April 25, 2008

GP08 Estoril, Race 3, "Mixed Feelings"

So Estoril has come and gone - and WOW, what a race! It was such a strange build-up to what eventually turned out to be a beautiful race for Lorenzo, who took the win from his third consecutive pole position (in as many races!). Absolutely stunning performance, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little jealous, haha. Still, despite the weeks that have passed since we battled in Portugal, the strongest emotion I have connected with this event is one of strangeness. The skies above the circuit serve notice . . . . and they were quite ominous, quite often!

When I look at the faces of JL48's pit crew, the mechanics who formerly worked on Colin Edwards' machines when he was partnered with Rossi on the Factory Yamaha Team, there's a new calm, a new confidence. There's nothing sweeter than results, and it totally justifies so many long days and late nights. In that respect, I feel like we're bound to have some good races in the future, and I believe that our turn around starts in Shanghai. It's a process, like all things that happen step by step, and by Le Mans, we should be even more equipped to battle for some real points. I'm looking for that quiet peace of success.

It's odd to think that this might be the final MotoGP race in China, as this is where my GP life kind of got started, but as one race fades, another comes to the forefront and takes its place. Who's life will be affected in China this year? Actually, while I have spent some time thinking about this past race in Estoril, the last two weeks have been a frantic dash to get everything ready for China, and there are beautiful, intricate little pieces of the Ducati puzzle flying throughout Europe at this very moment, destined to be forged in the fires of competition. I can't wait. The sheer complexity of the MotoGP Machine is incredible to think about, the lives of all the people, all the pieces coming together and converging at far-off lands. It's absolutely incredible when I think about how BIG this series is, how detailed, and yet how few people seem to be involved. It is truly a logistics masterpiece to make these races happen week in and week out, on time and full of passion.

I flew into Lisboa on Tuesday afternoon, leaving a wet and windy Barcelona. In fact, of all the flights I have been on, I think this may have been the most turbulent ride I've ever been a part of. It felt like we took off sideways into a severe cross-wind, and our landing had me clapping out loud with relief. That, and we must have had a rookie pilot fresh out of the military, because I would swear he was trying to rip the wings off our plane with some of his maneuvers. Either way, it was a bumpy ride and I almost felt like I got off on the wrong foot when I got to Portugal.

Felix and I had a couple hours to kill at the airport while we waited for various Team members to arrive from other cities, so I spent some time with my trusty little nintendo while a thin rain blew in. The weather had certainly not gotten any better, and situated as we were near the Atlantic coastline, it seemed as if there was a permanent squall sitting over Lisbon. Once we collected our rentacars, we headed straight for the circuit to arrange for a motorhome that one of our pilots would be using over the race weekend. I must say, the greenery in that area is lush and vivid, full of rolling hills and the scents sharp and full of water. You know how you get attuned to the smell of rain when you ride a motorcycle, you get used to feeling the temperature drop a few degrees and the air get thick and heavy before you ride into a storm. It's a beautiful feeling, knowing what you're about to face, knowing it's dangerous, and cold, and dark, and you still gotta keep pushing on and you whack that throttle open a little more so you can just get into it! I always rued riding through storms, because after every wet ride I would have to spend so much time cleaning and detailing my machines afterwards (immediately, because no girl goes to sleep wet in my house, hahaha) but the funny thing is that the sensations were that much more intense, and I was that much more alive. I could hear my engines sucking in their mix, sputtering and roaring their displeasure, and that cold wind would cut deep through your wet gear, almost burning you with its chill. I will never forget what it's like to feel the rain edging its way into my boots, first around the shins as my socks would get drenched by the huge mist my front tire would kick up, and slowly it would creep down until I knew my boots were filled with water, sloshing around with my toes. The rain giveth, and the rain taketh away, and doing the dance on two wheels is a beautiful ballet. Once, in my younger and far less calculating days, I bounced, skipped, and slid down a dark and rained out freeway one night. It was during a torrential downpour in Kaneohe, and it was magnificent. I can replay every split second even now, 10+ years later, because time slowed and I watched everything happen frame by frame, split second by split second. I don't even question how or why, but I'm still here and I got things to do - one of which is winning races.

The race week rolled by and the whole team was busy every night sorting one thing or another. We had both racetrucks at the track for the first time this season, which presented new problems and solutions for us to find because there's always kinks, but we got about with our business just fine. The weather was the dominating feature for the first practice days, alternating between nasty, pissy rain and wind to somewhat decent conditions. It fluctuated rapidly, with high overheard currents bringing dark cloud cover, then bright sunshine, within minutes. It meant constant alterations to the bikes, but our Ohlins specialist, Millsy (formerly of Mitsubishi's WRC factory team) had a handle on things so we were fine. Much like I'm something of a savant when it comes to oddball motorcycling knowledge, Millsy is a wealth of "all-things-rally", and as he's working out of my truck where I keep all the suspension components, we always get the chance to talk about old racing (as if there's not enough talk about racing at the races, hahahahahaha).

The race came up quick, and it was like the days bled into one another so that I couldn't tell you what Thursday, Friday, or Saturday was like without consulting my notebook, but on raceday I was hoping for rain. In the first rainy practice session, Bridgestone riders were doing well, on par or better than their Michelin counterparts. But in the dry? Overall, we were running into problems and only the genius of VR46 keep the Japanese rubber towards the very front. So yeah, I did a rain dance just before the race (because you never know). I was hoping it would be a clear cut kind of thing, either rain or dry, because the "Switch" races make me uncomfortable. But that's what it looked like we had in store for us, so after the bikes roared off the line the second bikes were hurriedly flipped into wet mode, or intermediate mode, or a combination of the two, and over again because the weather and drizzles kept coming in. It's hard to tell from the televised feeds and the internet, but there was some water coming down during the race, and when you add that to a track that's known for low grip, it's that many more greasy marbles on a basketball court.

As you can see, after the race I made it into the Estoril Casino, for my second visit ever into a gambling establishment. For a person like me, who believes we make our own luck, this can be a very, very, treacherous place, hahaha. Casino 1-0 Liam. Next year!

As is the tradition, there was a small GP gathering at Coconuts in the town of Cascais. It's a great location, right on the water overlooking a rocky beachfront, and after a long week at the track, there is nothing better than a cold drink with the tangy smell of the ocean. I even met some guys from Galicia who recognized me from the Spanish TV show I was featured on last year!

It was a early night, though, because the entire GP paddock was working the next day with a testing day at the track. I called it quits after congratulating the Yamaha boys, and Monday was a killer. 8 hours on the track with the bikes, then packing up everything to fly to China while getting our "euro-gear" stashed away in the trucks for Le Mans.

Ducati Malrboro's parts guy, Davide, headed back to Bologna a little earlier than the rest of his team for what is possibly the best reason ever. He got married! Big, Big Congratulations and Best Wishes to him and his new bride! "Baralda" is one of the keystones for that team, and he's one of the people who help me to do a better job myself. Big Ups to him, and if you ever meet him, you're in for a treat because he's one of the nicest people in the paddock (and smart like a computer, too).

These past two weeks, I've just kind of stayed quiet and offline. I had a tremendous day at the Chinese consulate getting my visa prepared, and while I was waiting in line for hours (in the rain, argh!), I spotted Randy Mamola and some of the local guys from Showa. I did manage to record some material with Popmonkey, of Ride on Two and MotoGPod, so if you interested in hearing some candid thoughts and stories (and babbling, plus rambling) you can Click Here to listen to some MotoGPod Podcasts.

The weather is finally changing here in Barcelona, with some sun and t-shirt weather, if only for a few hours during the early afternoons. I've had a lot of time to think, resting when possible, but mostly just chewing on the same old stuff and crunching away at things. I have been going through some of my older music collection stored on my previous laptop, and wow, it's great to re-discover songs from my past that still get me today! No doubt some of that will be posted here, but as we're getting ready for Shanghai, I've got some new tunes ready for you.

GP08 Shanghai track 1!

GP08 Shanghai track 2 - this one's hilarious!

ok, ok, I didn't spend all my time in front of the computer. I managed to grab a roasted chicken and hit the beach one afternoon, where I met this cool little dog running around. Here's to more days like that in the future, but for now, it's racetime.



Good read as always. Hope to see good finishes this season. ;)

Hi Liam. Another great entry for your forthcoming autobiography....I`m sitting here waiting for the Live practice two to get underway in China. Hoping like mad you guys will shine. A certain no-named new and improved(?) website can`t be bothered to show the full results of FP1. I`m looking forward as usual to any new installments. G

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