Race Day, bitches!!! Caution: This post contains race spoilers. All the photos are from our Flickr set for Sunday.
I woke up at about 4:15am with the sound of screaming GP bikes in my head. I managed to return myself to a state of fitful half-sleep for the next hour and a half or so, but I was already more or less awake before my cell phone alarm started going off at 6. I got up, took my shower, shaved my noggin, and began the process of waking Dys up at around 6:30.
We went down to the breakfast nook, and luckily for us, this time the TV was showing something other than damned Fox News. (Aside: People, the last thing I want harshin’ my moto buzz first thing on a GP weekend morning is goddamned political talking heads.) Instead, the handful of moto fans chowing down on the complimentary breakfast were tuned into the live coverage of the Formula One race in Belgium, so we watched the prerace and the first lap or two of that while I mowed through a couple or three of those awesome Holiday Inn Express cinnamon rolls. (Yum.)
Afterward, we went back to the room and while Dys put the finishing touches on her outfit, hair, etc. and finished packing all of our stuff so we could check out, I started shuttling our things out to the car. Then I went to the front desk to see about maybe getting a reservation for next year. You see, the hotel costs have ended up being a huge chunk of the trip – this year, it was the single biggest expense.
Last year we got in to a Comfort Suites before folks figured out that this little motorcycle race was a big deal, and got booked for $99. Then the day we checked in they said they were booked up for next year – later when they had openings, they were for like $190 a night. YOWZA. This year, we got in to the Holiday Inn Express near that one, but they knew the score – it was a 3 night minimum stay, for $140, $170, and $170. Plus tax. OOF. When I made the reservation at the desk on Sunday morning, though? $99 a night for all three nights. Ha ha ha fuck you, you thieving scum motherfuckers! HAHAHAHAHAH!!
Anyway. I turned in our keys and went back to the room to grab the last bit of stuff and Dys and skedaddle. I gave her a big hug and a kiss. “What was that about?” she said. I said, “We’re ready to go 10 minutes earlier than we’d planned. Do you know how turned on I am right now?”
Hey, that’s how we roll.
So we pulled out of the hotel parking lot at about 7:40, navigated very light traffic and made it to the parking lot about 8:00, an hour after the gates opened. The crowd was building but nothing serious yet. Of course, as one of my moto-buddies pointed out during dinner on Saturday night, the place is equipped to handle half a million or so RV-driving NASCAR and Indy car fans. As he put it, “A hundred thousand motorcycles is nothing. It’s a Tuesday.”
We breezed through the gates and headed to our seats in the upper deck of section B, at the entrance to turn 1. At the base of the stairs, the guy asked if our tickets were for the B Penthouse, which was the first time all weekend anybody checked our tickets other than the gate officials just making sure we had a ticket, any ticket. We were clear, of course, so we lugged all our gear to the top and settled in to our seats about 8:30, pausing to tie my new Rossi #46 flag to the fence below the rail.
It was a gorgeous morning, as had been predicted. A little bit of fog, and a cool breeze. It was cool enough that I had actually pondered wearing a sweatshirt for the race, and though I’d ended up going in a t-shirt and (long-ish) shorts, I did pack the sweatshirt. Dys wore hers. In the morning, when the fog burned off and the sun shone bright to make us break out the sunscreen, we actually got quite hot again. But later in the afternoon as the sun headed westward, it went behind the stands and we fell into the cool shade. At that point Dys not only had her sweatshirt on, she actually pulled the hood up once or twice. Crazy weather for the end of August – if we can be this lucky for next year’s race, I’ll be thankful.
Each racing class gets a brief warm-up on Sunday morning to make final changes to settings, etc. before the race in the afternoon. The sessions are 20-30 minutes long depending on the class – so one last time to see the guys out there lapping before it really counts. The 125cc warm-up started at 9:40, so we had plenty of time beforehand to relax and take it all in.
The 125 boys got the bikes ready and hit the track. I told Dys as I saw them zipping around the track, “You know, those big bikes might scare the whimpering shit out of me, but I think I’d love to take one of those little buggers for a good hard ride around the track. I bet it would be a ball.” Dys thought they were so small and light that she’d feel too nervous, that she’d want something more solid (insert joke here), but I think those little light bikes would be a hell of a lot of fun. Especially if you’re a 16-18 year old kid like most of these guys are.
That doesn’t mean they can’t bite.
This poor kid lost it on the entrance to Turn 1 just past our seats, cartwheeling his bike into the grass. I felt more sorry for him than anyone that day – he’d made it all the way through practice and was in the last five minutes of warm-up when he crashed and destroyed his bike. You can’t really tell from the still, but he was hopping on his right leg like it might have been broken. Poor guy.
Next the 250cc guys took the track to warm up, as the sun began to shine in earnest. Last year’s champion, Marco Simoncelli, had been the most consistently fast guy all weekend – of course, he’d gotten there by testing the limit. “How fast can I go through here?” *crash* “Okay, not quite that fast.” He’d been pipped for the pole position first by this year’s championship leader, Hiroshi Aoyama, and then by last year’s 125cc champ, Mike DiMeglio, but the smart money was on Simoncelli during the race. Besides, he’ll be a MotoGP rider next year, and even though his English isn’t great at all (and his mop of a hairdo is probably sentient) you can already tell he’s one hell of a rider. I took lots of pics of him, including this one that was one of the best of the weekend. On seeing it for the first time, Dys freaked. “Jesus, TB, you can see the vein in his neck.” I’m pretty proud of it, so click it to view the original size.
By the way, technically this photo is from Saturday afternoon 250 qualifying, but I had to post it here since I was too whipped to do so in Saturday’s post. This is 250cc championship contender, and another guy who will be in MotoGP next year, Alvaro Bautista.
“Which fucking bike am I riding again? Oh yeah. #19. Got it.” Seriously, every time he exits the pit lane he leans all the way over and kisses his number or windshield. At least that’s what it looks like he’s doing. Some of these racers kill me with their routines, sticking the legs out to stretch the leathers, crossing themselves, and oh yeah. Speaking of which, when 250cc practice was over, it was time for the big boys to come out and play.
“Gotta be a win in here somewhere.” Heh. Rossi’s pit lane “crotch adjustment/pull the leathers outta mah ass crack” routine is even better than Bautista’s. It’s hysterical. But on to business: Ladies and gentlemen, after practice all afternoon Friday and all day Saturday, Sunday morning warm-ups is where I hit my mojo as a photographer. I am so proud of these shots that I could just shit – one of them is now my desktop wallpaper, and choosing between them for that role was HARD. I’ll shut up for a second and let the photos talk. Hover over to see the rider’s name; click any of them to see the big version.
Alex DeAngelis, a rider with no real significant MotoGP results to speak of and who had basically been fired from his ride a few weeks ago capped a fantastic weekend by having the fastest time during the warm-up session. Then, seemingly just as it was getting started, the GP practice was over, and the riders when wheelying down in front of the stands between turns 4 and 5, beginning a long hour from 11-noon when there was no racing. (Honestly, it made me miss the 80cc Red Bull Rookies Cup race from last year. That was a lot of fun, but the series folded when the economy went south.) There was a little action on track, however, as Ducati brought retired GP superstar Randy Mamola and the Desmosedici 2-seater GP bike back out for another tour of duty. I joked about this in the Saturday post, so I’ll just post a picture this time and say “Imagine riding on the back of this thing, no control over what you’re doing or how fast you’re going, as a certified madman takes one of the most badass motorcycles on earth around the track (admittedly at 70% of capacity).” How brave are YOU? Me, I’m not so sure.
The sun was shining bright as the 125cc riders ran their warm-up laps, gridded up, and popped the clutch.
I modified my original statement to Dys: “I would love to take one of those bikes around the track, but I would not like to dive into Turn 1 in the middle of that pack of 17-year-olds. YIKES.”
Five riders broke away from the pack and dominated the race, but none could really separate. Nicholas Terol on the #18 led for most of the race, being challenged most of the time by British youngster Bradley Smith on the #38. Smith looked to have the speed and the desire to get up front, but Terol craftily held him off. Meanwhile, Pol Espargaro on the red #44 made several textbook-perfect moves, occasionally relegating Smith to third before giving way to Smith’s charge. In the end, Espargaro managed to put a few wily moves on them both and hold off a strong charge at the line to win the race. All three looked like gamers, but Espargaro in particular looks like a real thinking man’s racer. Very well done.
Then it was 250cc time! Honestly, when it all came down, the 250 race was bit of a snoozer. After the first lap, Simoncelli and Aoyama ran away from the crowd. For a while it looked like Aoyama was just biding his time, waiting to make a move. Simoncelli would pull a gap, only to have Aoyama claw it right back.
But as the race wore on, the gap started to widen, and Simoncelli cruised to the win.
Then came the hour-or-so wait between the 250 race and the start of the GP race. Ceremony, national anthem, invocation, etc. As a cool touch, American GP legend Kevin Schwantz was persuaded to dig his 1993 world championship-winning Suzuki out of the mothballs and take a couple of laps of honor around the track. It was a cool moment for real GP fans.
Check the 2-stroke smoke! And the real killer, as Dys said, was how quiet that bike was. As they say in the movie Faster, you know, in the 2-stroke days you could have a conversation on pit lane. In contrast, during the GP warm-up that morning, my son called us on my cell phone. I got up out of my seat, walked up the bleachers, down the other side, and into the men’s room and I still couldn’t hear him over the bikes. Yowza. Dey loud.
Also, for some strange reason during the preliminaries to the GP race my eyes started watering like mad. I don’t know if it was some weird allergen, or if the sunscreen I’d liberally applied in the morning had finally gotten into my eyes, but man. I was crying like Dumbo’s mother just got caged. Blowing my nose and the full deal. Annoyingly, this problem never completely went away during the GP race. It got better, but it would flare up at times and I’d tear up again. Freaky.
Anyway, I’d resolved to not go too nuts taking photos during the race – because, by gawd, I’ve noticed that I have this bad habit of only looking at the world through that 1×2″ LCD screen when the camera is on. I paid good money to watch the race, and there’s so much going on around me, but I’m afraid to put the camera down because I might miss a perfect shot. So I put my foot down and said I’d spend most of my time during the actual race being a fan, so that’s what I did.
Dani Pedrosa, the guy who’d torpedoed local boy Nicky Hayden almost right out of the 2006 World Championship, was in pole position. Considering Hayden’s home is just three hours down the road and he pretty much brought his whole town to Indy with him, this was a very unpopular pole. But as some suggest, perhaps Pedrosa fed off the crowd’s hatred last year, because he’d been brutally fast all weekend. Likewise brutally fast was the other of the three real contenders from the entire year, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. (Casey Stoner still sitting this race out.) Rossi, however, was fast but unhappy with his bike. Lorenzo had looked fast, and very comfortable, all weekend. Enough so that I remarked on it to my motorcycle forum on Friday night, and told a little girl in a Lorenzo shirt on Sunday morning that she stood a good chance of going home happy.
In the early going, unsurprisingly, the three of them broke from the pack. Pedrosa leading, Rossi following, and Lorenzo closing a gap to the pair of them.
Then, just as the tires were heating up and the racers were picking up the pace, Pedrosa lost the front and wiped out just before the entrance to the front straightaway! The crowd, watching him slide on the tarmac (obviously unhurt) actually cheered. Pedrosa picked up his bike and rejoined the race, but it was now a two-man race for the lead, between the two leaders in the championship: teammates and rivals, Rossi and Lorenzo. As Toby Moody in the announcer’s chair said, referring to the last race in which the two of them went at it hammer and tongs, “It’s Brno all over again!”
Lorenzo made a bold move to pass Rossi, and took over the lead. As Rossi followed, applying the pressure and looking for a way past, he took a wide line into turn 2, off the main race line, and lost the front going into the brakes. Rossi was out of it! He rejoined the race, actually ahead of Pedrosa, but his throttle was sticking and he was forced to retire. No points for Rossi, and Lorenzo stretched out his lead over the pack to ridiculous lengths – over 12 seconds at one point. He would leave the front straight before anyone else had entered it.
The two crashes meant that guys battling for 4th through 6th were suddenly battling for spots on the podium. Alex DeAngelis continued his sterling weekend by circulating in second, closely followed by local boy Hayden. Hayden stuck with him, leading me to tell Dys that I hoped nothing happened to Lorenzo – if Hayden knew he was fighting for the win instead of fighting for second he might be tempted to do something rash to pass DeAngelis. In the end, though, DeAngelis’ pace was too consistently fast, and Hayden’s tires (he and teammate Kallio were the only ones to take medium instead of hard tires) started to go off. He gradually slipped back into the clutches of Andrea Dovizioso on the #4, and Hayden rode the absolute wheels off his Ducati to keep Dovi behind him over the last few laps. Lorenzo won in a walk, DeAngelis unchallenged for second, but Hayden had to scrap to successfully take it home in third.
Dys and I were prepared for Lorenzo to cross the line, thinking our seats would be perfect to catch the post-race wheelie of fist-pump (as I did, blurrily, catch Simoncelli). However, Lorenzo did something unexpected – he rode up very close to the wall, to the point that he almost disappeared beneath us. “WTF is he doing?” I screamed to Dys.
He went past us, just to where Turn 1 begins on the actual Indy oval, and hopped off his bike. “He’s playing to the crowd!” I said. I was underestimating the man.
Yep. He climbed the fence to cheer with the crowd. Dys says, “Did he forget he was wearing Captain America (a nod to the American fans) instead of Spider-Man?” Nevertheless, the crowd as a whole ate it up. Including yours truly. Jorge Lorenzo earned a new fan this weekend. (And not just because I got his autograph.)
Honestly, we had a fantastic time. The only complaint we had for the whole weekend was the crowded traffic on the way out of the speedway – but I’m not sure how you could get around that without an army of parking traffic-control attendants. As it turned out, we left the stands a little after four and were home by 7:30, so we can’t complain at all. It was a bummer for me that Rossi fell, which you might have gathered considering I was decked out in a Rossi t-shirt, hat, and lanyard and was sitting behind a Rossi flag (and we think that when we watched the race on Tivo, using a lot of super-sl0w-mo, that we could just barely make out our flag from Lorenzo’s bike-cam as he hauled ass by). But Lorenzo had earned his great win by virtue of a weekend of great practice sessions, and he was as gracious as he could be with the American fans, so good on him.
Like last year, I’ll pull all these posts together into a wrap-up/index post in the next couple of days. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed, or at least tolerated, my blabbing about one of the highlights of my year.
Maybe I’ll see you at the track next year!
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