Monday, August 10, 2009

Estoril - Day 1

April 12, 2008 - Saturday

I have no idea where to start, so I'll start at 0420 hours yesterday morning when I woke up and realized my radio was running and I was twenty minutes later than I'd hoped to be.
I hopped out of bed, woke up Florian, got dressed in the black BDUs, red T-Shirt, much-too-large overshirt enblazoned with the sponsors of Tom Lüthi. the rather-too-large coat with the same deco, and the cap sporting the Emmi Caffe Latté sign. I ran Retta for a couple minutes; Florian went to haul Kris out of bed to he could drive us to the airport.
We made it through Zürich in record time and arrived a few minutes early. The others arrived around 0530, on time. Günther, the boss of SAW, a fellow worker from the company, Nathan, a befriended architect, and Peter Kern, a former team chief of the Swiss Aprilia 250 ccm team who was out guide for the rest of the day.
We checked in with no trouble, caught our flight at 0630, and flew almost three hours to Portugal. I read No Country For Old Men on the flight, nearly finished it and was surprised to find I actually enjoyed it. (Until the last couple pages, where it got overly philosophical, but in a mindset I could handle, so no biggie.)
In Portugal we got bussed to the terminal, passed through border control on our Swiss IDs and met the travel coordinator, a middle-aged woman with graying red hair, dressed in an awful pink stretch shirt saying "Fashion Rebel" in glittery sequins and some print pants that didn't fit at all. You'd think someone her age would know better.
While they talked about further modus operandi, I noticed the Nescafé advertisement behind us. They got George Clooney to be the face of it back in Switzerland; they used him here in Portugal too, but they gave him a pencil mustache. I took a picture.
My pictures can be found here:
From the airport, we were taken directly to the racetrack in Estoril. And it's there where the descriptive work gets hard. We stepped out of the van and looked around. First I saw the big entrance to the track and all the Repsol flags. Then I noticed the various team trucks standing along the public parking lots. To our left was a test station for regular cars for the bi-annual checkups. And then we heard the motorcycles.
From behind the walls around the track came the roar of engines and the burbling of racing fuel. It was so loud we already needed ear plugs just standing by the gate.
The guys noticed the ubiquitous long-legged, hot-panted models; I was looking at the R1 they had displayed out front.
We got VIP guest cards and were let into the VIP area of the track. And there the fun began. We walked along the row of team trucks on our right, with the hospitality tents of the sponsors on our left. We got to the Caffe Latté tent (they're the main sponsor of Tom Lüthi), pitched our stuff and were told to help ourselves to anything and feel perfectly at home. I grabbed a drink and watched the screen. Outside, the big bikes were running around the track. And then Peter, the former team chief, said he'd give us a first taste of the track and led us outside the other side of the tent. Florian, Nathan and I followed him out, were lambasted with the roar of a passing motorcycle, and then saw the whole show in person from behind the chainlink fence overlooking the track.
It's fun to watch racing on a screen. It's absolutely breathtaking to watch it in person. Rossi flew by on his Yamaha at more than 150 km/h, leaning flat into the curve and disappearing around the curve, followed by more racers. The sound was deafening, the bikes barely more than streaks of colors.
And Peter said, "See, the track is still wet. They're just putzin'."
I just stood there and didn't know what to say except "Wow." Florian was no different. We couldn't believe what we were seeing. You don't realize how fast those guys are going. The screen isn't capable of showing the details that make the racing so fascinating. It's something you gotta see to understand. And if watching these guys doesn't addict you to speed and roaring engines and the smell of fuel and smokin' tires, nothing will.
We watched for several minutes, thunderstruck, if you will. And that was just the beginning.
I can't give all the details of the whole day. There are too many, and breakfast is in half an hour. We spent the day travelling around the track on foot and by scooter, watching the big bikes with Rossi on Yamaha and Stoner on Ducati and the rest. Rossi took a nasty fall that morning soon after we arrived, but was back on his bike in a quarter hour. (And now Florian owes me a tank of gas on our next drive because it was Rossi that did the high-sider and not Stoner.)
We watched the 250 ccm bikes race, mostly interested in Tom Lüthi, of course, with David pointing out all of Tom's advantages over the other races. Later than afternoon we got to meet Tom, a wiry kid who's even shorter than me, very down to earth and friendly with his Bernese accent.
We watched the 125 ccm training runs, and then watched the whole thing over again when the big bikes came out. We saw the final lap shenanigans of the drivers: starts, wheelies, endos and waving. It's too much to photograph and too much to write. It gets your adrenaline going just thinking about it.
We had lunch of the Caffe Latté hospitality tent and were supplied with drinks through the whole day.
We watched a couple crashes in person. Crazy, the way the bikes fly out of the curves going faster than most people ever drive at all. The drivers curl up as they fly, protecting themselves and are on their feet almost before they come to a stop, running toward their machines. Helpers grab the bike and either get it out of the way or - more usually - push start bike and driver back onto the track so he can keep training. No wonder summer drivers will get overconfident on their Gixxers as they roar up the Albis, risking not making one of those hairpin turns. They figure Rossi can get up and walk away; why can't they? And they have to get scraped off a tree with a spatula by the firemen afterwards.
I took as many pictures as I could. (I won't upload all of them, of course.) I wasn't allowed to film because of the TV rights, but no matter. As I said, it's nothing you can capture on film.
We got to visit the team box that afternoon and see the bikes taken apart and being worked on. We saw inside other teams' boxes and listened to the bikes being tested after they were built back together. Maybe I'll have time tonight to add some more details.
The conclusion of the day was supper in the L'appart restaurant of our Park Atlantic hotel. Florian and Nathan studied the menu for a good long time, the look clearly written on their faces that this was too way too high-fallutin' for their taste. Florian finally settled on veal, which ended up looking very good. The rest of us tried the French cooking, with more or less satisfactory results. I got a dish of parma ham with mango preserve, cheese and strawberry as the starter. By themselves, the foods were good. But they could have skipped the bed of salt, and the cheese was rather strong. As a main dish Günther and I tried the seafood menu, and were served with a dish of two lobster halves, shrimp, giants prawns, snails, oysters and something we found out were barnacles after I figured out how to eat them. I'm bummed I didn't have my camera along; I'd have loved a keepsake photo of that dish - and of the pile of exoskeletons and shells on my plate after I was finished.
It's about time to head down to breakfast. We're getting picked up for a city tour at 1030 hours. Today is a day to relax and enjoy the great warm weather. Tomorrow is the race.

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