A special race factory

I paid a visit to Sito Pons workshop last week. It’s a big, impressive place on the outskirts of Barcelona.

1998 and 1999 250cc world championship winners observe from above.

Outside was a wall of used wheels of every kind – From old GP 500cc wheels to 990’s to 125’s. Just collecting rain water. I sigh at what could be done with these.

The wheel graveyard.

Boxes stacked in remote corners were filled with old parts from the team’s bikes throughout the years. There was also an unused dyno jet room out back, with big electronic machines collecting dust. (This is not this first incidence of this I have seen like this in Spain. In the US, a dyno room would be put into use every day!)

Which famous racer used to ride for Pons?

and which said racer had special air intakes on his carbon bodywork?

There may be forgotten parts stacked around the place, but the Pons team is very forward thinking and I suppose doesn’t have time for too much nostalgia. It’s a huge, clean, organized space with around 8 mechanics at work on different projects at any given time. There were at least 5 giant team trucks, (2 of them inside the workshop,that’s how big this place is) ready to go to their various races at any time.

Pons also runs a successful Formula Renault team. The car was spread over three work rooms when I visited.

Formula Renault car guts.
35,000 Euros carbon chassis. I left finger prints on it. (OK not really.) (OK yeah I did.)

Sito himself, while possessing the  stature of a 250cc World Champion, has quite a commanding presence and striking blue eyes that could probably sear a hole through your soul if you held his gaze too long. I didn’t test that out but I think he could probably do it.

For 2010, Pons is running a Moto2 team with German Kalex bikes. I’m attending the test in Valencia and maybe one more before the season starts. People are excited about this class and these bikes – the mechanics, the riders, the bike developers and designers,  riders from other championships, and of course, me. I am sad to see the 250s go and I will miss that sound and the premix smell. But these bikes are pretty cool to see on the track and we have to keep looking forward, just like the Pons team does.

The economy might leave the grids a little sparse right now however.

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Valencia Part II

Finally, I am posting the rest of the photos from the Valencia race.

Some exciting things happened from Saturday afternoon on. First, my friend Nico’s team revealed their MotoGP racer for next year! Read more about it here.

Nico looking snazzy

We had some lunch in the Yamaha hospitality and watched qualifying there.

Oh, and VR’s father joined us there.

That night, we went out for paella with the Fiat sponsoring crew. Even though Paella was originated in Valencia, it was only so-so at this place. But the night was fun.

Sunday we watched the races from the Yamaha hospitality (well, Shanna watched some from the box). The normal end of the season festivities ensued, though on about 1/2 the scale from last year. There was no redbull present, no rookies cup, half the fans, half the riders, no privateer teams…it was smaller than last year. Also present was an overarching gloom over most teams, since many people lost their jobs this year and in fact did not find other teams to join. But the roaming band of terrible musicians made the rounds as usual and there were still crazy VR fans in all manner of wigs, yellow clothing and noise makers.

The wandering band in their circus outfits.

Then of course, the end of the year party. This year was better than last year, a bigger place, more people, and better music. Of course all the drinks were free, all night. I left at 6am. I had a good time.

Monday we went to watch testing. The Moto2 bikes sounded great. Simoncelli rode his 800 like a 250 and I thought he was going to pitch it in every corner. Kenny Noyes was there testing his Moto2 ride for next year, and disgruntled Honda employees had to work another two days even after they had been fired. When the new crew rolled the ne w bike out, still under wraps, the laid off crew said, go ahead, take all the photos you want, we don’t care. It’s understandable that after 6, 8, 10 years one would be embittered when the thank you they get is their last paycheck, ever.

Next year, I will be going to the Japan GP. I will tell you with whom later.

Barcelona, Montmelo GP, part 2

So we last left this little cliffhanger with me arriving at the track as the MotoGP race started.

But let me back up a little bit. You will remember I was so late because I got on the wrong train from Passeig de Gracia downtown. That same platform hosts several different trains that go the same general direction, but some go much further than others and those that go further make fewer stops. Well, I was in a hurry to get to the track and  – I  know better than to do this  –  followed some Guiris in race fan garb onto the train, about 6 of ’em.

To make a long story less long, we watched as the train passed our stop and continued on for another 25 minutes before stopping. We got off at the very first stop we could, which happened to be the very same moment the only train going the opposite direction for an hour was pulling away. I called no fewer than 8 cab companies since it was Sunday and this town was kind out out in the boonies. Oh, and I was the one calling  since I was the only person in the group who spoke Spanish.  We had one cab driver make two trips there and back and gave him enough money that he probably just went home after our business.

So anyway…I get to the track and am at the nearest gate to the Paddock entrance. I call my friend who has a pass for me and she asks if I am at the main gate – no, I tell her, I am at gate 3, it is 4 minutes from the paddock entrance closer to where she was. So I wait. 15 minutes. The race starts in 20 minutes. I call. She is waiting at the main gate. Which is a 40 minute walk from where I am!  I tell her I am at gate 3…blah blah. She tells me she will put someone on a scooter to get me.  I wait 20 minutes and the race starts. I call. The girl is waiting at the main gate!! What the hell? So I head off for the main gate.

Its about 100 degrees outside and the path is uphill. I make it to gate #2 and am about to collapse, but at least I can see the jumbotrons through this gate, so I take a little break. (Oh did I mention that I have all my stuff with me for the weekend in a backpack?) I get all frustrated and head off again. FINALLY the girl calls and asks if I am near gate 2 – I gasp “YES” and run back. She is there on an scooter and I get to drive us through the crowds into the MotoGP paddock and hot foot it straight into hospitality where I watch the second half of the most exciting MotoGP race this year. So worth it. Then I drink a couple gallons of water.

After that, I wander around to see who I can find and say hi to some friends and eat an ice cream. At one point in my company hospitality station, I sit next to someone who I have never met in person but is a friend of a friend and he has helped me out with advice and recommendations during my time in Spain. We don’t recognize each other until Cameron Beaubiers father says my name. Then we figure out who each other is, which is funny because at Mugello we were both there and planned to meet but could never find each other. OK not funny like a clown funny, but – oh you know what I mean. The bonus is he has Limoncello and he shares it with me. Woot!

Kevin Schwantz introduces himself to me but not because he knew or cared who I was, he was being polite because I was at his table. Which makes me think I should have some kind of distinguishing characteristic to make me more memorable – like, I could sport Marilyn Manson makeup every day, or only wear yellow overalls or perhaps it could be a distinguishing smell.

I made my way back to the airport, unfortunatlely by walking 45 minutes to the train station with my big old backpack. At least it was downhill. Note: when someone offers you a ride into town, take it even if it is 30 minutes earlier than you would like. I very nearly (oh so very nearly)  missed my flight back to Venice.

But made it I did, whether that is good or bad remains to be seen.

Mugello GP

Always go with your gut instinct. No really. Just do.

I wrangled a one day pass for Mugello. I had the loan of a motorcycle for the weekend but unfortunately, I caught a ride with my coworker instead. This girl is 33 but she may as well be 75 for all her caution – and the way she drives. We followed another coworker in his car the 3+ hours down there. I knew I was in trouble after the first 10 minutes, when she commented on how fast he was driving (he was doing the speed limit). I can see why she usually drives so damn slow though – I had a death grip on the oH shIT  handles through every single roundabout we went through, and there were plenty. Turning the car commenced thusly:
1 -grab side of steering wheel with both hands
2- yank hard
3- try recover control of car by stomping on brake

Grandma had never been to a race, after working at this company for a year and a half. So I snuck her into everywhere we were not supposed to be. I asked a mechanic friend to take us through his team garage, since this poor girl didn’t know what was in them. Seriously. These are the people I work with. She nearly had a heart attack every single time I told her we weren’t OFFICIALLY supposed to be in certain places. She hyperventilated when she saw some mechanics smoking about, oh, 50 meters from someone pouring fuel into a container. I didn’t even make the connection  between the two things because I had to turn my head so far to find where the dude smoking was.

At the very LEAST, I figured we would stay in Florence if we did not find passes for race day. Once at the races it’s not such a hard feat. But Grandma was ready to go home at 10pm after having 4 drinks and no dinner in the MotoGP hospitality suite. (Side Note: this was a fun little party that featured a Freddy Mercury look-a-like singing funk tunes).  So we drove back (really fucking slowly) but not before she ran into our boss and pulled out work printouts from her purse with shaking hands. It took 4 people 45 minutes to reassure her that yes, she could take Monday off like she had planned, and no, she didn’t have to go back to discuss a tiny detail she just remembered with our boss at 10:30 on Saturday night in the Mugello Moto GP paddock!

It was a long, long drive home. I spent much of it telling her to pass people and to drive faster, I couldn’t help myself. She wouldn’t let me drive.

At 7am the next day I get a text from another friend saying he had a paddock pass for me. So I think – perfect –  I have a bike for the weekend, I’ll just haul ass down there, get there in two hours! So I get up and look outside to check the weather. What do you suppose I saw? Brilliant sunshine like the day before?

Uh, no. POURING RAIN. That stopped by the end of the race day. Thanks Universe. I hate you.

Anyway, here are some photos from my Saturday at Mugello.

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3 Americans and 1 Spaniard. One of these things is not like the other...

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Heading out, we ran into two coworkers with whom I COULD SHOULD have ridden to the track with.

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This photo may not be all that interesting, but it might have some significance in the future, so you will just have to stay tuned.

My friend Francesco.

My friend Francesco.

 his set up was at a gas station an hour from the track. I asked for the life size cardboard Simoncelli, but the sales people said no. He and his hair are really that big in person.

his set up was at a gas station an hour from the track. I asked for the life size cardboard Simoncelli, but the sales people said no. He and his hair are really that big in person.

Jerez GP Zero, Sunday

This post is titled Sunday because Saturday I woke up late and was feeling terrible (drinking sometimes does that). It wasn’t until the middle of the afternoon I even got out of the hotel, and then I didn’t feel like spending money on a taxi to go to the track.

I know that sounds ridiculous, I had access, I was in Jerez and paying to be there, but it was the GP teams first day of testing and the people I wanted to speak with would be incredibly busy so I wouldn’t even contact them until later. So I walked around town a bit and enjoyed the nice weather and sent text messages to a few people I was meant to find at the tests, asking them if I could stop by the next day. I recieved gracious and positive responses.

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Church in the center of the old part of Jerez. Why it's lit up all heavenly I don't know, I'm sure many evil things happened in it's name

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Rossi's other ride

In the evening I went to a tiny traditional bar for dinner. Southern Spain has really. really. good. food.  And amazing wine. While I was standing at the bar, some silent procession went by outside in preparation for the Semana Santa. It’s essentially a week (and then some), where they parade giant effigies of bible scenes and figures through the streets and get very emotional, sing spontaneously with lots of Southern Spanish clapping and flair, usually accompanied with crying, and generally flail about at the feet of “their” Maria -each town has their own statue thing of the virgin Mary and the details about how it looks seem to be something people are proud of and identify with, as if they were acutally different goddesses to pray to.

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Semana Santa procession at midnight. How those kids resisted torching everything sight with their giant candles I don't know.

Sunday I headed to the track in the late morning.  I was absolutely shocked at how many people there were there to watch testing. There were no jumbotrons, but there was an announcer. And the stands were totally full.

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In the afternoon some ominous clouds appeared on the horizon. A mass exodus of people who rode motorcycles there followed (and there were a lot of them).

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Parked bikes as far as the eye can see. Note rainclouds in the sky.

The rain and wind came quickly. The temperature dropped around 10 degrees (Celsius) and all the bikes went in the garages while it poured rain. I hung out in the womens lavatories with my hands under the hot air blower. A woman with a radio show in Madrid joined me under the dryer for around an hour.  Bikes ventured onto the track a bit later, and Casey Stoner won a BMW. (I’m sure he had been saving for one for months.)

I stopped by the garages I needed to and received word that someone was looking for me, that they likely had a job in the Redbull Rookies Cup for me. I nearly ran over there, and met with Jose whom I had exchanged maybe one or two emails with, introducing myself as a friend of Eduard (whom I met on the return flight from Italy). He told me he had emailed me and did not know I was at the track, so was very happy when I introduced myself in person. And he did have a job for me as an assistant with the Rookies Cup, for the year. He just needed to OK it with the rider and the bosses (Note the foreshadowing in this last phrase…).

I don’t think I need to tell you that I was excited. This would mean working at 6 European GPs for the year, an opportunity that in nearly April was very rare indeed.  So I agreed to talk more about it on the phone.  Meanwhile, I found Anscari Nadal, who was there to help out the US Rookies cup rider Benny Solis (whose dad I raced with a couple of times), and who eventually gave me a ride to my hotel.

When I spoke with Jose later, he asked if I could stay longer and come to the track on Monday to help him out with the Rookies tests. I walked around thinking about what this whole thing could mean, and went for dinner at another bar (the total was 3 Euros for some amazing fish, patatas fritas, bread and tea). Dudes, did I mention I love the food here? Well I also love the prices.

Monday morning I got up early and as I was getting ready to head to the track, Jose called and told me…there would be no job after all.  “They” didn’t want to pay, and a rider’s father was going to attend the races to work instead. I had already told a few people that I had a job offer from the Rookies Cup, as I do have a hard time keeping quiet about things, hence, this blog. (It took me a little while to figure out who “they” were, but when I had dinner with Jose later to cry on his shoulder, he told me who, and now it all makes sense. I cannot divulge here though, sorry!)

Remember my friend Gerard’s tires? Well I picked them up and checked them as my baggage on my flight back to Barcelona Monday. I wish I had gotten a few photos of this. Then I saw Gerard and his crew in the airport, looking quite the worse for wear. They had stayed out until 6 in the morning, after several very long days and not much sleep each night. I wish I had gotten some photos of these guys as well, and I am positive they are glad that I did not.

It didn’t hit me until the next day back in Barcelona how disappointed I was. A job in the GPs in my hand for 14 hours and now nothing. I needed to move out of my flat soon, I needed some kind of job to keep me in Spain longer while I worked on an employment position in racing, I was running out of money, I couldn’t sell bikes at home because the titles have been lost in the post,  I still hadn’t heard from Alpinestars about a second interview, and to top it off, it was raining when I returned to Barcelona. It was a depressing week, but there were many good things about the weekend as well (and more than just the food).

I met a lot of good people and I was reminded that anything can happen. Things can change overnight, and often do when you keep trying (more foreshadowing here, people…) I also have a new friend here in the form of Jose, who has worked in the US with the AMA and with the Spanish championship and the GPs, and is interested in helping me out. Awesome. He makes a kit for the new 450 single racers and is invloved in all kinds of racing (His company is . He also drives a pickup truck in Barcelona. Dude has some serious street cred.

Jerez GP Zero, Friday

2009 125/250/Moto GP tests, Jerez, otherwise know as GP Zero (term coined by Toby Moody)

So I went to Jerez again, for the IRTA tests this time. Unlike the test in November, all the classes were present.

I nearly did not make this trip because of the expense and the likelihood that the trip as a networking opportunity being successful was low. Last time was a bit disappointing in terms of being introduced to people and how busy everyone was, and of course this time, everyone would be busier still because of the new rules, new teams, new year… but I had a  few new contacts expecting me, plus I would know more people there this time. So I flew in on Friday and took a taxi straight to the track. (SIDE NOTE for my friends who must know Valentino’s every move:  I was considering renting a car in Jerez so I loitered around the small airport a while after landing. Most of the flight passengers had gone, and  I was alone when Valentino came strolling through the airport by himself, looking every bit like a skinny 18 year old and less like the 30 year old world champion he is.)

Thanks to a friend from the US, two guys from Simoncelli’s Gilera team were expecting me. I was supposed to call when I arrived at the gate and one of them would come get me with a pass, but I had been calling and text messaging since I was still at the airport in BCN, and had not heard back. So standing at the gate, still with my luggage and no contact, I sent texts to a couple of my friends who might possibly be able to help me, but being incredibly busy, they couldn’t even answer my messages. I finally called the technical director of MotoGP himself, who, being the nicest, most gracious guy in the entire paddock if not the world, came and picked me up himself, pass in hand. THANK YOU (again) MIKE.

p10002801I spent the first part of my Friday afternoon in the Metis Gilera box. Now ya’ll may or may not know that this is the reigning 250 world champion team, and in Spain, riders of this caliber are very popular. Very.  (second photo down in this earlier post is one I took on the track after he won the last race of the year). When I first arrived, the team were rushing to introduce me to Marco Simoncelli, assuming I was one more raving fan. I kept saying, no it’s OK, I just want to check out the bikes and hang with you guys…they finally dragged the poor guy over and told him I was a racer from the US. He graciously asked which cc bikes I liked racing better, 125 or 600, of course I said 125 (he was probably thinking: what a girl). With that out of the way everyone went back to their work.  I tried to stay out of the way, opting to sit in a chair next to the telemetry guy Elvio (or Elvis as he likes to be called) and chat, but I did get a photo of one of the new for 2009 bikes being mantled for shipping. Sooooooo pretty…

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that's a carbon fiber subframe and swingarm...

Remember my awesome friend who took me supermoto riding? Well he gave me a little tour of the Dorna camera truck/workshop for all the onbike images. I saw some progressive designs for minimally intrusive onboard photography with tiny cassette motors to clean the lenses and other neat stuff.  (I took these images with my phone so they kind of suck.)

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Carbon fiber housing. This cam faces backwards on the tail of the bike. Or maybe forward for the famous butt shots?

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Same old 1960s design grinder you have in your garage...

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Onbike camera schematic

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Brake/clutch hand camera

Of course I didn’t take pictures of the coolest stuff, like the two sets of used 250 slicks stashed in the cabinet for personal supermoto use by a certain unnamed staff member. I offered to take these as my carry on for the plane ride home, which I did. Just taped them together and rolled ’em into the airport…

I also hunted down Cam, who is debuting in the 125 class this year with Redbull KTM team!  He is having a good time and has befriended Casey Stoner.  In fact while talking with Cam, Casey came looking for him. Good to see he has a lot of support and is doing well.

Booby, all growed up

Booby, all growed up

That night I met with my friend Francesco, an Italian who works this year doing telemetry for the Caffe Latte 250 team. Their weekend was finished, so it was their responsibility to consume many adult beverages and stay out until 5am.

Francesco (on the right) babysitting Luthi

Francesco (on the right) babysitting his rider Luthi

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Smiley (with the bald head) and friend, me, Francesco, Niño in front

That’s all from Friday…more to come.

Jerez, the finale

We last left off in this little story at the end of the second test day in Jerez, which incedentally was Thanksgiving Day in America.

I took a half hour walk from my freezing hotel to the swanky hotel that my Dorna friends were staying at. Of course, halfway through I had to stop off and fortify myself with some nutritious wine and olives, both of which are most excellent in the Southern Spain region. Thus, I arrived at the hotel happier and warmer.

We went down the road to an old traditional Andalusian restaurant, complete with awesome antique bar, chummy waiters and a table full of Japanese MotoGP folk. (Evidently they always dine together.) Our table consisted of yours truly and 5 Spanish camera dudes. We ate meat and many, many fried things, including the plate of whole fried fishes that was my main T-day dinner course. They were surprisingly tasty and I would eat them again. Nothing says Thanksgiving like battered fried fish with skeletons intact. Supplemented with a couple gin and tonics, of course.

The bar/wait staff recognized one of the Japanese at the other table as Yuki Takahash, a former 250 rider now signed to the Scot Honda team. I believe they got his autograph.

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From there, we moved across the street to a bar. Being Thursday in a relatively small town, I expected a mellow-ish evening. That´s where I was wrong. The place was large, packed to the gills with dolled up locals (normal for the area I hear) and featured a local band playing Spanish music, including traditional Xmas songs that the entire place sang along to.

Drinks were cheap and we ran into an Austrian based GP journalist (oooh sorry, cant remember his name!!) who insisted on supplying everyone with some version of a vodka margarita, many, many times over.

nameless journo and me

nameless journo and me

Around 2:30am we lost a soldier or two, but friends, the night did not end there.

the drinking, it continuecd

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I am glad I had my camera, I might have forgotten such moments as these.

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When this place shut down after 3 something AM, we headed over to a nightclub. Again, packed. Everyone quite well dressed and the men all sported stylish hair-do´s. Don’t know why, but this is what I remember. That, and we invented some incredibly hip dances, such as “pitching hay”, “squint your face up with feeling”, and my personal favorite, “robot goes crazy”. We left at 5am, and the place was still packed.

The next I flew back to Barcelona. Jorge Lorenzo was in line behind me for my flight along with his…manservant or whatever, who is now his press officer employed by Yamaha. A new post for him, as last year I think he was just plain manservant. (Manservant helped me into the Redbull party at Laguna, since I had worked in Jorges garage scanning tires there.  We have spoken a few times, and did so at the test as well. )

That was the test for me. Not sure if I will attend the 125/250 test in January in Valencia unless I have a real meeting set up.  I did send out my CV (or had it sent by others) to several teams and companies.  So for now, I wait. And continue to enjoy my crazy weekends here in Spain. I´m responsible like that.