Recovering, if that’s the right word, from my yearly pilgrimage to Phillip Island for the opening round of the FIM World Superbike and Supersport Championship. What a 6 day epic it was.
Leaving here on Wednesday morning (very early), I drove up to Tahmoor where I rendezvoused with Zoltan Petri, well-known Post Classic racer, who was giving me a lift to the Island. Zoltan had brought his wife’s SUV this time as, last time, the gearbox on his Falcon had blown up when he was in sight of home on the return journey. While it had air conditioning, something that we all appreciated, it wasn’t as comfortable as the big Ford and we all found that we had to stop more often and stretch our legs before proceeding on with the journey.
Around 12 hours was what it took us to get to the Island where we checked in at the house we were renting at Wollamai Beach. Fellow PCRA stalwart, Rob Cole and his wife and father were already there and we settled in for the night, went into town, bought some groceries so that we could prepare most of our meals instead of eating out, then hit the mattresses in preparation for private practice day on Thursday.
Despite everyone wanting to be at the track early the next morning, Rob had found out that nobody who wasn’t in a semi-trailer or big truck, was going to be allowed in to the track until after 1000. So we took a leisurely breakfast and headed out at the appropriate time. We queued up, got our tickets (and me my media accreditation) and were in the pits by about 1130.
Practice started after lunch and it became apparent immediately that Zoltan’s bike had not come to the track prepared to play. A persistent miss was eventually traced to the fact that #4 cylinder was not firing. It took nearly two days of constant work before Zoltan and Lee Allen were able to get the bike running half-way decent. But the est of that story can wait.
I hustled off to the Media Centre, staked my claim for a desk, fired up the laptop and got the free wireless connection working then headed out into the pits with my camera, voice recorder and diary, trying to nail down as many interviews for MotoPod before the weekend got too busy. It was a ploy that paid off handsomely.
I immediately noticed that the atmosphere in the pits was far more intense than what it had been last year. While most team PR people were happy to schedule interviews, finding the time to do so in and amongst the riders’ many commitments seemed to be considerably more difficult. Promises were made that were not always kept, something I had not experienced last year, and the late afternoons after the day was finished seemed to be the preferred time for many teams. Nevertheless, by showing a willingness to fit in with the team schedule, I was able to secure the vast majority of the interviews that I had pencilled in as the preferred ones (plus quite a few others that were more spontaneous)
I was also able to do my customary pit photography more or less unhindered by the rush and bustle that becomes far more noticeable once the actual weekend starts. Thursday went by as a bit of a blur and it wasn’t until I returned to the Media Centre late in the day that I realised that my camera, a Christmas present from my wife, was not on the table with my laptop, the place that I was sure that I had seen it last. Panic stations. Phillip Island staff are just the best, I must tell you. Charming, smiling, obliging, helpful and sympathetic, just the greatest people to work with. Despite their best efforts at putting up notices about it, and mine of retracing my steps to every place that I had been that day, I left the track on Thursday night without the camera, gradually resigning myself to the fact that it was lost/stolen. Needless to say, this put quite a dampener on what had otherwise been a very successful day. I had been able to record a number of interviews and I had also booked in many more for Friday.
Checking back with Zoltan and Lee I found that the problem with the FZR1000 was still not solved, despite us staying at the track till after 2000. To add insult to injury, my nose was running like a tap and I was certainly incubating a serious head cold. Terrific.
An uncomfortable and restless night gave way to a beautiful morning with the prospect of official practice and more work for me. Despite feeling like my head was about to explode, the excitement of going to the track overpowered the pain as it always has the way of doing. Checking in with the office revealed that my camera had not been handed in so, with a slightly heavy heart, I set about the business of the day.
Even though the atmosphere was much more intense than what I had seen last year, yet I found that the teams and the riders were still charming and helpful people. Working in the pressure cooker of sponsor’s expectations and their own self-imposed high standards, they still seem to be able to have good humour and an obliging spirit. As such, getting interviews and doing them is a pleasure, though with its own degree of intensity (obviously). In fact, though the names are famous and the reputations revered, the riders themselves are, for the most part, down-to-earth and more than willing to talk about the passion that we all share.
I fairly flew through Friday, quickly filling up my preset list, pushing aside the disappointment about my camera and concentrating on trying to do a professional job. Here I should add, for the benefit of readers who haven’t caught my previous outings on MotoPod, that my interviews usually run to at least a half an hour. They are unscripted and I explain to the riders beforehand that there are no restrictions and that they may speak freely and candidly without fear of having their words edited or changed to suit a particular agenda. The first five minutes or so are usually generalities, designed solely to help the rider relax, feel comfortable with me as an interviewer and from then on the genuine stuff starts to flow. Riders love talking about themselves and I mean that in a nice way, not implying that they are egotistical. Fact is that, on a race weekend, the most talking that they get to do is all the minutiae of setup, tyres, settings, feedback to and from engineers and tyre technicians and so it goes on. To kick back and tell someone they don’t know about how it’s all going is something that I have perceived that the riders really enjoy. Feedback to the people who run MotoPod in the USA seems to indicate that they like what I do and the way I do it, which is very gratifying.
Late on Friday afternoon I went to the Fixi Crescent Suzuki box to do a scheduled interview with team rider, Leon Camier. As I sat down at the table ready to get started I looked on the table, and, there was my camera! Suddenly I remembered (of course) that one of the first interviews that I had done on Thursday was with the other team rider, Jules Cluzel. Yes, I had retraced my steps while looking for it, but I hadn’t written on my list that I had been to Suzuki so I didn’t look there. To say that I was chuffed is quite the understatement. The boys explained to me that they had seen it there but they didn’t know whose it was so they thought they’d better leave it there! The Camier interview went extremely well!
Zoltan had failed to set a qualifying time as the bike continued to give trouble but he would be allowed to start from the back of the grid. He did so in Race 1 and, though the bike ran awfully, he did finish. So, once again, plenty of work to do in the morning. The only good thing was that the second Historic race was last on the program.
….to be continued.