Well, I am home from PI and the World Supers. What an adventure and what a cautionary tale as well; let me explain. Herein a mixture of new material and my potted reports as events unfolded on Facebook.
“Up at 0300 this morning and in the limo taking me to the airport in Sydney at 0340. Walking through the airport on the way to the boarding gate I think that I probably should check the time. Reach into the pocket for the phone – no phone. Check all the bags; no phone. Retrace the steps of that morning; phone is still on the bedside table at home.
Land in Melbourne and walk the whole length of the terminal trying to find a phone shop so that I can buy a prepaid. Find one at the far end of the terminal. Wait over an hour while the frustrated shop attendant tries to activate the phone. Finally gets it done and I head all the way back to Arrivals so that I can get the shuttle bus to the car rental premises. Wait 20 minutes, no bus. Ring the company and they can’t understand why I haven’t been picked up yet. Neither can I but, since it’s their responsibility not mine, I suggest that they do something about it. 40 minutes and another phone call later, bus finally arrives and take me to my car.
The Wicked Witch of the West behind the counter doesn’t even apologise for the inconvenience and I finally get on my way.
DO NOT USE ATLAS CAR RENTALS!
It takes me over two hours to get from the other side of the airport to Phillip Island where I finally arrive after 1300.
Collect my press credentials and, thanks to the always-helpful staff at the media centre, (wonderful people) I am finally able to start getting my job done in the mid afternoon. “Sandwiches and drinks around on the table, Phil. Make yourself a nice cuppa and sit down and catch your breath.” Like I said, wonderful people.
Not much time to catch breath, however, the unexpected and important meeting my solicitor yesterday afternoon has cost me two valuable days when I could have been doing interviews for MotoPod so the number that I will be able to do will be seriously restricted. So, hurry out into the pits and start working.
Note the garage numbers where all the likely suspects are hiding then go about the business of contacting the relevant Press Secretaries and booking times.
In the end a fairly profitable afternoon. Interviews with Aaron Yates, Michel van der Mark, Kenan Sofoglu and WSBK world champion, Tom Sykes. Some more booked for tomorrow so I won’t be slouching around.”
Let me just put that day in perspective for you. It took me over 9 hours to get to the track going there by plane, shuttle and hire car. I could have DRIVEN that same distance in 11 hours and had my own car to use while I was there.
“A much better day at the Island for me today. Six more interviews despite it being qualifying day and everyone being busy. Weather was cool and dour, much like the atmosphere at the track. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the meetings just doesn’t have the sparkle and excitement this year. Crowds are well down as well with the main bike parking area behind the canteen being empty all day today and the comparison between crowd numbers here and those of the Island Classic three weeks ago markedly favouring the Historic event. Hopefully it will pick up tomorrow but I’m not so sure. Even downtown Cowes didn’t have the “pop” it usually has on a Saturday night.”
I did, however, get to catch up with my good friend, Taina Hall (no relation) at night for an ice cream at the ice cream shop in Cowes . Enjoying the atmosphere and playing “spot the celebrity”, who should walk in but a few racers that I know.
Thanks to Taina who took this picture for me, a moment in time with (l-r) Alex Phillis, Levi Day, Katie Brooks, Mr X and me. After introducing my friends to Taina and Macca, Mr X said to me, “You don’t remember who I am do you?” I admitted that the face was very familiar and that I should know, but fessed up that the name was escaping me. “John Woodley,” was the answer. Wow, what a thrill it was to see and talk to the man who features in TWO of my “five greatest races” list. John always remembered my name, even though he had been away in Europe racing for months at a time. As soon as I said hello in the pits, the answer would be, “Hi, Phil, how are you going?” And he still remembers. Blew me away. Oh, and how often do you share the shop counter with Gerrit ten Kate?
Here’s John on his RG500 at Amaroo Park in 1976 (my photo)
By Sunday, most of my media duties were complete and I was actually able to watch the three big races (there’s a first). Race #1 of the Supers was a cracker with Eugene Laverty coming from behind to catch and pass the two Aprilias and motor away to an easy win. After being shunted from the Italian team so that they could hire Melandri (why?), it must have been especially satisfying for ELav to beat the both “works” bikes on his less-favoured Suzuki. The Supersports race was also tense but, with a very “thin” field of riders in the class this year, it was no surprise to see three-times WSS champion, Kenan Sofoglu leading the charge. Ten Kate’s Michael van der Mark was best of the rest and it was setting down to a great battle until Kenedy’s CBR600 decided to blow up in spectacular fashion coming out of T12 on the eighth of the scheduled 17 lap journey. Red flag and clean-up with organisers anxiously watching the time ticking by, conscious of their commitments to TV coverage for overseas subscribers.
With the track finally clean, it was announced that the 2014 regulations have been changed and that, unlike previous years where the race would be a two part race with the restart being done on the basis of qualifying times and the two race results combined at the end, the race that was stopped would be discounted altogether and the new race, of 5 laps only, would be the decider with grid positions being set by where the riders were placed at the end of the last completed lap. Kidding that didn’t cause some howling in the Media Centre. Anyway, they gridded up for the 5 lap screamer and headed off. First casualty was American, P J Jacobsen, then, in quick succession, van der Mark (who picked the bike up and resumed racing down in the pack only to crash again on the next lap at the same place), then Sofoglu, who crashed at the same spot. There was talk of oil on the track, but, afterwards, both riders agreed that they had been pushing too hard on cooler tyres (no warm-up lap was given). So the last couple of laps became a scrap between riders who you wouldn’t have expected to be at the pointy end.
In the drag race to the flag it was the little Frenchman, Jules Cluzel, who took the checker, amazing the crowd and himself and giving the new MV Agusta its maiden win and MV’s FIRST win in a world championship race of any kind since 1976! Hardly believable and a bit of an anomaly, it’s true, but, a win is a win and a rider will take it any way they can get it, 5 lap screamer or not. Cluzel leaves with 25 points he never expected to get and the rest will have to catch up.
The scenes of jubilation in the pit afterwards cannot be described.
The purists weren’t happy but the crowd got a great show.
The second Superbike race followed almost immediately, unlike previous years where there was a long break before the big boys hit the track. It looked like being a carbon copy of race 1 with the Aprilias scooting away at the front and Laverty beginning his burn from the stern. However, it all went BOOM at 3/4 race distance when the engine on the Suzuki exploded in the most spectacular fashion while ELav was exiting T4. No question about a restart this time. The race declared with Guintoli the winner from the Kawasaki pair of Baz and defending World Champion, Tom Sykes. Melandri faded to 4th before the explosion.
Mention must be made of the huge number of accidents this weekend. Davies crashed twice on the Ducati, Alex Lowes destroyed two Suzukis and Melandri had a big off as well. American rider, Geoff May, riding for the new Eric Buell team, crashed in qualifying and broke his collarbone and Leon Haslam also tasted the bitumen. There was carnage in some of the domestic races as well with Josh Hook having a big off in the Superbike race, bringing down Wayne Maxwell, his team-mate in the process.
Even the most expensive boots can’t completely protect you.
It was a great weekend for me. Despite being only able to work for a bit over two days, I still snared 15 quality interviews which you will be able to hear in due course on MotoPod. I got to see lots of friends and renew many acquaintances. And I got my photo taken with a very famous person, too.
The lovely Mrs de Puniet, professionally known as Australian super model, Lauren Vickers. Lauren is a Facebook friend, and, yes we do actually talk on Facebook, I’m not stalking her. A most obliging person and happy to have her photo taken with an old, fat guy. What’s not to like about that?
I took nearly 200 photos on the weekend, in and around the pits as well as trying some action photography for the first time with my new-ish camera. You can see the whole album by following the link below, you don’t have to be a Facebook member to view the album.
Wisely I had already decided to rent the house for the Sunday night as well because I would have been in no fit condition to travel anywhere after the races were over.
So, Monday morning it was on the road at 0400 again, driving back to Tullamarine to drop the rent-a-racer and then get the shuttle to the airport. Eyes out on stalks as they had been all weekend ($3000 excess if you biff the car) and grinding through bumper-to-bumper traffic on the outskirts of Melbourne when it was still DARK for goodness sake. Arrive at the car rental company office and it’s closed! Wondering what to do, looking at the time, conscious of the fact that I had to check in at 0800 and it was already after 7. Finally one employee arrived, took a long time to book in the three cars that were waiting by now and then dithered over whether he should close the office and take us to the airport or wait until the girl who was supposed to be manning the office from 0700 onwards would actually arrive. She didn’t, so he locked up and took us to the airport.
Arrived just in time to check in and be told that the plane would be boarding in 25 minutes. Departure lounge was miles away so, by the time I hobbled around to it, there wasn’t time for coffee or anything to eat. I’d had some muesli at the house before I left but that was already over 4 hours ago. The departure lounge turned out to be #27, the very last one at the end of the building and on the bottom floor. Travel with Jetstar? Get used to walking across runways and climbing steps.
Then, instead of boarding at 0825 as promised, we didn’t even start MOVING until 0915. And no cafeteria down in Siberia. Finally on the plane and we were off. Comfortable flight (I booked seat 14C in both directions which mean that I was able to stretch my dodgy right leg out into the aisle – planning is everything) and we landed in Sydney just after 11.
I called the shuttle service to be told that a bus for Wollongong was leaving shortly but that it was going to be very full and did I mind? I did, but, by this stage I just wanted to get home and I’d have been happy with a Cobb & Co coach. Finally retrieve my luggage from carousel 5 where it had been going round and round for 15 minutes because the Jetstar people said it would be on carousel 4 and was hustled to the bus by the driver who was panicking because he was double-parked and was expecting me to be ready 15 minute ago.
Was the shuttle bus full? Oh, yes, it was. I was squeezed into the front seat beside the driver with the gear lever in close proximity to my right knee. Off we go. The driver, Geoff, an absolute gentleman, explained to me that, since I lived in Horsley and the shuttle company was based in Dapto, I would need to go along for the ride while he delivered all of his other passengers. Did I mind? Well, yes, I did, but what can you do?
Once we got to Wollongong, I then spent the next two hours in the bus while Geoff delivered about 20 Japanese students to various university accommodation places all over the northern suburbs before he was finally able to deliver me to my door, exhausted, hot, hungry and totally “over it” after 1400. Total journey time? 10 hours.
Come fly with me? No thanks. I will never do Phillip Island by plane again. When I drive it takes me 11 hours, door-to-door and I have the use of my own car when I get there. I am not subject to the arrangements of others and I don’t have to share seats with people who sometimes don’t understand how hard it is for me to do what they find easy.
BUT, that does not take away anything from the fun that I had at the track and in catching up with old friends. Robbie Phillis, Russell Barker, Len Smith, Russell Colvin and heaps more. It’s that aspect that makes it so enjoyable. The Press Secretaries for the major teams are wonderful people, obliging and polite, Steve, from Pata Honda, Sylvie from Kawasaki, Heather from Ducati and Christina and Tim from Suzuki are a credit to their teams. Ingrid Roepers who manages all the PR for the meeing and her tireless staff behind the counter who NEVER stop smiling throughout the whole long weekend, just fabulous people.
However, I must mention the one “bad apple” who could easily spoil the bunch were I to let him do so. For the last three years at WSBK I have endeavoured to organise interviews with the Aprilia “works” riders and have consistently been unable to do so. This is wholly because of the obstruction and bloody-mindedness of the team’s so-called Press Officer, Andrea Zuccarato. Despite constantly telling me that he would make his riders available, he has never done so and obviously has no intention of doing so. Given that a Press Officer’s job is to liaise with and facilitate the company’s publicity with the press, his attitude seems totally at odds with that job description. So, apologies, again. No interview with the overall winner of the round, Sylvain Guintoli and no interview with Marco Mealndri.
Am I going to let that, and my transport woes spoil my memory of the weekend? Of course not. Despite WSBK not having the “zing” this year and despite its overall atmosphere lacking the old-skool friendliness of the Island Classic, I’ll line up to do it again if Jim Race want me to do so.