirossi, a set of Ducati edition Oil Drums. I'd also just received a gorgeous Oakley watch from Michelle for Christmas, so this may have colored my decision a little bit and pushed me there, haha, but either way, it was only thanks to the efforts of Joses Kofford (who's business card lists him as "Headquarters Factory Pilot") that we were able to have a backstage tour of the facilities. Special thanks go out to him, because he stayed late on a Friday afternoon to take us through all their departments and explain a little about all aspects of the company to us.

Here's a beautiful Chip Foose car just sitting in the lobby. The detail work on this vehicle was outstanding, and I fell in love with the external fuel filler cap, which was very similar to an old Jaguar clip-style one, frequently used on the types of retro-choppers I love. Joses walked us through the facility, past the marketing dept filled with examples of cool ad campaigns (like the SWAT team who showed up to blast a variety of sunglasses, Oakley's and competitor's, with shotguns), and past their HD movie-theater, and into their warehouse. I have a deeper appreciation of warehouses, after spending so much time at the Ducati Corse one in Bologna, so this was particularly cool to me, and learning about how Oakley is completely vertically-integrated was eye opening. From concept to design and fabrication, virtually everything is created in the same building without needless back and forth with outsourced services. Suffice it to say, I am a big fan, and I'll have a neat review of some cool Oakley products in the near future.

This is the main entrance to the factory building, and it's also seen on various Oakley products. The internal structure is made up of huge steel beams, think BIG, and there is an imposing weight to the place. Joses described it as "H.R. Geiger-ish" and that's a fitting description. It's at times dark, brooding, and massive. Many of my photos don't really do the place justice, because you'd need a serious wide-angle or fish-eye to fully appreciate the level of detail and industrialism built into the structure, but I'm hoping to get back there one day with all my equipment, if only to take some pictures. Just to leave you with an idea of how quickly Oakley is capable of making things happen, their interior building design was thought up and finished in under three years. Try something on that large of a scale anywhere else! And speaking of going big, they also built and onsite full size MX track, just so their guys could stop by and evaluate goggles. How cool is that?!

Here's the side of the complex, which is where the warehouse and shipping area are located. Except for some of the textiles, almost everything that Oakley makes comes out of this place.

After finding some inspiration in the grand scale that Oakley operates, we headed back towards home, stopping to have a beer at the Anti-Mall in Los Angeles, where the Shubert men scored some great jackets from the House of Howe. It was totally American to be popping from one shopping place to another, but the weather wasn't cooperating with us enough to be able to get out on the court and hit some balls. Not that any of us would have an answer for my brother. Michelle and I hit the supermarket up for some food supplies, and then she whipped up the tastiest Jambalaya we've ever had. Everything was fresh and delicious, and I couldn't think of a better dinner meal to enjoy with my family before we had to say goodbye the next day.

These vegetables went right into the mix, and it was gooooood. Up early the next morning because my brother had to catch a flight back to Utah before school started, and we met up at a breakfast diner to get in one last meal. Like peas in a pod, we showed off our jackets, haha, and everyone had some serious hugs afterwards. My dad and brother rolled out towards the airport, and Michelle and I headed north out of the city to tackle the 5 once again.

It was a fantastic trip, being able to share so much time with my family, and I'd like to throw some special thanks out to my girl, Michelle, for coming with and making the trip even more special.

Not to mention, her TTrooper kicks butt!

To say the Winter Break was a busy one would be an understatement. Like most Americans in the paddock, we try to jam as much living as we can whenever we make it back home. That can either mean a frenzied rush everywhere to see and do as much as possible in the short window of time we have available, or it can mean stepping back a little bit and decompressing completely. I opted for a balance between the two approaches, because step one was rebuilding myself stronger for the upcoming year. I knew my physical condition could be improved so I bought some light exercise equipment, and I worked on "slowing down.". However, I couldn't let the opportunity of being so close to my home crew go to waste, and I focussed on trying to spend as much time as possible with them as I could (when I wasn't at a doctor's appointment or eye exam, haha). I really count on my friends' strength and support to get me through the trials of the MotoGP season out here, and building upon and nurturing my relationships with my friends and family is a pleasure. It has been more and more apparent to me that a solid team and strong foundation are key to having a successful season, not just for the riders, but for everyone involved in this sport.

February 10, 2008

Frantic Phillip Island

When we landed in Melbourne, it was full tilt boogie to get to our rentacars and get underway towards Phillip Island. While the normal ambience in Australia is a bit laid back with a strong sense of "surferesque" notions, our team is quite the opposite, bombing in to McDonald's with a sense of hunger and urgency that shocked and scared the poor counter workers, haha. We would have liked to have eaten at Lazy Moe's, but true to their name, they had decided to close up shop early for the night, before their standard closing time (which is darn early by European standards!), so we were forced to grab some happy meals next door at Mickey D's. After eating, we high-tailed it to Phillip Island, while I managed to get some sleep at in the back of the van. The next morning we'd begin again, unloading our flight containers and building up a sparse garage. The feeling in the air was one of anticipation and readiness. We were here once again to put ourselves out there, to spread our hands out, palms up, and see what the God of Speed had in store for us. The Sun set on a peaceful racetrack, waiting for the inevitable and awe-inspiring sounds that would signal the MotoGP boys were here.

We finished up a little early the first day of setting up, and that was a plus as it enabled a few of us, myself and the Italian contigent of the team, to relocate to a second house on the island. We were in the Island Bay resort, which is a big house with rooms that can sleep four people, and best of all, there is a massive entertainment room with a pool table, a ping pong table, big screen tv/dvd, and a swimming pool! I watched Peter Starr's epic motorcycling film there later in the week, Take it to the Limit, which featured actual footage of Kenny Roberts Senior giving it to the Harley Wrecking Crew aboard his infamous TZ750 Flat-tracker. Evenings were spent watching Season One of the NBC tv show, Heroes, which I picked up in Malaysia the week prior. I normally don't watch any television these days (no real time or desire), but I'd heard good things about the show, and besides, it's Sci-Fi! I don't think I've enjoyed a tv show this much since FireFly. My Italians enjoyed some time in the pool while I concentrated on eating some seriously good cookies from the pantry :)

From the backside of the garages, you can peer out and watch the riders cresting one of the hillsides. The wild life living at or near the circuit doesn't ever seem to mind the noise of the bikes, and on more than one occasion during the testing days, the red flag went out because a stray goose or two would wander onto the track (they call them big birds in the press releases). The track itself imposes certain times that the bikes can run, too, and that meant we couldn't fire up the machines until after 9AM and had to stop promptly at 6PM. Not like in Mugello, where I remember looking straight down the twin barrels of the rear exhaust pipes of our GP6, pipes glowing cherry red and white hot at eleven o'clock one night. That was a beautiful sight, and not one seldom seen by anyone outside of the crews who work on their racebikes late into night.

This shot comes from Daggs, the patriarch of my Australian family. I had a chance to catch up with my Aussie crew one night over pizza, and then we had tea and a yak :) I can tell I must be working on something greasy, haha, either setting up a gear kit for a transmission change, or something else oily enough to make me wear the gloves. Martin is to my right, the number one mechanic for Guintoli. It's rather ironic that the guy who crashed into and injured my old rider, Alex Hofmann, at Laguna Seca (thereby kicking off a season that saw us work with three other replacement riders), is now working with Alex's old crew.

No matter how good everything is that comes direct from the Factory, these are still prototype machines, and fairings always take a little bit of massaging to fit just right :)

Vanessa and Tezza also made an appearance at the racetrack, much to the delight of all the mechanics.

Here's a slightly more professional photograph, seeing as how my ability to rest my handheld Sony on a trashcan lid and use the countdown timer just doesn't have the same effect, hahaha.

Toni Elias started getting more comfortable with setting up a Ducati, which will be a good thing because it's a long season. For this test, we had the assistance of Peter, a big German Bridgestone technician, but it was only because Rossi and his Fiat Yamaha guys were taking a break from the Phillip Island test and choosing instead to stay in Sepang to continue testing the following week. Peter is assigned to work with Valentino this year, and he really knows his stuff.

Truly, this track is a nexus point. Speed energy from all over the world comes here, like magnetic ley lines. Also evident? My Christmas poundage is still there, har har.

We didn't end the tests on fire, like we had the previous year with Alex Barros, but overall it was a satisfying week because we learned more and were starting to come together better. We kissed the circuit goodbye for another nine months and headed out ready to sleep! The two testing weeks were long, and we had a big push on the final day of testing on the logistical side because much of our material had to be separated to go to Madrid instead of directly on to Jerez. Much thanks to my team mates for staying strong and helping me get everything handled. We're much stronger working together, and this year should be a lot of fun if we can stay focused and organized. There's a palpable feeling of wanting to improve the Team (perhaps contrary to previous years), and it's through working diligently and with a purpose that is going to make that happen. We'll see, it's a long 18 races.

We finished up in Phillip Island with a beautiful dinner at Taylor's restaurant, known for it's fish dishes and seaside views. I had the Shark and chips, and it was great! I'll need to resample the fish-n-chips I had in Nottingham with Paul last year to see which is better, but for now the Shark is in the lead.

For those of you who may have missed it, Chinese New Year is upon us! Thanks to the combined efforts of several people, especially my girlfriend, I was able to have a taste of what I'm missing here in Spain thanks to a funpack that was sent over to me. The timing of packages arriving to me in BCN is tricky, because of my travel schedule and inability to pick everything up at the post office, but this one made it over just fine and I'm over the moon about the contents.

More posts to come before I head out to the official IRTA Tests at Jerez in a few days, and until then I'll just say, KUNG HEE FAT CHOY!

February 08, 2008

Kuala, you're great!

I always enjoy my time in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe it's because I can relate to the people and food more readily than I can in Spain, or maybe it's because the tropical climate mirrors what I grew up with in Hawaii (Hot and Humid, except Hawaii has beautiful breezes), but whatever the case, I always manage to have a nice time there. Kuala Lumpur is filled with all manner of neat things to see and do, and because we had landed on the morning we had to start working at the racetrack, it was only fitting that we had a few free days after the first Preseason Test of '08 to explore the city and brave every and all food stands we came across. Well, to be honest, I think I was the only one who tried any of the true local foods and drinks, but then I'm probably the only guy on my team who grew up using chopsticks.

The work week at the Sepang F1 circuit was exhausting. Testing is always a little more rigorous for a Team than a normal race event, although there is much less stress and we don't have the time constraints of a morning session followed by an afternoon session. The whole day is a session during testing! We'd arrive in the mornings about an hour before the day would officially start, time to get the tires up to temperature and time to finish prep the bikes before they'd be running. Then the riders would go out, come back in, change something, switch bikes, go back out, come back in, over and over, all the while searching for the best combination, the best compromise. We logged several 14 hour days at the track in a row. The two previous days of set up at the track were a equally as frantic, because we had to change over a couple things on our GP8's and I was busy unpacking a ton of material from Ducati Corse that we'd be using over the course of the season.

New parts, new part numbers, and new files meant that I was in overdrive most of the time trying to learn and re-learn what had changed on the bike and also deal with the changes we'd made within the Team structure. Certain members had shifted laterally from one side of the garage to the other, stepped up to fill vacancies left by previous Team members, and the dynamic of the Team had shifted slightly into a more rigid atmosphere. At least for now. We'd been working with Alex Hofmann for two years, and there's something to be said for the amount of time a crew works together. We don't just work together, we live, eat, travel, and try to function as one. This was our first real time working with Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli, in conjunction with the the crews who would be supporting them throughout the season, and after such a long break without riding GP bikes over the winter break, it would take some doing to get back into the swing of things and build up the relationships and feelings needed for everything to start clicking. We needed time to gel.

We worked, and learned, and sweated. And we wore these strange Puma shoes with hard plastic soles. I will now be looking for aftermarket insoles.

The work week ended, and we had two days before we needed to start setting up in Phillip Island. Instead of spending one day in KL, and another day in PI resting up before the testing, we had arranged to stay in KL for two whole days, which for me was just great. Our hotel in Malaysia is pretty far from the circuit, about 40 minutes if there's no traffic, but it's also quite luxurious and I love the buffet. Not to mention I would be spending my days and evenings walking through downtown Kuala Lumpur.

The Hotel Ecquatorial in Bangi provides it's patrons with a bus that goes directly from the hotel entrance to the city center. For free. It leaves twice a day starting at noon and coming back at either 8:30PM or 11PM. It is the hot ticket for cheapskates, because a taxi will take you the same distance (about 45 minutes!) for roughly 20 USD. However, rather than spending money that I don't have because I'm still waiting for it, I opted for the bus. Not because I'm a cheapskate, hahaha.

Heading into KL on the Hotel provided bus. In the distance, the twin Petronas Towers, the Space Needle-looking TV Tower, and my Oakley GMT in the window's reflection.

Step one of travelling - stay hydrated. I absolutely love Soy Bean Milk. As a child I would spend my summers in Singapore visiting my grandmother, and the open market next to her government apartment complex had a milk vendor. For five cents I would get a frozen beer mug full of the stuff, and it's a drink I've come to appreciate since then. I spent most of our free time wandering around the city with Sergio, the track engineer (crew chief) for Sylvain Guintoli. We're rooming together this season, so I bought him a set of Hearo's ear plugs, haha. The shopping highlight, or rather, the Window-Shopping highlight of the trip was spending a few hours in the Starhill Gallery shopping center, which is full of high end watch dealers. We're talking ALL the major and minor players in the horological scene. I think that outside of Switzerland, this is probably the highest concentration of little spinning gears and springs that exists today, and all of the boutiques are within walking distance of one another. In a clean, air-conditioned environment. Such a tempting place, hahaha, now I just need to win the lottery!

Here's Valentino at the Jaeger Le Coultre store, Starhill Gallery.

Chinese New Year celebrations were just starting to get underway while we were there, as evidenced by copious amounts of red everywhere. Seconds after this photo was taken you could hear something that sounded like cats fighting, but it was only Chinese Opera.

Walking past one of the temples just outside the train station on the way to Chinatown. Little red lanterns everywhere.

The heart of Chinatown in KL is Petaling Street, but really it should be called Haggaling Street. So many transactions take place here daily, and no one is ever sure if they're getting a good deal or not. I ended up buying a small LED flashlight, which is perfect for checking out small motorcycle parts. Most of the typical replica goods were not present while we were there, the result of a crackdown by Customs because of an international policing meeting going on in Malaysia at that time.

After a week of Malay food, I broke down and headed to Hard Rock Cafe one night. The chicken is quite tasty, but the food there is still a little bit different from the standard Hard Rock recipes. I'm not sure why, but it's a question that I've asked myself several times. Maybe it has something to do with the water, or maybe it's because they really are cooking the french fries up in a giant Wok. Most free nights in Malaysia you can find several of the MotoGP teams and riders eating at the Hard Rock, so if you're a stalker type, this is where you should make your stake out.

Your bonus bike pics of the week come from a really cool like street that was filled with beautiful restaurants and clubs. There was a collection of race Nissan Skylines (matching bodywork and paintjobs) parked in a line on the street, just behind some porsches, but for the life of me, I can't remember the name of the street! If you have an idea of where I'm talking about, drop me a line, because I'd like to go back :)

I finished my night by packing up my gear and cooling down with one of these. We left the hotel early the next morning, took an 8.5 hour flight to Melbourne, and drove another 2 hours to Phillip Island. And we were in bed by midnight :)