MotoGP Comes To Austin

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Dani Pedrosa - Action

Normally I write about electric motorcycle racing over at gas2. But I decided to celebrate Earth Day this year by flying to Austin and covering MotoGP for RideApart. After all, racing is all that really matters in this world.

When I told an editor seated near me about my awesome new electric bike (Zero FX with supermoto wheels), he told me he wasn’t interested in electric bikes because he wanted to leave the biggest possible carbon footprint behind when he died. He has no idea what he’s missing. 70 ft/lbs of torque, all day every day.

I was going to get around on a Stella scooter with a homemade sidecar, but the constant feeling that the rig was about to tip over onto me made that unappealing. I didn’t want to resort to picking up hitchhikers just to keep the rig balanced, in case none of my friends wanted to ride with me. So I rented a nice gas-guzzling Dodge Avenger instead. You’d never know I’m actually from San Francisco.

Friday

Sitting in the back of the shuttle bus Friday morning with Comedian and Superfan BT and NGM umbrella girl and my roommate Kristi Emmons.

On Friday, I settled into my office and familiarized myself with the schedule while the racers familiarized themselves with this brand-new racetrack most had never even seen on Playstation. It was interesting to watch their times in practice, as the faster riders took their time getting to know the track, while riders who are traditionally slower showed better times in the opening practice session. When I asked Dominique Aegerter (pronounced Eye Garter if you’re trying to sound like a hick, which I guess is Drebber’s style) why he was on fire in the morning session, he replied “What can I say, I love America!” Ladies, watch out for this one.

This is what a Media Scrum looks like. It sounds like absolutely nothing unless your mic is in the rider’s face.

I begged Jules Cisek to share some pics with me, as I knew he’d get stunning photographs like this one. Rossi flies under the tower during Friday practice, the only time photographers were allowed up there free of charge.

Friday Night

Security for The One Motorcycle Show was provided by the Texas Roller Derby Crew.

Clearly they weren’t 100% effective. Given all the hoopla surrounding Kevin Schwantz’s problems with COTA, I couldn’t resist. I remember the first GP I ever watched was a videotape back in 1991. The next day, while riding my usual route to work, I tried to lean my bike way over just like Schwantz did. Only I was on a 15mph freeway exit and had no formal training in body position, throttle control, or anything. So I lowsided my Suzuki GS450, then signed up for the MSF’s Experienced Rider Course and stopped trying to emulate racers. For a few years, anyway.

After The One Motorcycle Show, we found a tiny little hole in the wall with PBR art and chandeliers. And a packed floor of hipsters dancing to ‘90s rap spun by one of those DJs that cuts every song off halfway through. Kids, the ‘90s are back, and in Austin they’re so far ahead of the curve they’re past grunge and into Jay Z.

Saturday

Everyone stopped by the Chuck Forquer Hospitality Patio to say hi, including World SBK Champ Doug Polen. I knew Chuck knew everyone, but this race cemented his status in my mind as the Paddock Mayor. Any paddock he’s in, he’s the Mayor. This patio COTA set up in the paddock was the perfect spot for people watching. Of course that’s grape juice, they just put it in wine glasses to be cute.

Mary Spies and Eraldo Ferracci just hangin’ out talkin’ bikes, now that Ben’s on an Italian Stallion.

That’s Maxwell, walking toward his dad after being photographed with the entire bevy of Red Bull babes.

The tower, surrounded by race fans. If it didn’t cost $25 to walk up, same price as the elevator ride, we’d have done it. As it was, walking through the vendor area circling the amphitheater was enough of a workout. The place was packed on Saturday, especially the vendor tents. There was loads of good, interesting food, so I could have empanadas and Kristi could have Paella, instead of both of us having to starve or eat nasty cheap burgers.

Saturday Night

With Chuck Forquer, Mayor of the paddock, at The One Motorcycle Show the next night:

There’s no shortage of great restaurants and nightlife in Austin, so it was a wonderful place to visit. Aside from constantly confusing it with Portland in my mind, and the nightcrawling traffic that made LA seem tolerable, that is. On Friday, we had dinner at Ben Spies’ favorite restaurant, Kenichi, where we got to enjoy the same specials he’d enjoyed at a private dinner. On Saturday it was Torchy’s Taco Stand for the authentic Austin experience, then back to The One, then home to rest up for race day.

Sunday, Race Day

On Sunday morning, I met up with Keith Code, one of my interview subjects for another story on how coaches help their riders prepare for this wild and crazy track. He’s working with some Red Bull Rookies, so we met up in their swanky hospitality tent. The kids can either watch what’s on or play video games while waiting for their race in the afternoon. Sure beats having to do your math homework and chores.

In the Red Bull Rookies Races, I was rooting for Yui Watanabe, especially because announcer Brian Drebber couldn’t be bothered to learn that not all the entrants were male. Unfortunately she crashed in race 2, and was unable to re-enter. But she did move from 18th to 13th in race 1, and remains 13th in the championship.

Alex Rins dominated Moto3, retaining his lead even in the restart. The race was red-flagged after 17 laps, so the final race was a 5-lap sprint for glory, like most club races. Only faster.

In Moto2, Scott Redding dominated the early laps, but was forced to slow down and focus on staying ahead of Pol Esparago in the points. His tire began slipping on the rim, and as usual, the compound couldn’t take the abuse he was dishing out. While the combined weight minimum has helped even out the field for the big guys like Scott, there is still nobody out there that’s as hard on their tires as Redding.

Terol had a fairly easy win, while the battle for the last two podium spots was hot and frantic behind him, finishing with Esteve Rabat in second and Mika Kallio in third.

Honda proved this is their kinda track with a one-two punch from the Repsol factory team. Marquez cemented his status as phenom and rookie of the year by winning, with teammate Pedrosa in second, and Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo in third. Tech3 Yamaha rider Cal Crutchlow brought home an impressive 4th place after predicting he couldn’t do better than 6th here. His hunger for the win is impressive, and the man clearly wants to earn himself a spot on a factory bike.

I visited the VIP balcony with some friends who invited me. The food was spectacular, far surpassing what we had in the media center. The view was also great, even though the microtron was no match for the media center wall of racing. It’s experiences like this that make it clear that my biggest career goal should be Mrs. _____. I know, I was raised a feminist. I’ve worked hard my whole life, accomplished some things, been too independent for my own good. Sure, I can write about racing. I could even make a stab at working on a team as a press officer or in sponsorship sales. But that’s all so much work. Why work that hard when you can just sit back and enjoy watching the races in the lap of luxury?

Sunday Night

My favorite thing to do on race weekend, besides watching some damn good racing, and taking a $5,000 Rizoma fixie for a joyride around the paddock, is the after party. I’ve been to after-parties at Laguna, Indy, Mugello, and Valencia. Valencia may be the biggest, but Indy is the most fun, by far. So I was eager to see if Austin could possibly out-do Indy.

The after-party was fun enough, once the racers and their teams were actually able to get in. A common problem at after-parties is door staff who don’t know who they’re dealing with. Even in Valencia last year, Jorge Lorenzo himself was turned away because he did not have a ticket. Yes, even the champion, in his own country. So it wasn’t surprising to see door snafus in Austin. Still, it’d be nice to have the Mayor working the door.

And those are the only pictures I took, because what happens at the after party, stays at the after party. Stories can only be whispered among close friends who were actually there and involved. Over a late breakfast at the Superfans abode, as some of our roommates continued to stumble in from wherever, we traded stories and helped fill some people in on what they’d done the night before. I’d say it was a successful after-party, even though I still don’t know who won the ice fight.

A snapshot from our fabulously chic dining room. If those antlers could talk…

  • http://www.facebook.com/thinkingstraight Ange Bishop

    saw you two walking around the paddock, didnt realize you were with HFL

    Austin, eh. My first time there and the town was hyped up alot. Pretty much “any college town USA” is what it seemed to me. Didn’t bother with any of the
    race related parties ourselves. Im a grump when it comes to that stuff.

    Food in the VIP was good. But, they charged for what is usually free (boo hoo me)
    The Moto3 and Moto2 races were “the races” of the weekend.

    • http://www.facebook.com/susanna.schick Susanna Schick

      Yeah, the city needs to show a little more enthusiasm, like Indy does with motorcycles on meridian. They really make us feel welcome!

      • roma258

        I dunno if it’s an industry thing or what, but I liked Austin a million time better than Indy. Better track, better town, better food, better parties, better everything. Maybe had we gone to the Indy afterparty opinion would have changed. But as it stands, no comparison.

        • http://twitter.com/pinkyracr Susanna Schick

          true, Austin is a better host city. They just need some place for all us bikers to go Friday and Saturday night to continue being with our people. I didn’t see very many people actually riding to the track, though, so that was odd.

          • roma258

            Heh, well we rode in from Philly, so we did our part :)

          • Sergei Petrov

            I’m not sure what you mean? there were thousands of motorcycles parked at the track (all down circuit of the americas blvd, and in the middle parking lot). AF1 had 2 nights of parties which were fairly well attended as well.

            • http://twitter.com/pinkyracr Susanna Schick

              nice! I wish we’d known about the parties. I figured since we were using the paddock parking which had a separate entrance we might have not seen the main parking area. Also, since lanesplitting isn’t allowed in Texas, bikes filtered in as slowly as cars, so I guess I’m just used to races where they can lanesplit so practically get their own lane to enter the track. I remember at Assen GP there was an entire lane of the freeway off-ramp for motorcycles only.

        • Sergei Petrov

          Rudy’s BBQ!!!!

  • karlInSanDiego

    Nice writeup. Sorta disappointing showing for the hometown boys, but clearly no one got the home track advantage, and that’s racing. Stoked to see Marquez being the golden boy they said he’d be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.r.scott Andy Scott

    Excellent write-up. Thank you. I was there and had a blast for sure, but I think you had more fun that I did!

    • http://www.facebook.com/susanna.schick Susanna Schick

      Yeah, it really sucks being a chick at the race track. ;-) especially walking around with Kristi.

  • Mark Desrosiers

    Damn, that sounds like a blast! Never been to MotoGP event, but I’m now planning a trip to Monterrey for Laguna Seca. Even absent all the VIP fun you had, I bet it would still be a great time.
    Also: that fixie looks amazing!

    • Branden Hellman

      Mark, you have to camp on Fox Hill. It is a BLAST. And to wake up in the morning amongst friends, the coastal fog is rolling in, you take a swig of CPT Morgans as you wake up to the sound of bikes on the racetrack actually riding AROUND you,.. looking down on the carnival that is Moto GP from the hill and contemplating the stroll down to Ducati Isl for a scrumptidelicious breakfast.
      It is truly Mecca for all motorcyclists.

    • http://twitter.com/pinkyracr Susanna Schick

      it is an amazing bike, and Laguna is an experience not to be missed! When I was bored with WSB, I was riding back to LA thinking next year I’d probably go just because the ride there is SO AWESOME. Read the article we posted last year about it. I’ve done that ride plenty of times, but the days before MotoGP or WSB are the best because there’s other bikers out on my favorite secret roads. Now we get to do that ride TWICE this year!

  • Branden Hellman

    Awesome write-up!! I am sure glad you left out the priceless activities post-vodka!!!!

    GREAT TIME!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/bloodfalcons motoguru.

    great write up!