Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Pizza to Poulet, Imola to Magny Cours, Ben Spies and Nitro Nori!

Sit tight, grab a coffee, put some kindling on the fire, or grab your kindle and read on....

I will be updating in "chunks" during the next day or so, beginning with Imola and Magny Cours, then Phillip Island in Australia, then Portimao which will include the road trip my wife Emily and I had en route to the final round of MotoGp in Valencia. Then we'll have some current updates.

The last time I put words to this blog, I was staying in a small gite, in a small beautiful town called Brisighella, a picture of which can be viewed down page. This was to attend the World Superbike race at the famous race track at Imola. I had never been to Imola, much the same as I had never been to Monza. In fact, it's the one thing in common I had with Ben Spies! Many of the tracks he would be racing at, he hadn't seen either. Let's just say that's where the similarities ended. Italy is a wonderful place, and this part of Italy is beautiful. Still rather rustic, but full of history, architecture and kind people. The gite I had rented was a converted barn. The entire property was a vineyard, not huge, but they make and sell their own wines and we had just arrived at harvest time. So the roads that we would travel on would always have at least one tractor with a trailer full of grapes. Occasionally, you'd round a corner and see a rather futuristic tall, spaceship looking tractor designed to remove grapes from their vines. At night you'd hear these tractors, with their "night into day" lights following a strict path up and down the well placed vines removing the grapes.Needless to say, the air is full of a pungent fruity mustiness as they're taken from the vines, and crushed at many of the small independent wine producers in the valley. The entire region is noted for it's wine, and it's wild boar. In fact, at the place we were staying, the woman who ran the facility, and who owned the vineyard and who also runs a cooking school, would tell me that if I went for a walk in the evening to watch out for wild boar... Ok, I will. In the mornings you would sometimes wake to the crack of gunfire and hunters would be up at dawn looking for game, and no doubt, the odd wild boar...! Imola holds a very special place in many racing fans' hearts. As with many famous racetracks it also has a rather sad side to it's history, being a race track where many fine racers have lost their lives. One of the most well known, and still loved to this day, is Ayrton Senna. On the Thursday afternoon, Graeme, another photographer by the name of Gareth Harford and myself walked the track, a useful exercise just to get some idea of the layout, angles and so forth. When we came upon Tamburello we went behind the catch fencing, where, to this day, Senna fans place flowers, and memorials to the famed Formula 1 (cars) driver. On a quiet Thursday afternoon with the only sound being some birds and the faint toot of cars horns from the city that surrounds the race track it made for a moment of reflection, and a reminder that sometimes there is a price to pay for speed, competition, and the ultimately, life does go with everything Thursday ends and the race weekend gears itself up. In Italy, this means chaos. Organised chaos! Italian race fans are really, very enthusiastic. Climbing fences, firecrackers, disco Eurotrance music blaring from huge mobile panini vans. All serving food and coffee as good as anything you can buy in a decent Italian restaurant in the US. The Italians love food, and good food. Umm, so do I so it's a dangerous combination! The racing? Oh yes! Well, as expected this is a Ducati track, meaning, they really always perform well here and this weekend wasn't any different, however, MotoGP 250 superstar Marco Simoncelliput in an appearance for the Aprillia Superbike team and finished third in race two! To the delight of the many fans that turned out to watch the Italian. With Ducati riders, Haga and Fabrizio winning race 1 and race 2 respectively, the weekend wasn't helpful for title contender Ben Spies.But that's racing I guess!! A quick hop skip, quick plane trip and we're off Paris, then a swift drive to Burgundy and Magny Cours!I have a soft spot for France. I spent many years motorcycling here (or there), I would go on school trips all through junior school, the food, language, countryside, everything about the country I love. Even my wife Emily and I were engaged in Paris 23 years ago! This time I'm staying in a converted 16th Century converted building next to the church in the centre of a very old town by the name of La Charite-sur-Loire. The apartment itself backs up to the 12th century Clunic priory church of Notre Dame. Notably, the winding narrow medieval stone staircase inside the apartment will always stick in my mind because it felt like you were walking up a tower (which you were) to fire arrows upon the invading (insert favourite invading medieval army here). The town itself is one of a few towns in France that is known as the "City of Books", and as you'd expect, there's a lot of booksellers, with new, used and antique books, most in French, all for sale! Back to the track at Magny Cours, which is out in the middle of nowhere and so it is a nice pleasant and relaxing 20+ minute drive. However, I would only find out after I returned home that my rather enthusiastic driving style would be rewarded with four driving violations, in other words, speeding tickets from some sneaky hidden speeding camera somewhere en route between the apartment and the track. No flashes to alert you, nothing. Perhaps the cows were disguised as speed cameras, who knows..but there you go. The price of racing I suppose! This weekend would fare a little better for Ben's championship attempt as he would go onto win race 1.However, Noriyuki Haga would maintain his side of the championship tussle by winning race 2.This track is huge! A scooter (Thanks Maio! [Merrigalli]) is essential. There's plenty of opportunities to capture something a little bit different, with brightly coloured kerbs, huge swathes of green paint and the light is actually quite good there (or here)...One thing that struck me, especially as I spent a lot of time working in and out of the Yamaha garage was watching the extremely high level of team work, combined with a good sense of humour to get the work done. With Tom Houseworth who has been with Ben for years, and Gregg 'Woody" Wood, who came on board the Spies championship efforts a few races previously the team developed and second sense for making sure all their work played out.With the championship now set to come down to the final race in Portimao, Portugal, the weekend is over. Next, we head home to California for a few days, then it's off to Australia and Phillip Island for MotoGP.

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