GP08 Qatar GP, Race 1 "Moving Right Along"
A professional face, experienced and calm, waits on pit wall to see the first grid of 2008 assemble after their warm-up lap. It's our first race of the season, and the anticipation is high. Tonight has been a target for months, and a lot of hard work has already taken place.
Minutes earlier, Toni Elias had expressed what all of us had been feeling with one simple gesture. All the anxiety, the fear, the hope, and above all, the excitement! As one of our top mechanics said, "If you're not getting butterflies before the race, you better go home now." Martin's been in GP's for a lot of years, having wrenched on Alberto Puig's bikes in the nineties, and he usually regals us with one crazy story after another. But that was no story - it's the truth. If you don't get a charge, a jolt, before the lights go out and the riders blast away towards the first corner, you have no business being at the races. It's intensified for us, because from as early as September the previous year, we're already planning our assault for the following season.
There's the rumors, the clandestine meetings, the seemingly endless talks while sponsors hammer out their global marketing strategies and budgets, the teams trying to source and allocate their budgets, sign the riders, find the right people who will come together to forge the Team that will literally support everything - and all while the racing is still going on. It's a lot of work, and most of it takes place in the background, away from the televisions, the reporters, and everyone outside of this circle of speed. Riders become more friendly, other team personnel become more friendly, talking to different team members in the paddock, saying hi, inquiring about the conditions, the competitive spirit, the atmosphere. It's heady watching it all come together, but it's just another part of this game.
We've been working with Toni and Sylvain Guintoli since last November, when we had our first testing sessions together. Since then, we've travelled across the globe, running lap after lap collecting data, searching for the keys to unlock the secrets of the GP8 and get ourselves into a position where we can challenge at the front. It's been hard these months, because the work is there, the fighting spirit is there, the bike is obviously fast, but the results haven't been coming. During the race, four of the top six Top Speeds were made by Ducati's. During the race, three of those four Ducati's finished outside the Top Ten. But what's important is not to get discouraged. What's important is that everyone continues to push, to never give up. This is a fundamental element of a World Championship Team, and everyone from the top to the bottom has to keep pushing just as hard, if not harder. It's a question of everything coming together, and it's what we've all been working towards, and what we're working on even now, weeks later. I can't let myself stop pushing.
Our Alice Team bikes looked beautiful, their reflective "night-glow" shining in the light of the cameras. Casey Stoner's #1 Ducati blazed even more brightly, taking the checkered flag by more than 5 seconds. FIVE. An eternity.
We lined up alongside Marco Melandri, knowing we all had something of a hole to dig ourselves out of in this race. In this moment, I'm simply hoping the bikes make it off the line and through the first corner safely. Both Honda and Yamaha have been working on some advanced launch control systems, their bikes screaming (and big-bangin'), bouncing off the rev limiter at full throttle until the clutches are dumped and they rocket off at maximum warp. Pedrosa nailed the holeshot from the third row.
Toni and Sylvain had a hard race, trading places with one another. The big, red Alice on their backs like a giant target. Now all we need is more riders behind us to start aiming for them! Toni finished 14th. Sylvain in 15th. Our first Championship points of the season. Ironically, Toni and Sylvain finished in the exact same places they did the year before, in 14th and 15th. I am hopeful that their fortunes improve this year, as they had last year.
This year my old Ducati Corse point of contact, Luigi, is now working with the Marlboro squad. It adds another feeling of newness to this year. New people, new solutions. The Factory Team is sponsored by Puma this season, and we're also receiving some solid support. I'll get more into that in a future post.
I don't want this post to seem grim, because we all know what we need to be doing. It's a tough way to start the war, but there's 17 battles left and that's a lot of racing. I had some great pumpkin soup along the way, too.
Sergio picked up a titanium ProTrek, complete with compass, barometer, and altimeter. It'll be neat to see where we are when we're racing around the world.
And here's a neat shot of the permanent passes from the last three years, showing a different World Champion on each one. Who's going to make it onto next year's pass?
I've pretty much said all I want to say about Qatar, and after the race there was nothing left to do but pack up the garage, get everything shipped out, head back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep, and then wake up and head to the airport. As is my custom, I had a burger and a root-beer float while I waited for my flight, but A&W really let me down this time. You can't expect miracles at a fast food place in the desert, haha.
It's taken me a lot longer than normal to re-acclimate to the time change coming back to Europe, but in the meantime I've managed to be somewhat productive by cleaning up around my apartment. My room mates are out of town for the Easter week, so I took the opportunity to get some big household projects out of the way while I have the space. But my biggest project continues to be the Team and trying to make sure we're ready for the races ahead. The Squadra needs to be ready.
This week's episode from MotoGPod, the podcast, features yours truly in a three part discussion with Popmonkey. We talked while I was in Qatar after working the nights before and during the race, and then again after I'd returned home to Barcelona. It's quite a bit more detailed concerning the logistics and reality of running a night race, so if you're interested, it come highly recommended. I gotta warn you, though, it's a long podcast . . . so be prepared, haha. See you guys later this week, as I have some neat stuff in store before we head to Jerez.