March 02, 2008

Preseason Wrap-Up, On To The Racing!

It's been a few weeks since I've last written, and in that time we've passed through the Official IRTA Tests at Jerez and travelled to Doha, Qatar, to participate in the first Night Tests at the Losail International Circuit. It's a historic moment in any series, running at night for the very first time, but undoubtedly the real focus will be on whether or not Casey Stoner, Ducati Corse, and Bridgestone will be able to defend their 2007 World Championship with another dominant win here in the desert. Everyone seems to have taken great strides during the off-season (which in itself is something of a misnomer, because there is no off-season, hahaha), and both the Michelin shod Yamaha's and Honda's are running well and sounding good. Kawasaki and Suzuki have each had their own setbacks, either due to weather or rider issues, but they're sure to be a factor once the season is in full swing. The sounds of the bikes are becoming much easier to distinguish as time goes by, with each manufacturer zero'ing in on what they feel is going to work best for their chassis, electronics, and rider. I'm getting ahead of myself here, so I might as well just dive into what things were like for the Squadra Delle Pecore Nere these last weeks . . .

Most importantly, at Jerez we were introduced to our Alice Team Ducati GP8's! These four bikes will be mine for the next 9 months of racing competition, and I aim to keep them going in tip-top shape.

The night before I left for Jerez de la Frontera, in the south of Spain, I made sure to have a good dinner complete with a hearty Mediterranean salad, a pizza of Mozzarella di Bufala and Carciofo, some "primativo" wine from the southern region of Italy, outside of Napoli, and washed it all down with a cheesecake and a glass of sambucca. It was truly magnificent fare, and I'm going to see if I can't start myself a new tradition this season, kicking off my italian escapades with similar meals.

The next day I took off in the afternoon on a direct flight to Jerez, and through some bizarre coincidence I was seated next to a guy who whipped out a vintage laptop next to me and began playing an animated Japanese cartoon movie, Ninja Scroll, which I originally saw during highschool in the nineties and then again just recently over my Christmas in California.

I disembarked in Jerez airport for the first time, surprised to find that it was very small. So small you simply got off your plane and Walked(!) to the baggage claim terminal! I had arrived before the rest of my Team members, so I waited with a member of Kawasaki's team for a little over an hour and he gave me a small history lesson on how GP has changed over the last decade. Ironically enough, he had been with the D'antin Team for many years, so we were able to laugh about a good many things and share some common ground despite coming from opposite ends of the globe and working for completely different organizations.

After we checked in to the Hotel la Cueva near the circuit, a few of the boys went to the track to check out the Formula 1 test that was going on. Since one of Sylvain Guintoli's mechanics had previously worked for the Scuderia Toro Rosso (Red Bull's second F1 Team), they were treated to an intimate behind the scenes look at how the cars go to together, and what it's like in a Formula 1 garage. Suffice it to say, there are no photos of that ever having happened, hahaha. I stayed at the hotel and worked out for what felt like the first time in years. It was nice, and I built up quite an appetite. We treated ourselves to a wonderful dinner at Venta Esteban's (you'll remember this from Hayden's MTV movie special) and if there's one thing I can recommend about the place, it's the Sopa del Mar. It's fantastic, maybe the best I've ever had.

Early the next morning we headed in to Jerez' industrial area, where we were due to shoot a tv spot with Toni Elias and also take some promotional photos for Alice. Once we'd parked our rentavans, our newly painted semi-trucks rolled up and I was absolutely blown away by what is to be my new home at the racetrack this year. We had some custom-fabbed trailers made that are high tech and full of neat features that will really help showcase our commitment to the World Championship and also make it easier for us to conduct our business in the most professional manner. The lower sections of my trailer have sliding loading bays so that the bikes can be mounted without their flight containers and then travel comfortably and safely beneath the upper hold. The top section is where I spend most of my time at the track, and it will be filled with the numerous flight containers that hold all our spares for the Ducs. The paint is great, and it really makes me feel proud to know that I'm working out of a special truck with areas and features designed around me that will help make my job easier. Once we're back at the European races, I want to make a more complete post about our trucks with more photos and detailed information, but for now you'll all have to wait.

Here you can see the hydraulic lift gate being used to unload one of the flight containers holding one of the GP8's. Later, the gate will be closed and an upper hatch will open to my area with a trick ladder leading from the ground up to the portal.

And for you DRZ 400SM riders, here's what your clutch looks like, hahaha. Note: you may not want to get dirt, dust, and debris in there . . .

Once we had some of our bikes and supplies tucked away in one of the storefronts, we started converting the bodywork over from our Preseason Black (which looked gorgeous this year) to the new red and white motif of Alice, the Italian telecommunications giant. Meanwhile, Felix converted our riders over from their Preseason Black jersey's into our new Team uniforms. Other than the pants having a distinctly "Italian" cut, they're quite nice and will be worn proudly.

The day turned out to be longer than anyone thought, the hours rolling by as the shooters did their thing. Everyone watched "the action" patiently and it was neat because we got to see a different kind of profession at work, from the cameraman who also managed his own lighting, to the Spanish TV crew that showed up later to film a television commercial with Toni.

This tall, leggy blonde (half American and half Italian) was known as "the action", and she's the main face of Alice's advertising campaigns. I don't even remember her name, hahaha. I should mention that this was on Valentine's Day, and throughout the night the guys on the Team would text or call their wives and girlfriends. Just because we're running around racing motorcycles doesn't mean we don't have to take care of things on the homefront!

Without skipping a beat, we hit the track early the following morning because there were still a lot of final details to iron out and this was the first time we were assembling the "full garage" this year. The box design is a bit different from last year, with slightly more signage and panels. I didn't think it was going to take the Team so long, but it was a full day before we were satisfied with how everything looked and worked. Testing is normally quite tiring for everyone, because the riding times are longer than normal and you have to be ready for anything all the time. You're constantly working on the bike, trying to find any edge or make the rider more comfortable, and then there's the new pieces that the Factories want to test, and new tires that you have to alter the chassis for. It's a great way to collect data, but it makes for some long evenings because the bikes don't stop until 6PM and then you've got to change engines and get the bike sorted for the next day.

Thomas looks a little tired here, the result of two nights that went past 1AM. This is the level of the series, but it's the same everywhere. No matter what the level of the competition, or the level of the rider, there are people out there who stay up working overnight just to know that they did their best. Just ask your local club rider how many late night's he's had getting ready for a race, and even better, ask one of your friends who simply rides trackdays how many times he's been up late getting his bike just right. I don't know what it is, but there's something about the balance of working on the bikes in the quiet and calm of the night that offsets working on them in the heat and crush of noise during the day. This must be Saturday, because we officially unveiled the new look on Sunday for the BMW 40 minute timed shoot-out.

Jerez will always be characterized by the spaceship restaurant that overlooks the start/finish straight.

Boo-Yah! The new look is IN! This was up in that restaurant shown earlier.

Without consulting my notes, the main thing I remember about the weekend is that it was cold, wet, and windy. The conditions would change rapidly and my boys had some trouble finding their way. Not too much trouble, as Sylvain Guintoli #50 managed to log a great time during the shoot-out which was good enough for a top ten spot. It was a promising way to start things off, even if our times haven't been at the sharp end during the preseason. I don't just want to be running around collecting minor points, though, I want to take it to some of the Factory riders! I don't see any reason why we can't put the stomp on some of these guys, because we have a great bike, great tires, and two riders who can shine when the moment is right. Not to mention, everyone on the team is HUNGRY - for results, hahaha.

I think it's important to keep things light, especially on the long days. Sergio and I are going to bring it gangsta-style this season. At least, that's what I keep telling him.

As we were packing up the garage on Monday night, some of the 125 and 250 Teams rolled in. I spotted one of these cute, little Aprilias and wished it luck this year. Now that Stevie has had a year to see the tracks and the lifestyle out here, this is his year to get it on and throw down something to make KRSR proud. The 'Priller is a great little bike, beautiful in its simplicity and focus, and I sure wouldn't mind having one in my garage! Did I ever mention that I used to drive a '79 Cadillac Seville in the same color as the blue/green/aquajade of this tail-section?

The next morning, the Team flew out to Madrid and we separated to make all our connecting flights. Some went back to Italy, via Milano, others headed to Galicia and Bilbao. I went with Raul and Felix to Barcelona, but our flight was delayed a little bit.

It wasn't a big problem, just another facet of traveling. I like watching all the planes, and all the people moving about. Everyone has a place to go, somewhere to be. We're all on a mission, some for work, others for love, and almost (if not all) under the same spell that says there's a better tomorrow waiting for us. I hope.

Thanks for watching , everyone. I'll be back tomorrow with some scenes from Qatar as we get ready for the main event, the first race of the season!


Excellent again Liam. Anxiously awaiting a fabulous season from your team. Counting the days...

these new Alice bikes look GREAT and very slick indeed.
i wish you all the best for this year which looks like it'll be wild !

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