Ever since I started getting into motorcycles I was fascinated with MotoGP, which are pretty much the elite of elite motorcycle racers in the world, think F1 but on two wheels! I have always wanted to go to a race weekend but never got around to it because of things always coming up. In fear of this may be the last year Valentino Rossi races I had to make the pilgrimage out for a race weekend! It wasn’t much to think about, book flight, buy tickets, and acquire paddock passes. In a few swift clicks of the mouse and swiping of a credit card I was on my way to my first race weekend! I was able to get 3 of my friends to come along for this experience as well.
This year’s second round was to be held in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas, although there was another American round held at Indy I came to the conclusion CotA would be a much better venue. The track and facility itself is world class as it also hosts the F1 round. Its winding 20 turn course made for some exciting racing not to mention its uphill Turn 1 fiasco! The southern food was another draw for me as I love TexMex/Cajun/Creole food so it was really a no brainer. It was also an opportunity to meet up with my friend Sherman whom is also a class act. It’s really true what they say about southern hospitality.
Upon arriving at the circuit for the Friday practice session it was really hitting me that I am definitely there. It was a few hours later that I got my fanboy moments on, but then again who wouldn’t? We got there minutes before Moto3 was set out for their practice sessions. I never would have imagined that a 250cc four stroke motorcycle can sound the way it sounds. It put to shame any 1000cc superbike with a full Akra system; it’s really that great to the ears. I promptly looked up how much it would cost to actually buy a Moto3 bike and it was only a cool $16,000. The great thing about Moto3 is that it’s a supporting class that would ultimately feed into the higher classes (Moto2/MotoGP) and the talent was there not to mention it was about a 30 rider field. Elbow to elbow racing can be seen here.
After this session we went to the support paddock where all of the vendors are stationed. Plenty was being offered for sale from T-shirts, helmets, leathers, bike giveaways all the way to signed memorabilia (which I desperately wanted until a little later.) I ended up acquiring quite a bit of Yamaha gear while I was there but who can blame me?!
MotoGP was up next for practice as we made way to our seats for the first time that day. It’s surreal watching people I see race on my computer actually doing it in real life. There goes Bautista, oh look its Hayden, 41 that’s Aleix, Movistar Yamaha can only be Valentino! It went like this for me the entire session. The bikes looked amazing in real life not to mention the sounds they emitted. The Hondas had a more high pitch sound while the drone of the Yamaha was apparent and the even deeper, throatier drone of the Ducati can be felt with vibrations through your chest. It was surreal.
I wanted the full MotoGP experience for my first time around so getting paddock passes was a must for any true enthusiasts. I heard that CotA only gave out 1000 paddock passes and they were promptly all snatched up, me being one of them. This allows you to access the paddock area, albeit behind the actual pits, but it was the only way you can actually see the riders in their natural setting, the race track. They had a café along with the hospitality suites that the teams set up for their riders, staff and guests. We were neither any of those so they were off limits to us, but I will be scheming one year on how to get in! First rider I saw was Andrea Dovizioso who was standing in full leathers just outside of the Ducati hospitality. I was star struck to be honest and frantically searched for my program along with my sharpie.
The further we walked the more the people congregated outside a certain particular garage entrance. As I got closer I realized all along whom it was, Valentino Rossi. Everyone was waiting for him to emerge from his garage after he debriefed his team on his practice session, me including. I had brought along my helmet for this sole reason, attempt to get an autograph. I had mentioned to Sherman how he got his signed by Rossi and it took him 4 hours of waiting, with that I was fearful I couldn’t get it signed. But lo behold with some quick cat like maneuvering and being able to extend my arms over everyone I placed my helmet directly in his line of vision. He slowly motioned towards me as I eagerly waited in total silence while everyone was becoming rapid animals. I felt a tug on my helmet but not from my other patrons but by Vale himself! He took my helmet into his care and proceeded to adorn it with his signature. My all time favorite athlete/personality/human was signing my all time favorite helmet, his AGV GP-Tech 5 Continents. I was handed my helmet back as I shouted ‘GRAZIE VALE GRAZIE!’ I must say I am never one to care for getting autographs but I guess everyone has their kryptonite. I walked back to my friends in a panic stricken state. Not knowing whether I was in shock or having mind high, or maybe both. My life at that point was pretty much complete. I love seeing people get excited when they interact with their favorite rider.
After my signing all else didn’t matter except the fact that I wanted to meet as many riders in the GP class as possible. While my friends stayed stationary I made moves around the paddock, even getting a picture taken with the CotA girls and the replica trophy, it was my shining moment, my only 1st place! The paddock was a busy place with technicians running around with laptops reading data, Bridgestone tires being brought to the teams, mechanics and their tool sets cleaning and fixing the bikes along with media staff for the teams running about tending to riders and their guests. It was a sight to see how for a few days each month a city like population gets ready for a race that is just less than 45 minutes long on Sunday.
During my walk I met more of the GP class along with getting them to autograph their rider profile pages in my program book. Karel Abraham, Andrea Iannone, Ben Spies (who was really cool), Marc Marquez (reigning champ and a man with an infectious smile), Jorge Lorenzo (smoothest style in the business), Nicky Hayden (truly a wonderful person), Colin Edwards (Texas Tornado at his home race), Scott Redding, Pol & Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smith and even some team principles like Herve Poncheral, Livio Suppo and Shuhei Nakamoto. Fanboy statuses engage!
I wish someone had told me that walking around Austin all day would equate to being burned. I had sunburns on my arms, knees, nose and forehead. It had been years since I had one and the feeling was horrible. Needless to say coming back for Saturday’s qualifying was miserable to say the least. It hurts everywhere, but the show had to go on. We made a few more passes through the support paddock and promptly made our way to the actual paddock as soon as possible considering the day before we went to the paddock around 11:30 AM while this time was a cool 9:15 AM. Early birds get the worms or the autograph and photo in this case. My friends had missed out on some autographs from the day before as they didn’t make moves with me, so that day they waited with hawk likes reaction times to get the very last of autographs. I acted as a guide, telling them when and where I would think the riders would be, most of the time I was right, so I can safely say I have a knack for this stuff!
When 1:30 rolled around we made our way back to our seats to watch the final free practice before the Q1 started. I always like watching qualifying because it was the real first time you get to see anyone set fast laps. It is also used to put the riders in their grid positions in accordance with their lap times. I do wish however they brought back the use of a qualifying tire but then again I am not part of the rules committee. Never the less it was great to see the bikes run at their full potential. Our seats were at Turn 15 so we were able to see part of the back long straight from Turn 12 all the way to Turn 16. Although we could have sat higher in the grand stand I honestly didn’t mind my seat. I wish I had brought along my brother’s 300mm lens seeing to it how my 105mm was less than adequate in capturing the bikes on track. After the grid was slotted, VR and JL both was on the second row – not too bad but not too great either, we made way for heading out that day, burnt, battered and hurting all over, saving all our energy for race day.
If I you think the paddock was busy during the Friday and Saturday shin digs then race morning was a metro train station of madness. Left and right people were running over each other trying to get the last bits of components on or off the bikes, making sure the riders are in good shape, all the data has been analyzed and all the machinery warmed up and ready to go. We watched the warm up in the café and I paid close attention to people’s predictions on how the race might end up and whether or not a wet race call with be in effect. Side note that if it rains the show will go on, MotoGP do not stop racing just because it rains (unlike NASCAR.) After warm ups we made like flocks of seagulls and traversed the terrains back to our seating area to watch the Moto3/2/GP race that was about minutes away from starting.
Moto3 as mentioned before held some spectacular racing despite its Turn 1 incident where a few riders went down. It was looking to be a 4 way battle for 1st place with a lot of overtaking maneuvers happening throughout the entire track. Jack Miller of KTM, Roman Fenati of Sky Racing, Alex Marquez (Marc Marquez’s little brother) of the Estrella Repsol squad and one more name that I am lacking on was in a tense battle. But ultimately it was the Aussie Miller that came out victorious with Fenati in a close second and the chap whom I can’t name in 3rd. Marquez ended up crashing out on the last lap while pushing really hard, it’s unfortunate but that is racing.
Moto2 proved to be an even greater race with a stacked field and an American, Josh Herrin, running the Caterham Air Asia team. It was the first time all weekend that I saw the Moto2 bikes at all aside from getting warmed up in the paddock. As soon as the lights went out it was almost automatic that you sense a Turn 1 incident was about to happen. Without fail it did. Some riders got caught up and some went over their handle bars, another misfortune of racing. Herrin was amongst them but he remounted and was making headway into the pack, small glimmer of light and hope here. In the end he did end up crashing again to the distraught of many American fans. As soon as it started it ended the same for me, as my attention was mainly focused on the MotoGP race.
The top dogs lined up, the lights went on and Jorge Lorenzo jumped the start. The big screen projector was showing all of this while I yelled out in disbelief! It’s hard to see JL make a mistake if any at all. He has been flawless in his racing over the last couple of years so this was a shocker. He led the pack around on the first lap and although the pace was slow, I believe he was deliberately doing this so his rival’s tires won’t be up to temp just yet, took his ride through penalty and rejoined dead last. The other story here is that MM pretty much stow away with the lead, ever building more and more of a gap to not only his team mate, Dani Pedrosa, but to the back of the pack as well. Iannone was in 3rd position for a long time, had me hoping he would finally get a podium, but it was not meant to be as he was overtaken by Bradl, Dovizioso and Smith towards the second half of the race. I was chanting and rooting for Rossi but as luck would have it his front right side tire wall was completely destroyed. After having a near crash and saving himself he began to drop back from 4th position and finally settled in a safe 8th. It wasn’t the best race he has had but it could have been worse, just takeaway as many points as possible and onto the next one. JL managed a fear of being dead last to finishing in 10th position, within the points. If this isn’t an indication of his talents then I surely wouldn’t know what is. As mentioned MM left Texas in 1st place and another 25 points under his belt and leading the class. It would be too early to say but I think we have a repeat champion on our hands.
With the cool down lap preceding the last lap I got up to snap photos of the riders as they rode by, waving to the crowd and doing a wheelie or two. After that it really cemented my first ever race weekend. It wasn’t bad, it was fantastic. Being able to actually be in that atmosphere and seeing all the things that had to be seen was amazing. It was one of the best experiences I have had the pleasure of enjoying in my lifetime. If anyone can make such a trip in their life I would highly suggest that they do it. I am already planning my next trip to a MotoGP race weekend, preferably a Europe round, preferably MUGELLO!
Until the next race I know the memories of this one won’t wear off so fast!