Going to the UK just doesn't have the same "pull" as gong to Spain for me. I grew up there. It does mean I can stop in and see my Mum, and I had a super time seeing her, even taking time out to take her out to dinner to the George at Bathampton. Oddly enough, it was this same country pub that I took my Dad to the day before I left the UK for good on September 4, 1990. It was really nice seeing her looks so well. She has a new house in Larkhall, and for the first time in years seems to have a good positive outlook on life. Which thrills me no end. It was with some sadness I left her on Tuesday morning to drive to Woking for the first overnight stay en route to Silverstone, where I'd be staying with good friend Bonnie Lane.
On Wednesday, we'd go to Brooklands Museum near Weybridge and spend a good four hours walking around the museum (and graveyard) of British racing and aviation. It's a really cool place to visit, with some of the old banked race track still in existence. It doesn't take too much of a stretch to imagine the nerves of steel these racers had during those early days of racing, on two and four wheels. When one thinks of the levels of safety that are built into todays motorsport, the driver aids, run off, Dainese instant inflatable leather race suits for example, the lack of so many of these safety features back then only adds to the cojones these racers must've had..(or lack thereof) because women raced as much as they do these days.
With the British MotoGP being previously held at Donington, it is simply shifts all the events that were held at that track over to the new digs at Silverstone. I had heard one funny story about one of the race teams truck drivers made a huge deja vu moment and drove almost to Donington, realising when he had got to Birmngham that he was meant to be going to Silverstone. Therefore, as it's Thursday it must be the Day of Champions at Silverstone. This is always a great event with a great cause, to raise money for the Riders for Health cause. As before, riders and many others donate memorabilia, items of clothing, art and so forth to be auctioned off to raise much needed funds to allow Rider For Health to continue their efforts to bring health care to those in places who cannot or may not have access to it.
Having been granted in Mugello a 2010 season scooter pass. I now have access to scooter. Does this mean I have arrived in MotoGP? Who knows. After your camera equipment, access to a scooter is the next most valuable tool in a photographers arsenal. With scooter beneath me, I head off to do a reconnoiter of the track. It ends up being nearly two and half hours of going round, looking for photo possibilities to shoot. As with all the photographers and the riders, this is a new track to all. I end up meeting Jorge Lorenzo and Hector on track as they're discussing the lines that he'll need to take around the track.
As many of the photographers would discover, it wouldn't just be where to take photos that would be the problem. As the weekend progressed it would be a question of dealing with the security, and those who appeared to enjoy their jobs a little too much and wanted to make life difficult, that would be the greatest obstacle to overcome. The lack of a decent service road, or road that circumnavigates the track away from spectators would also create more problems with people who took great pleasure in telling everyone to "slow down".
Race day was cold. I mean it was very cold but would throughout the day improve and warm up. The only problem with such a huge facility is that it will never look full. It's no different than Indianapolis when the GP is being held there. It is such a huge site, with so many seats that cannot be filled that it will never look well attended, when in reality it is. The support for the the British riders Scott Redding in Moto2, and for Bradley Smith and Danny Webb in the 125cc class was loud and very obvious. There was also the huge support for the non existent Valentino Rossi, obvious with the number of coloured wigs, yellow number 46 flags and of course, the obligatory get well signs everywhere. Something I have only witnessed in the Spanish rounds, was the fans clapping as the riders came round during the race. I like this and think it's a nice touch.
But again, the difficulty with getting around the track, combined with the lack of communication and understanding (of security) of who has access to where only made what could've been a good weekend, a very long and trying weekend instead. Hopefully, somethings might've been learned, and changes may be put in place for those covering the World Superbike round at Silverstone in a few weeks.
I decided to skip Assen to have a week at home being that I haven't had a full weekend at home for almost two months, and I still leave on Sunday for Barcelona. Annoyingly, I broke my own rule and had a beef sandwich at the airport in Detroit. Just a word of warning about travelling via DTW. I have never ever witnessed such appallingly slow passport control. After arriving on time, and arriving in the controlled area at 12.50pm, it took until 2.10pm to clear customs and baggage transfer and to go onto my gate. If i didn't have the almost three hour window I had between flights, I'd have missed my connection. Appalling slow, cumbersome TSA and I really didn't appreciate being X-rayed using their Joe90tron machine with other people looking on. I thought this process had to have some dignity?
/Rant over. OH! Go Ben...
Last but not least, thank you to Bonnie Lane and her husband Chris as well as George Martin for being such wonderful hosts during my trip back to the UK. Miss you Mum! Next. Off to Barcelona for MotoGP. Actually, I just updated this blog whilst flying over Nebraska at 35000ft...haha! Hilarious.
After three plane transfers, Salt Lake to Minneapolis, then Minneapolis to Amsterdam onto Bologna, I'm more than happy to sit outside the airport and wait for Mr Motomatters, AKA David Emmett to arrive. We'll be sharing the travelling and a villa in Tuscany whilst we cover the Grand Prix at Mugello. Unbeknownst to us we arrive on June 2nd. Which is a national holiday in Italy and it is only when we arrive at our villa are we informed by Simone, the villa owner, that all the shops are closed. Hmm, we have no food, water, BEER, whatever. He did mentioned that there might be some shops open int he centre of Florence/Firenze, so without further ado, we set off into the heart of Firenze in search of things to eat.
The centre of Florence is now a permit only access city, however, on holidays, it's okay to drive into the city centre. So we did. Fortunately, we found some shops open and were able to at least buy exactly what we needed to create dinner for that evening. We also had a lightning, commando photo stop tour, in other words pulling up, stopping, hopping out the car, taking photos, and then back into the car and off again fortunate in the fact that there was very little traffic. A rare event indeed. With a gelato to round off the the arrival walkabout it was back to base.
Thursday, late afternoon, I spent a couple of hours in the company of Nadia Giletti. Having walked around on the Tuesday with David Emmett, I spent a couple of hours walking around Florence with Nadia taking photos (of her). Exploring a side of photography that is new to me and one I'd like to pursue in greater depth. I was fortunate enough that Nadia was happy to be my subject. No, in reality I was thrilled. She has a presence and is very comfortable with herself, which made taking photographs of her in situ, with large groups of people looking on, very easy. For me, it is something I have to overcome as I always feel I'll peeling back the layers of people. I always feel like I'm intruding on someones privacy. That said. Thursday was a good day.
There aren't may words to describe Tuscany. The feeling about being in the countryside has a greater effect on the senses than words can describe. From the fireflies in the evening, the soft warm early morning light. The little tuffs of fluff that seem to be a part of the air in the Italian countryside. The softness of the air. It's immersive. Everything from the start of the day through to the end has colour. The trip to the track took us along single lane roads that were devilishly winding, in places with drop offs that wouldn't be good for the car. On the way back form the track in the evenings, we would drive pass torch lit entrance ways to 17th century hilltop castles.
With the hillsides covered in olive trees. Houses covered in rose bushes and fields full of poppies, it was sometimes difficult to think we'd be heading to a race track. That said, it was a great way to start and end ones day. Casting my mind back to 2006 during the 990 era, I never made it to race day. I had a great Friday back then, and it was a full days of on track action. Followed by the Saturday, the traditional Valentino Rossi Mugello Helmet unveiling. However, during the afternoon I would develop a temperature. Sunday morning, we drove to the track, but after getting to the gate, I felt too unwell. Emily gave away her tickets to a lucky family and we took an easy day out and went to Lucca.
Not this year! I felt fine, the weather was good, the valleys surrounding the race track were lush and green and it looked like everything was set to be a great weekend of racing. That would all change on Saturday. When Valentino Rossi had a nasty high side and broke his lower leg. Without having to go into details as no doubt it has been reported on ad-nauseum, it was interesting to watch the effect this had on the mood race track and more importantly on the fans who were in attendance.
I was at the medical centre watching events unfold as they brought back Rossi's very broken Yamaha M1 on the back of a recovery vehicle. Now, I understand the level of support this talented man has worldwide, but watching people openly cry as they gathered around the truck was something else to see. It was almost like watching a funeral cortege. Photographers, TV crews and fans alike were gathered around this truck all craning their necks, reaching out with cameras in hand just to get a shot of this damaged bike. As I mentioned to Chris Jonnum of RoadRacerX, it was as if someone had shot the Pope…
Then, people started to leave the track. There were traffic james outside the track at 3pm, something that would've been unheard of in a typical race weekend. People were leaving in droves. What would this mean for Sunday? It was like the genie had been let out of the bottle and had evaporated to boot. The party boy racer wouldn't be here on Sunday. With news updates coming in minute by minute, it was apparent that Valentino Rossi had sustained quite a nasty injury. Taken into surgery immediately, it transpired he would be out for a good few races to come. The chatter in the media room changed from what happened to what would happen? With an already rather thin grid, things could look a little desperate.
Sunday arrives, and it looked like the fans turn up as normal to watch the race and to also send get well wishes to their injured hero. With banners all over the race track, a telephone interview with His Rossiness from hospital it was (almost) business as usual. It did look like the economy had taken a toll on the number of spectators attending from previous years, and the smoke bombs, especially those in yellow, appeared to be down in numbers, but the passion for the racing and what Mugello is about, was and is still there.
All the races went off with out a hitch, with some interesting crashes. In the 125 race there was a huge high side (which left pieces of the bike high up in the crash fencing) then in the Moto2 race a bike went down, then jumped the track about 100 feet way from me, landing on top of the air fence. This job does have it's dangerous moments. Sadly, the race wasn't terribly exciting, with Dani Pedrosa taken the lead and simply running away with it. Jorge Lorenzo would finish second with tearful Andrea Dovizioso taking third. I was also very grateful for the help from Andrew Northcott on Sunday allowing me to pillion around the track with him during the MotoGP race. The service road doesn't need any more traffic and Andrew makes light work of covering a race and I always feel I learn something valuable.
I still don't get a full weekend at home. Next update Silverstone...
As Emily put it. If she didn't come with me to Miller, she wouldn't have seen me for a month!
After what seemed to be a brief couple of days at home to reconnect with Emily, and to see Thor and Widget, we head off to Miller. One thing I should note. I am always reminded as to how efficient Southwest Airlines is. Aircraft turnaround, the politeness and willingness of flight attendants and the boarding procedure. It just works. Travelling as much as I do, I wish other airlines would adopt at least some of Southwest's policies. I travel and awful lot on Delta, and sometimes you have the best crew, and then other times you feel that you shouldn't be asking for something. I just wish they were consistent.
On the Thursday morning we leave for Salt Lake City. The race would be run on the Monday due to it being Memorial Day. An odd choice but there you go. This did create some scheduling problems for most because of the habitual nature of the race weekends. Everything moved out a day, which felt strange. Still, John Gardiner always runs a good show at the track, along with Annie and others and so we know that at least we'll be looked after and all will run smoothly.
With time to reacquaint oneself with others in the media room I'm always pleasantly surprised at how friendly everyone is in the WSBK camp. But it's not only the press room, which in GP is also very friendly, but the the race teams are always very approachable and the unfettered access to the garages is also very different to the those who have access to various garages in MotoGP, in part because they have photo contracts with the teams, but in all fairness I have noticed, and maybe it's because it's just a question of familiarity, access on a personal level, has improved. Rome wasn't built in a day correct? I understand that in GP they do not want everyone and anyone just wandering in and out of garages but for most it's just being able to do ones job.
Anyways, unless you have been to Miller, this track is HUGE. It takes a full 15 minutes to get around the outside of the track at a good clip. I was grateful to not only John Canton from Ducati who organised a scooter for me, but also Brian Childree who organised for me to have a larger than pit bike, bike for me to use over the weekend. Meeting Brian, we had a brief intro into kick starting this punchy little beast, with him telling me to make sure I find "top" before kick starting otherwise it'll bite you.
Well, not long after it did. It back fired and the kick start dinged my lower shin. Oh the pain. Not only that, but I was clowning around in front of Yamaha PR guy Gavin Matheson and the damn thing stalled. Much to his amusement.
The race weekend was good, Biaggi would win both Superbike races and the fan turnout for such a huge track was good. I always have a good time at Miller, and with Graeme (Brown) staying with Emily and I we had a wonderful time. On Tuesday, I would leave from Salt Lake City to fly onto Bologna. Emily would fly home without me.
We'll start with the oldest trip and come up to date with newest in four parts. Starting with Le Mans
Apologies for the lack of keeping this blog updated. There is always so much travel and work involved in covering back to back races on two continents. Throw into the mix catching the flu and everything simply went belly up and ended up of control. The travel and work is enough in itself. With having caught such a dreadful flu, it made everything extremely hard work, and only the essential work was done to simply get by.
Leaving San Jose, I had a feeling that things were gong to be interesting. My flight from San Jose to Minneapolis was already in the dumpster due to a broken down plane. A taxi ride to SFO, then to LAX, then onto CDG was arranged and I truly thought my bags would all arrive with me. Being that I wasn't using CDG as a transfer. Nope. American Airlines/Air France managed to send one of my bags, with the 600mm lens contained within on it's own trip to Japan. It took five days and umpteen phone calls. Eventually the bag returned on Friday. I lost a days work waiting for it. I did buy a new electric toothbrush and some perfume for myself as it was also packed in the bag. Air France gave me a T-shirt as part of their "we're sorry we lost your bag" welcome kit. Amazing.
Back to Le Mans.
Having only been to the track over 20 years ago to watch the 24 hours, the changes were overwhelming. This time I was staying in the town itself with a good friend and photographer David Piole. I spent the first couple of days exploring. I visited the 24Hours Museum which is just outside the entrance to the race track and I also took a drive to the Loire Valley. I also created some dinners for David and our colleagues at his house. All is good.
One thing that has always struck me about France, is the smells. Early mornings ease in with the smells of the baker, the local butchers shop making meat filled pastries, the gentle murmur of towns coming to life. With that in mind, I tried to restart my weekend on Saturday, now that I had all my kit and everything so far, was back to normal.
The race weekend format never really changes, however, the race weekend logistics are always different by race track. Le Mans was no different. The track itself lends itself to multiple opportunities for images. However, unless one has a scooter or access to one, depending on shuttle buses is like playing roulette. When there are only 3 or 4 shuttle buses for a track the size of Le Mans I counted 10 laps of the Moto2 race between the appearance of the shuttle bus. Unfortunately for me, when it appeared, I was shooting and it went off without me..fortunately, I was able to ride shotgun on a scooter for the GP race. Although I had to shoot from places that "my driver" was shooting from. I'm always grateful for help on race days. That said, the scooter issue would be resolved from here on out.
Overall, the week and race weekend in France was a lot of fun. With Jorge Lorenzo taking the win from Valentino Rossi, Dovizioso on the podium as well. It was great having the ability to live again in a neighbourhood, to experience the local feel of a place (and country) I have always had an affection for. The race weekend was entertaining, the visit to the 24Hour museum was worth it, especially as I had the place to myself and of course, having access to all the culinary fun and games France has to offer makes this boy happy.
Next would be back to the USA, a couple of days to do washing, then off to Miller for World Superbike.