Laguna Seca MotoGP – Behind the Paddock’s Curtain

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Laguna Seca MotoGP - Behind the Paddock's CurtainAfter 40 minutes of ruthless 40C sun I’m moto-journalist jerky as I play tabloid photographer waiting to grab shots of MotoGP riding royalty.  Without media accreditation I’m as close as the paddock pass begged from Calgary’s Revoluzione would take me.  Danny Pedrosa has come out, as has Nicky Haden and perhaps the camera is foreshadowing their podium finishes.  I’m still waiting for the Ducati riders when a cadre of motorcycle journalists and notables sweep towards the Corse paddock enroute a private tour.  I give a quick wave to Ducati’s Canadian Sales and Marketing Manager as he passes by.  I’m floored as he motions me to join the group.

Other members of the crowd are shouting out “pick me” and “I’ll come”, even as I move through them and into the inner sanctum of the Ducati paddock.  I move quickly, in heat like this I could see a crowd turning ugly with little provocation.

Past the scalding grey-metal crowd barriers and the white vinyl tenting is a different world.  We are about to have a glimpse at the inner workings of Oz the great and powerful, and the moment the “curtain” is swept aside we are asked to turn off all our recording devices and cameras.  There will be no record of our presence here in this parallel world of cool, calm efficiency and quiet unspoken pressure of the race lest it reveal a trade secret to the outside world.

The anteroom is filled with shipping crates, tires, the smell of hot rubber and race fuel.  The tires are audited daily before being rolled on racks
to the Bridgestone team under black shrouds for analysis, and then replaced by new sets.  Ducati’s Paolo Braiato explains the process, without revealing too much pre-race lest the information find its way into competitor’s hands, then she guides us through to the paddock proper.

Around the corner I am face-to-face with Loris Capirossi.  Just off the track the racer is half-clad with his leathers hanging about the waist, gleaming
with sweat, sporting a set of dark sunglasses and a fresh bright pink scar running along his clavicle – another mark of speed’s high price is another
notable Sete Gibernau.  As a group we press to walls and do our best to stay out of the way of the smooth machinations of the paddock’s denizens.  Loris passes through the group and out of the paddock, a small muscular man he makes my 6″2′ frame look oafish.  I want to say something to him, wish him luck, but I’ll admit I’m star struck – caught off guard by this tour… I don’t even have a note pad with me.

There are a handful of techs working on the two Desmosedici GP6 race bikes, which less than hours ago were orbiting the track in July 21st qualifier.  Everyone has their place and goes about their job with a smooth and specialized efficiency.  In essence two teams are here, one for each racer Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau, making for a total 34-42 members combined – that is before the Bridgestone tire teams are added to the mix.  The Ducati Corse human resource department must have a mandate of hiring small.  This human Swiss-clock is stuffed into a space the size of a smallish living room, complete with the number 65 and number 15 Desmosedici GP6 bikes whose fairings are jauntily yet neatly piled on the floor.

Federico Minoli slides in quietly, and from the back watches the proceedings for a while.  Kevin Davis, who invited me in on the tour, whispers in my ear, “That’s my boss.”  His boss?  More than that, he’s the President and CEO of Ducati SpA, strangely he seems as taken with the near silent technical ballet being acted out before him as we are.

A technician is focused intently on the front suspension of Sete Gibernau’s bike; Laguna Seca is, according to Doug Polen, a front heavy track with steep descents and tight cornering combined.  Front-end setup is critical here.  Complicating matters the track’s recent repaving is showing some shortcomings, rippling has appeared in some corners.  Additionally, Laguna Seca is suffering from its dual usage, cars have been here and their tremendous weight, torque and huge contact patches have resulted in chipping.  On an earlier track walk patch work is evident, sections have been diamond cut and then coated, the traction differential clear even to a sneaker’s sole – the thought of wet weather racing here is terrifying.

Technicians glide quietly around us, intruders from the outside world, as Paolo Braiato runs though the GP6’s technical specifications, at least the ones that can be shared.  The L-four develops over 230hp and has been taken to 317kph.  I ask about torque, Paulo’s smile, blond hair and a charming Italian accent framing her response, “I cannot tell you that.”  This strikes me an idiom for being unable to share guarded information rather than an “I don’t know.”  A street-going replica of the GP6, the Desmosedici RR’s exact output specifications have been conveniently vague also.

Wishing for a notepad, I listen to the group as they ask a smattering of other questions related to the bikes.  Mostly though, we just take it in; Ducati red tool chests, clean silver tools, the techs in red coveralls and clean black apron moving with quick purpose, silver and black stools at the twin telemetry computers, the twin bikes on twin stands.  Never has a garage looked so clean, or so designed – it is NASA gone upscale or a surgery for machine-human mergers in a fashionable near future.

The tour ends and we emerge into the harsh sun.  The crowd has mostly dissipated as we come back from behind the curtain.  Is the magic of what happens in the paddock diminished now that we see how Oz the Great and Powerful operates?  No, the mysteries of this strange quiet world, sitting parallel to the hubbub of the crowds and the fury of the track, still exist.  There is no place like home, but I’d go back at a moment’s notice.

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