MotoGP at Indy: Sunday afternoon is RACE TIME!

This is part of a series of many parts. Obviously I’m going to have to create an index post for these things! Read the previous entry here.

We rejoin Your Hero and Heroine in Stand B Penthouse, around noon on Sunday. As the skies looked more ominous and the winds started to pick up, the 125cc race gridded up and took off on a more or less dry track. All of the racers were on regular racing slicks. And for a while, the race was quite enjoyable. I’ve never actually seen a 125cc race before, and man, was it a ball. There are probably 30 of these little guys on track at once as opposed to the 18-19 in a GP race, they’re feisty, and they are not afraid to get in there and mix it up. Our vantage point right at the entrance to Turn 1 was excellent, as there were several packs of riders tipping into the turn together and we saw many an attempt to pass under the brakes, and several times we saw riders almost touch as they went through 1.

But then… yep. The rain started to fall, the wind began to pick up, and the 125 race was red-flagged to a stop. It was close enough to the finish that the race was called completed, with 20-year-old Spaniard Nicolas Terol holding a significant lead over his countryman, Pol Espargaro, at the red flag. Afterward, the jumbotron showed another lovely tidbit of information:

ATTENTION
HIGH WIND WARNING
UNTIL 3PM WITH
SUSTAINED WINDS 40 MPH
GUSTS UP TO 60 MPH

Allllllrighty then.

And round about then, the sprinkles turned to pouring rain. Serious rain. Hard-to-see-the-other-side-of-the-track rain. The 250cc riders formed up on the grid, even though it was raining like hell and the wind was blowing it across the track in sheets – but then the 250cc’s were moved off the grid and back into the garage. Nobody in the stands knew what this meant in the short term, until a few minutes later it was announced that the 250cc race was being delayed until after the end of the MotoGP race. So we had about an hour and a half before the GP race was scheduled to start. Nobody knew what was going to happen in the meantime. Here is a very short YouTube vid I shot just to show how the wind was blowing the red flag. (You can see the rain in the non-compressed video, not so well in the YouTube version.)

The jumbotron served up more good news in the form of the local radar. That’s Indianapolis in the center, folks. And IMS is on the western edge of Indy.

As you might guess from the radar, we were in for it. Seriously. It poured and sheeted and poured some more for about 45 minutes. I said something to Dys, wondering how many of the Europeans in the garages and watching at home on TV even knew what a hurricane was. A little while later, we saw the MotoGP worldwide feed on the jumbotrons actually showing Ike’s path across the Gulf, through Texas, and then up through the midwest to Indy. Well, I thought, if they didn’t know then, they’re learning now!

People made the best of it that they could. It was amusing how a couple of the teams played up to the crowds. A few of the 125 and 250cc crewmembers got out of the garages and horsed around – two guys Greco-Roman wrestled, one guy laid down and mimed swimming. One person came out and very deliberately laid a small object down in the rain. A few minutes later, he came back out and moved it up pit road a ways. We couldn’t figure out what it was until much later, when a cameraman went over close to it and then it showed on the jumbotron – it was a little rubber ducky. Ducky was probably the happiest person in the vast expanse of IMS right about then, because most of the rest of us were either riders nervous about whether or not we were going to race and in what conditions, or we were just plain wet.

The jumbotron showed a graphic: “I DON’T LIKE IKE!” Nope. None of us did. The Owensboro gang behind us got a phone call. One guy turned to the next and said, “He said a barge broke loose and hit the old bridge. I dunno how yer gonna get home.” The MotoGP Safety Car, a BMW sedan that rides around the track checking the racing surface, made periodic laps. There was a puddle right in front of our seats where the motorcycle racetrack met the main IMS oval – it was so big that when the safety car came through, the water splashed up over the hood.

Unlike Friday, this time the wind was blowing the rain more or less into our faces on the front row of the upper deck. Dys made a trip to the bathroom and it was raining so hard that I actually folded up her chair (they have folding chairs in this part of the stand, in case you didn’t see in the pics – weird, but better than bleachers!) to keep her from having to sit in a completely soaked seat for the rest of the day. She ended up hanging out and chatting with the wife of the guy sitting next to her for some time, actually, as they were in no real hurry to get back down where the wind was blowing the rain in their faces. Meanwhile, the Owensboro guys were asking myself and said guy, “Did they leave you, man?” “Nah,” I said, “I’ve got the keys. If she’s waiting for me by the car, she’ll be madder than I will!”

But to our great joy, eventually (about 30 minutes before race time) the rain slackened greatly, reducing to intermittent showers, and the skies brightened a bit. When that happened, man, we got to see the IMS Army in action. A big street sweeper, then a small jet dryer, and then two great big jet dryers, and finally a truck that was fitted with what looked like the world’s biggest garage broom in place of a snowplow came out and started working on the track, especially the big puddle right in front of us at turn 1. They were even vacuuming the water off of the top of the airfence.

You know what? It worked, man. There was still a little water at turn 1, but the huge puddle was gone. It was about this time that my parents, staying home with our son, called me on my cell phone. “We’ve had a whole lot of wind here,” my mom said. “What do you want us to do with all the limbs and leaves and stuff?” I plugged my ears to yell over the noise of the jet dryers. “Just put ‘em all into one of the garbage cans in the garage. Anything you can’t fit in there, just put it behind the garage and I’ll get ‘em when I get home.” I didn’t think anything more about it. The skies were brighter, and as it approached race time, the grid formed up.

The grid formed up, man! The storm is past, we’re about to go racing!

The track announcer went through and presented all of the riders on the grid. Huge shouts for all the Americans, Colin Edwards, John Hopkins, Ben Spies, and especially Nicky Hayden, the kid who grew up just three hours away in Kentucky. Another huge shout for Valentino Rossi, and something of one for Casey Stoner. When Hayden’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa, was introduced, boos cascaded down from the stands. Americans don’t forget the Estoril incident, b’gawd! (Commenters later said that the boos actually seemed to rattle Pedrosa a bit.)

The riders headed out on their sighting lap – one last run through of the track to let them look for any particular surface issues, run their bikes through the turns to see how everything works with the conditions right at race time – and settled back into the grid. We were ready to go!

And they’re off!

Column in my way be damned, I stood up to my right, leaned my ass all the way in front of the column, and shot this video of the race start!

Casey Stoner, defending World Champ on the red factory Ducati, took the holeshot and led the field into Turn 1 with Nicky Hayden, the Kentucky Kid, close behind. Andrea Dovizioso on the silver Honda edged out Valentino Rossi, the current world championship leader, for third place going into Turn 1…the riders passed through the first two turns closely packed, and before you knew it, they were out of sight.

We watched the jumbotron as they came through turn 5, and got a few brief peeks of them as they passed through gaps in the infield stands, but other than that it was waiting with bated breath for the riders to turn the corner onto the front straight again. Even in the mist, it was surprisingly easy to distinguish certain riders down the entire length of the straight: the red Ducatis, the blaze orange of the Repsol Hondas, and the fluorescent yellow on Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha were all instantly distinctive. We just had to watch and see who came around first. With the rain blowing from our right front, Dys didn’t get to shoot much with the film camera, but I actually put that big frickin’ column in my way to use – I moved up close to it, using the column to shield my lens from the rain, and snapped away.

When they came around the first time, Dovizioso had taken the lead, and Hayden had gotten around Stoner. But Hayden closed up tight on the brakes into turn 1, on the straightaway at the end of lap 2, Hayden crept around Dovizioso and held him off into turn 1. Hayden takes the lead! The stands went berserk!!

Meanwhile, one five-time 500cc/MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi was making his way back from fifth place. By the fifth lap, Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo had passed Stoner and closed in on Dovizioso in third place. Rossi was beginning to close on Hayden as the two men pulled away from the rest of the field.

Rossi clearly had the advantage over Hayden in turns two through four – he would close up tight on the rear end of the Honda, but by the time they came back to the straight, Hayden would have the advantage again, and blasting down the straight and braking late into turn 1, he would extend it. But Rossi would close up in the tight stuff, and the whole thing would start over. It quickly became clear that Rossi was getting closer and closer – he was just waiting to make his move.

It sputtered rain intermittently, and then stopped, the track beginning to dry out. Lorenzo passed Dovizioso and moved into a distant third place behind Hayden and Rossi – and then Rossi made his move, passing Hayden and pulling out a small gap between the two.

Hayden maintained the gap for some time, but as the track dried his softer tires began to wear away. Rossi was able to maintain his speed and pull away from Hayden; meanwhile, Hayden’s gap to Lorenzo was shrinking lap by lap. At the same time, the winds began to pick up. Hard. The bikes were visibly moving as they went down the straightaway, and more than once a plastic bag floated down from far above to land on the racing surface. Dys and I held our breaths, hoping that nobody would run over a bag and have an accident right in front of us.

As the winds picked up, the conditions worsened, and the rain started again. Many riders would later say they were the worst conditions they’d ever raced in – that the wind would push the bike from one edge of the track all the way to the other, that the gusts were completely unpredictable, and that they had to leave a wide margin from the edges of the raceway because the wind might at any one point push them off of the drying racing line and into a puddle. Hell, the Yamaha tent where we shopped on Friday morning had the roof torn off!

Finally, the race was red-flagged as Rossi crossed the line to begin Lap 21. Lorenzo had closed up right onto Hayden’s rear tire and would surely have passed him in another lap or two, but the field was frozen as they crossed the line at lap 20.

After some debate and confusion about whether or not the race would be restarted for the final 8 laps (a disaster for Rossi if it happened, for it would nullify his six-second advantage over the rest of the field), race direction wisely declared the race complete. Even though our two favorites finished first and second, Dys and I were quite disappointed – one of the main reasons Dys was excited about our seats is that we’d get to see the riders celebrate and/or gesture angrily as they crossed the finish line, see the victory wheelies, etc. As it was, the finish of the race was anticlimactic – the riders pulled into the garage, waited a minute, and then it was declared all over.

Here is your victor, pulling into pit lane.

The rain lessened, but if anything the wind blew even harder as the riders took to the podium – Hayden hobbling on his broken heel (broken a month ago during an X-Games Supermoto) and using a cane. We didn’t get any closer, so the best we could do was to peek through Dys’s zoom lens on the 35mm.

After a brief delay, the announcement came over the PA that the 250cc race would be cancelled. Our race day was over.

We waited for a little while in the stands, then decided to make a run for the car. As we made our way down the stairs, the rain eased off one more time, and we walked to the car in more or less a drizzle. We pulled off our wet things and sat down to what we thought would be a long wait getting out. There was apparently far too few people directing traffic out of the parking lot – but truth be told, of all the interactions with IMS staff over the whole four days, this was the only goof they made, and they did several things to keep things running smoothly that I never would have thought of. So they get a pass from me.

It ended up that we took a longer way around the outside of the parking lot to get in line closer to the exit. A couple of enterprising young lads who lived in a house adjacent to the track opened a gate and walked by saying, “We’ll let you out for $5!” A few people took that offer, but I didn’t. A few minutes later we were outbound anyway. We got a little turned around by the traffic, being in a lane that was forced to go straight when we wanted to turn right, but we ended up out of there much sooner than we thought. Wincing a benediction to all the motorcyclists riding home in this intermittent rain and hellish wind, we headed for home.

It was only when we stopped half an hour later for a bite to eat that things really started to seem odd. The big shopping center was dark, and the Arby’s we’d picked out was locked. Obviously they were without power. We continued along for another half an hour or so, stopping at another Arby’s we knew of. It seemed a bit busy for an early Sunday evening.

The farther we went from Indy, the more we started noticing things like trees lying right up to the edge of the interstate with fresh sawcuts – clearly recently cut away by the highway department. The closer we got to home, the worse it got, until finally we pulled into town to notice that damned near everything was dark, and there were huge limbs down everywhere. Up until then I’d assumed my parents’ talk about “limbs and leaves” meant the little twigs down from a storm. Nope. This was serious. We got to our block to see that our neighbor on the corner had a huge tree down in his yard, and he was out talking to another neighbor. We stopped. “Good god, Bill, is everybody okay?” They were. But wow at the damage.

We got home, and we were lucky. Only a few small limbs from the trees behind the house were down. Our neighbor across the street had a huge limb fall and break a window but not do any structural damage. (It just required a lot of cleanup.) But we were all without power. We sat on our back deck showing my parents our race pictures by flashlight, then we went inside and all went to bed, exhausted.

We wouldn’t have power back until Wednesday evening. It was a surreal postscript to one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Look for the wrap-up post tomorrow!

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4 Responses

  1. Sounds like it was worse back home than at the race- I am glad noone was hurt.

    Sorry that the end of the race was a bit of an anticlimax! You still got some great pics, despite the weather!

    Funny the lengths the pit crew went to to keep you all entertained! 🙂

    It was weird. Considering the path the storm took, I had thought that we’d get the worst of it, but there were high winds spread all over the place, pretty far away from the rainy core that was what was left of Ike.

    Dys was REALLY bummed that we didn’t get to see Rossi and/or Hayden go by, wheelying and pumping fists.

  2. Is it silly that I want to see the ducky?

    Just a little. 😉

    I don’t think it was a garden-generic ducky, but sadly it wasn’t a devil ducky either. I always intended to put one of those on the handlebars if I ever owned a Ducati.

  3. I have a ‘collection’ of duckies, actually. My favorite…my KISS duckies.

    I gotta say, that sounds awesome!

  4. Great weekend you had there, sir. A little bit there for everyone.

    Did they play ‘Rubber Ducky’ over the PA?

    Sadly, no, but they did play “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and something else that I thought was hysterical at the time but have now completely forgotten. Hmm…hopefully it’ll come back to me…

    Oh, “Here Comes The Rain Again” but that wasn’t what I had in mind, it was something else. They had a long time to play music over the PA while the storm raged.

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