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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Czech Please

Some ideas are good, some ideas are bad, and some ideas are just plain stupid. Truth is, most ideas never get beyond the beery happy hour “wouldn’t it be cool if” stage. So when Mixo and I came up the idea to go to travel around Europe going to MotoGP races, we had no clue which category it would fall into.

Originally, the plan was to document not only our adventures, but to compare the different countries, the fans, the atmospheres, and anything else we could think of so that if a person wanted to attend a European GP they could use it as a guide of sorts. We hoped it would be a fun and entertaining read, even for those who have no interest in motorcycles or motorcycle racing (heathens).

In the beginning of our journey we went to Jerez, Spain where we were inexplicably as unprepared for sunshine as we were for rain and we got both burned and drenched. We had no GPS and spent a lot of time exploring the Spanish countryside while hoping to randomly stumble upon either our hotel or the racetrack, depending on which direction we were going.  At Jerez everything was new and we stared wide-eyed at the perfectly lined up trucks, the massive hospitality tents, the bikes, the fans, the, well, the everything. We were Alice in Wonderland getting sucked through the rabbit hole into an unfamiliar world and all we could do was stand there, mouths agape and stare in amazement. And occasionally point at something. Maybe snap a picture. Usually out of focus.

Now, after six Grands Prix in six different countries, we have learned a few things. We are no longer complete neophytes standing sunburned in the rain with our ears bleeding because we forgot earplugs. We now carry hats, sun block, and raingear. We even have earplugs on a string that, when not in use, dangle around our necks like cheap, ear waxy pendants.  
We no longer drive around aimlessly trying to find the track or desperately play charades for directions. Nope, we now have a functioning GPS (which we often ignore just to piss it off) and almost never get lost.

We do still stand around with our mouths agape, stare in amazement, and occasionally point at something, but now our pictures are in focus.
We even know a couple of people in the paddock now and are occasionally recognized by some of the racers. Sure, they still think we’re stalkers, but now they smile or say “hi” before zipping away on their scooters or ducking behind the velvet ropes.

In a way it’s all a bit surreal. Not the outlandish extravagance of the MotoGP circus, which is beyond surreal, but the fact that we travel to different countries all over Europe. Places we’ve never been.  Different currencies, different languages, different customs, yet, when we get to the paddock we see the same people. We see the same trucks. The same bikes, scooters, R.V.’s. Everything.
It’s nice.

So there was a tiny bit of sadness in knowing that the Czech GP or the “Cardion AB Grand Prix Ceske Republiky” in Brno, Czech Republic was to be our last GP of the season. It would seem, however, that we saved the best for last. Or at least one of the best. 
Jerez was good, but he Brno circuit has unequivocally the best general admission hillside seating available. It is every bit as good or better than the grandstand seating at the Sachsenring and offers views of huge sections of the circuit and multiple corners. There are also plenty of ginormous TV screens to watch when the action is on a different part of the track.
And this was only practice
The only thing somewhat lacking was in the vendor areas. There were about a million tents to get food, but they all sold exactly the same items. I’m guessing they were part of the track guest services and not independent vendors. It was good, but after three days of grilled meat sometimes a guy just wants a salad.
There also were no independent vendors for riding gear.
We always like to check out the bike gear available in different countries and possibly pick up a bargain or two, but so far as we could find there wasn’t so much as a helmet display anywhere. Which was a bit disappointing seeing as how with the exchange rate the Czech Republic is downright cheap. You can buy a car six donkeys and a virgin bride for, like, 20 bucks. Beer? A euro. So we figured a leather jacket and helmet couldn't be more than a few pennies.  

They did have, however, some outside the motorcycle industry vendors. We have seen Dewalt and Stanley at other tracks with big booths full of jackhammers, chainsaws, and screw guns, but in Brno they were joined by a Czech company selling mechanics tools and pit gear. While strolling around the display I found the coolest tool ever; a shorty 10mm open box wrench on one end and a, wait for it, a bottle opener on the other.
How have I gone this long in life without one? I knew that I must have one and so asked the guy how much it was. He informed me that it could not be purchased, it could only be won. 
Like Excalibur.

Except I didn’t have to pull one out of a stone. All I had to do was use their air wrench to unscrew six lug nuts, pull a wheel off, put it down, pick it up, put it back on, install the lug nuts, tighten them, and then put the air wrench back in it’s holder. I have no idea what time was required to win, but I did it in less than a minute.
And I am now the proud owner of a 10mm wrench that can also open bottles. It’s a major award!

The Czech GP has been called the “third Italian GP” because all of Italy pretty much goes on holiday for the month of August which allows tons of Italian race fans to make their way north and attend. While it is true that a massive number of Italians were there we also noticed just as many people from Germany and Germany-Lite (pronounced Austria).
A staggering number of the locals had turned up as well.

Judging from the flags on display, this was one of the most international crowds we’ve experienced so far. Everywhere we turned there were several different languages being spoken simultaneously. English was a rarity, but we did bump into a couple Irish guys at one point. Who we could not understand.
As for communicating with Czech people, well as has been proven time and again, I am not a language, um, good talking person, but this was the first place where we didn’t even know the basics. Nothing. Not even “hello” or “thanks” or important stuff like “one beer, one cider, and two of those sausage-y meat things”.

Fortunately, pretty much every Czech person we met spoke English. And usually more clearly than the Irish. So even though it felt like a cop-out we didn’t really have to try and speak the local language. Though, I did thank a few people in French. And a few others in German.
Just because.
We also found the Czech people to be incredibly friendly, although years of communist rule has apparently taught them that smiling equals weakness, they were completely hospitable, good natured, and generally, lovely.
They are also crazy about motorcycle racing.

The entire town of Brno was aware of the races. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to England where not even the hotel desk staff knew there was motorcycle event just down the road, the fact that every bus stop and billboard in Brno was advertising the MotoGP seems significant. It was also in all the local papers and on the nightly news.

Not only did everybody in town know about the events at the racetrack, but the center of Brno itself was shut down on Friday and Saturday nights to have a huge two-night party for the race fans. The local businesses stayed open late and vendors set up temporary bars and cafes. One of them even trucked in sand to make a beach for their tiki-themed bar.

Everyone we met was having a good time and there were no attitudes or troublemakers. Nobody was carrying around invisible suitcases and trying to look tough. The only inharmonious thing all night was a table of drunk guys who decided it was a good idea for them to sing.
It was not. 
There was a stage set up and a Miss Grid Girl (or something like that) beauty contest was going on. The first girl who stepped up to the microphone and said in her very heavy Czech (think Boris and Natasha) accent, “hello ladies and gentlemens” pretty much had Mixo’s and my vote.

Chaloo, ladies and gentlemens...
As a light rain turned into a heavy downpour, people ducked into doorways or under vendor tents. That is until the Miss Grid Girl (or something like that) contest began the swimsuit portion of the program. As the women on the covered stage strutted their stuff the gentlemens in the crowd proved that guys everywhere are willing to stand out in the rain in order to see pretty girls in bikinis.
And why not? After all, we stand out in the rain to see motorcycles go around in circles. 

Another thing about the crowd at Brno was that we saw much fewer examples of random, drunken, insanity as at other tracks. There were decidedly fewer people with “46” shaved into their hair and fewer fans who showed up in animal costumes, and we didn’t see a single cross-dressing Viking, but what the Czech fans lacked in outright lunacy they more than made up for with enthusiasm. The energy coming from the packed hillsides was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. They exploded every time the bikes went past.
Every bike. Every time. Practice, qualifying, or race.

Sure people had their favorites. A roar went up every time Rossi, well, every time Rossi did anything, actually. But they cheered for everyone else as well. There were several different riders’ fan clubs there, but mostly people were there to see really fast motorcycles being ridden at the limit by the world’s most talented racers. 
And they were not disappointed.

The 125 race at Brno was one of the best races we’ve seen all season. If you have not had a chance to see this race do yourself a favor and check it out. There were more high-speed passes being made than at a round of naked speed-dating.
On the cool down lap second place finisher Johann Zarco pulled over and handed his bike to a shocked corner worker, then hopped over a barricade and ran up a hill to greet members of his fan club. It was a nice acknowledgement of their support, even if it did confuse the hell out of one security guard.
Zarco, his fan club, and one confused security guy

The 125 race had set the bar high for race drama, but the Moto2 guys seemed up for the challenge. Once again the fans were treated to one of the most thrilling races so far this season. Honestly, the lead changed more often than a Wall Street trader’s underwear. Every time a pass was made or a guy ran wide every single man woman and child in the crowd stood up and gasped.
It was like the entire population of Rhode Island simultaneously sucking wind. When a rider made a daring pass no matter who it was or for what position everybody cheered as though it was their favorite rider going for the win.
These folks just love to watch racing.

At the checkered flag it was Italy’s Iannone followed by Spanish rider Marc Marquez, German Stefan Bradl, and Alex De Angelis of San Marino. How close was this race? Look at your watch; note how long it takes for the second hand to move once, that’s how long it took for all four bikes to cross the finish line.  After a 20 lap race the difference between winning and not even making the podium was less than one second.
Battle for the lead of Moto2 (yes, they really are that close)
Our buddy, Marc VDS rider Mika Kallio had a good race clawing his way back from a disastrous qualifying which saw the Finn start from 30th position to finish 13th and in the points. Unfortunately, his teammate Scott Redding went the other direction when his bike developed a problem and he ended up a lonely 26th. American Moto2 rider Kenny Noyes finished 20th.

After the two support class races the big bikes had some serious shoes to fill. Mixo and I grabbed a spot on the front straight to watch the start. We were so close when the bikes launched that it felt like a bomb went off in my pants and at the same time someone hit me in the chest with a pinball machine.
In a good way.

You know, like when you’re out shopping and try one of those vibrating massage chairs. Like that, except it’s a vibrating massage full body suit and someone has turned it all the way up to eleven.
Seriously, you gotta try it.

As for the race itself, well, this season has seen some epic battles at the front of the MotoGP class, this was not really one of them. Casey Stoner on the Repsol Honda was so much faster than everyone else, especially after poor Dani Pedrosa crashed out while leading that it was obvious by the fifth lap who would win. By halfway the bikes were evenly spaced and the finishing order was pretty well set. That is not to say, however, that any single rider let up in the slightest. They were all full throttle, 100% every lap. 

Rossi put in a decent performance on the Ducati, but it was clear that the boys from Bologna still have some serious work to do before that bike will be competitive. It looks slow and hard to turn. I hope they get it sorted by next season for Hayden and Rossi’s sake (or whomever will be riding it).

2 Repsol guys and a cray person
One bright spot was a rejuvenated Marco Simoncelli who was riding like his old self again. He was riding like his head was on fire and the only way to put it out was to go warp speed. 
Or bury it in a gravel trap. 
It was nice to have to unpredictable Italian back on form and his efforts were rewarded with a third place finish. Even if he did look like a crazy homeless guy on the podium.
Andrea Dovizioso on the third Repsol bike was the runner up making it a clean podium sweep for HRC.

Homeboy Karel Abraham DNF’d after what looked like a spectacular engine failure. And when I say “homeboy” I mean it, literally. His father actually owns the Brno circuit.  Not too shabby.

When all the racing was done for the day, including the Redbull Rookie’s Cup race 2 in which the top nine bikes all crossed the finish line within the same second! We headed into the paddock for one last stroll around. 
It was a painful moment because we knew that this was the end of our grand journey and because we know we may never again breath the rarified air of a MotoGP paddock, but mostly it was painful because we had walked about a million miles.

Seriously, our feet really hurt.

Klaus und Hammer’s Big European Moto Adventure has been the time of our lives and Mixo and I have a few people to thank for making it all possible. So, “Thanks”(you know who you are) and thank you for reading along.
Stay tuned right here for some seriously bad ass pictures of fast motorcycles and the people who love them.  

Now, go buy a ticket to your local race.
The End