24/08/2019

RIDE REPORTS

The Best Day Ever At MotoGP!

How many times have you been watching MotoGP races and imagined what it must be like to crack the throttle and feel the almighty surge of one of those racing beasts?

After our TransTerra Southern High adventure ride in 2018 I was presented with a unique opportunity that many petrol heads would kill to experience. I got a text on Wednesday before the MotoGP at Phillip Island from Jy at Monza Imports, the distributors of Alpinestars in Australia. The text read; “Hey mate, got a ride for you on the Ducati MotoGP bike. Get excited!” I replied with “BULLSHIT!!!” and “With Randy Fucking Mamola?” and “I think I may have just wee’d a little!”
Now if I was feeling at all nervous about the fact that I was about to jump on the back of a 230HP motorcycle completely at the mercy of a stranger the video message I received on Friday night from the man Randy himself didn’t help to relieve any tension.
Hit play below….

The Process (The Reckoning)
Come Saturday morning of Phillip Island MotoGP weekend and we met Jy at the gate where he took us straight to the Alpinestars service hut in the pits. I’ve been in the pits several times at GP races and there is no place I’d rather be. Our passes got us into that inner sanctum of racing.
Randy’s son Dakota was the first staff member we met. Dakota works for Alpinestars in their Racing Services and no doubt has several jobs on race weekends. I was given an indemnity form and pretty much signed it without even reading it. As many of our customers have in the past! I didn’t care what the form said, I just wanted to ride!
There was a group of about 8 of us getting a spin that day so we were assembled in a hut where we ran through a series of steps:
  • Welcome briefing and completing forms
  • Medical
  • Rider briefing – in the hut
  • Rider briefing – trail sit on bike
  • Suit up in riding kit
  • Final briefing and allocating order
  • The lap

Initial Briefing
A French lady called Carolyn acted as our guide and told us what to expect. She said women usually make better passengers because they do what they are told!
Height and weight restrictions were explained. I believe the weight restriction was 90kg but being too tall is also an issue.
We were ushered into MotoGP’s Clinica Mobile in the pits where we were to undergo a basic medical of weight, height, blood pressure and pulse rate. Sadly for them, four of the people in our group failed the medical, mostly due to blood pressure. Lucky I didn’t have my morning double shot espresso! Several Moto2 riders were in there at the time getting worked over with massages. Talk about super trim athletes. These guys must have weighed around the 50-60kg mark. Missile jockey’s.

The Bike
We walked back to the centre of the pits where we were led to a small Ducati coloured plexi-glass pit booth containing a pair of Ducati factory Desmosedici motorcycles. Looking very much like a pair of caged animals itching to pounce!
Looking at the front end of the bike they were the same as a current Ducati GP bike ridden by Dovi or Lorenzo. Looking at the rear of the bike was a different story though, behind the riders seat the tail hump was virtually non-existent and was replaced with a second seat much smaller than the riders backed by a tiny bum stop. Just below the seat was a second set of nasty sharp looking footpegs seemingly way too high up. As the passenger I would have my very own set of hand grips mounted on top of the fuel tank so us passengers had something to hang onto other than Randy’s balls! Sadly on these hand grips there was no throttle for me to twist…
We were soon told the critical specs of the bike which included:
  • 230HP (vs 260HP for the current race bikes)
  • 167kg
  • No electronic traction control aids!
  • On some circuits they are just 7 seconds off race lap times…
Soon enough we would get a chance to plonk our bums on this beast.
We had a static rider briefing about position on bike with demo of pillion position behind rider – Randy explained to just drop head and shoulder into the corner, don’t move bum. Follow his lead. Right. Got it.


The Riders
With 8 passengers to get through and limited track time there were actually two riders that would take our group for our hot laps; Randy Mamola and Frank Baittani.
It has been a decade or two since Randy Mamola took to the race tracks in battle. My most vivid memory of Mamola is from back in his 500cc Cagiva days where he had a massive high side right in front of a camera and being ejected out of his seat but managing to hang onto his ‘bars enough to land beside the bike sidesaddle and ride it out for a while before he scrubbed off enough speed to do a quick jump and remount the bike before hitting a wall. Not the best memory to recount before jumping on board with him!
Frank “Ironfrenk” Baittani – let me just say Ironfrenk doesn’t talk much. In fact we didn’t hear him utter a word so I don’t even know if he even speaks English! But I can tell you he is uber fit and stripped lean of any unnecessary body fat. The nickname was appropriate. Randy being the personality that he is filled us in on a little bit of who Ironfrenk is. This was basically summed as him being training freak that thinks nothing of pumping out 300 laps of a hotel pool to keep himself sharp and in shape.
I was lucky to be rider number 1 to go on board with Randy. Better the devil you know?

The Passengers (The Choosen Few)
How did I get to be the lucky bastard on the back?

It was courtesy of the local Australian distributor for Alpinestars, Monza Imports. We have been lucky to have had support from Alpinestars for the past couple of years with our adventure riding business. Alpinestars being a key supporter of MotoGP opened the door for the local distributor to select a lucky few when the MotoGP circus comes to town.

Many of the other passengers were there because of Phillip Morris. That name is referring to not a person but a company. For many years the name Phillip Morris was more readily known via their sponsorship of MotoGP with their Marlboro cigarettes brand.
I found it fascinating that although Phillip Morris was still supposedly a major sponsor of this joy ride (along with Alpinestars and Ducati) not anywhere on the bike or the promotional material could you see any reference to Marlboro. Even after the tabacco advertising bans, it used to be that there was still a distinctive red and white triangle logo featuring on the bikes that could be recognised as Marlboro without actually saying “Marlboro”. But not anymore. Nowadays the cigarette companies must be really struggling to find avenues to promote their “products”.

Alpinestars Racing Services
Alpinestars are a massive supporter of MotoGP and in fact all of the Dorna staff get around the pits with Alpinestars logos on their shirts.
The other side of it is the support they give racers on and off the track. If a rider goes for a slide down the road they can bring their suits to the Alpinestars service guys in the pits and they will rebuild the suits stitching in new parts and leather panels as needed.
This service of course extends to their Tech Air air bag system which most of the riders including 2018 World Champion Marquez relies on. In fact air bags become compulsory for riders across all MotoGP classes from the beginning of the 2018 season. How long before they become compulsory on the street?

Gearing Up
And then came the cool part. A couple of burly English blokes helped size us up (not that cool), passed us a crisp new Alpinestars t-shirt (always cool),  helped fit us into our Alpinestars race suits and boots (very cool) and acted as our pit crew as we were ushered out onto the pit lane where the bikes were waiting (even more cool).
The bikes were fired up and if you’ve never been close to a MotoGP bike before when they are idling and warming up in the pits, it is a violent visceral experience. The sounds emitted from the unmuffled exhaust punch through your body like a hammer. I really do think these bikes sound cooler idling through the pits than they do at full song on the track.
The team were a well oiled maschine (slight pun). Randy has been doing this two-seater ride gig for 15 years. Some 7,000 people! At Sepang they did laps with 300 riders over the weekend. We were told their finishing rate was pretty high too…

The Lap

Getting to do a hot lap on a Ducati 2 seater MotoGP bike was something very special. Randy Mamola was my pilot and it certainly didn’t fell like the bastard was holding back!

Randy and Frank went out first and did two warm up laps to get some heat in the tyres. As they came past our position on the start straight they were at full song and flying! If the nerves weren’t under control at this point, this fly-by certainly didn’t help as Randy lofted the front out of Turn 12 and help it skyward for most of the start straight while still accelerating like an Exocet missile.

After the pair flew by I was ushered out onto the track and took up position next to the start box. As Randy completed his 2nd lap and rolled back down the straight he popped it up on the front wheel and rolled in with a nice high stoppie. Just to get that last bit of heat into the carbon brakes. Randy got in position and then it was my turn to assume the position. I placed my left hand on Randy’s shoulder, left foot on left foot peg and lifted my body up over and down onto my seat.

This was the moment. I was sitting on a Ducati MotoGP bike, with the engine running, on the start straight of Phillip Island, on MotoGP weekend with ten’s of thousands of race fans watching me, jealously. I tried to let every facet of that moment sink in.

Our helper reminded me to keep my distance back form Randy so he had room to work, the rope barrier was pulled back, Randy snicked it up into gear, the revs climbed and the clutch was engaged.

Gardner Straight – oh Lordy! We didn’t even get 1.5 meters off the line and the front was lifting. Such was the grunt of the Desmo. The acceleration down the start straight was just nuts and left my stomach behind. Basically the blood drained out of my head and ended up somewhere near my butt. Right about when I was at the point where I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore and was at risk of losing consciousness due to the g-forces Randy backed off for Turn 1 allowing my perception of reality to return.
Sitting in my garage now is a 1290cc V-Twin KTM adventure bike putting out 160HP which can give similar blood draining sensations, but this was next level! As you would expect.
Turn 2 Southern Loop – Back in the early 2000’s I had did multiple laps on a Fireblade and various other Honda’s around Phillip Island circuit at track days so I knew the sequence of corners. Trying to remember the lines around the track and being careful to lean the right way at the right time so Randy could do his thing. I could imagine for someone else that didn’t know which way the track went, there would be plenty more heart in mouth moments as the bike dropped left or right because vision from the back seat is not good with your pilots helmet filling your vision. What surprised me here was how tight Randy’s entry was into Turn 2 was, but Southern Loop is a long corner so there is plenty of time to drift wide before cutting back to the inside for a fast exit.
Turn 4 – The braking into Honda Corner at Turn 4 was brutal but I was somewhat ready for it. It was right about here thought I thought “What do I do if he bins it?”. That thought was quickly banished and I concentrated on bracing myself back and keeping my bum planted on the seat. Not easy when braking from 200 plus down to about 70-80kph. It really loaded up the front here.
Turns 5 & 6 Siberia – Powering out of Siberia always used to be one of my favourite parts of the track. The front end gets light and back before track resurfacing there used to be a “triple jump” here on corner exit that made for plenty of tank slappers and wiggly lines. Fun stuff!
Turn 7 The Hayshed – this was the corner that really got my attention! What I wasn’t ready for after Siberia in this case was how hard my pilot laid the bike over to get through the Hayshed at 7. I was sure he still had the front wheel in the air coming out of Siberia doing something like 220 when Randy tipped in with aggression! I gulped then!
Turns 9 & 10 Lukey Heights & MG – A few people asked me after the ride how hard was the braking into MG but to be honest I was ready for it and made damn sure I braced myself so Randy had room to work his magic. This one wasn’t too bad.
Turn 12 – a quick short shift out of MG and Randy fed in the power through 11. Try as he might Randy struggled to keep the front on the deck here as he powered out of 12, you could feel it lift, lose directional control, go sideways, front come back down to steer, accelerate, lift, down, steer, repeat.
Our terminal velocity down the start straight was cut short as we had to pull in time for the passenger change just after the start/finish line. Bummer we didn’t get to do a flying lap down the straight but I certainly didn’t feel short changed.
After stepping off the bike I couldn’t help but give a little fist pump and I was immediately greeted by a track marshall who began tugging at my glove to remove it. I helped out a little to get the gloves off. No sooner had the gloves come off before someone was reaching for the chin strap of my helmet. In spites of the adrenaline shakes I had that one under control, so I removed the helmet myself. Suddenly there was a freshly opened bottle of water thrust into my hand. Talk about being treated like racing royalty! I felt like I had just won a GP!
I took no more than a couple of steps away from the track before a microphone and camera appeared in front of me. My eyes followed the microphone cord to see who was holding it and it was none other than Australian Motorsport commentator Greg Rust. I think I said “G’day Rusty”. It’s funny how someone like him can seem so familiar to you!
The interview was brief but I’m pretty sure I kept babbling on about how cool it was and how fast the bike was.
Little did I know that the interview was being blasted live all around the circuit on the big screens. Aussie moto journalist Ralph Leavsey-Moase even managed to get a “great” photo of me cracking a stupid grin that I’m sure will come back to haunt me!
As I had stepped off the bike I noticed a few spits of rain. I soon realised just how lucky I was when the 2nd group of riders returned to the start line and Randy and Frank were indicating the fun was over and no more laps would be run in this session as the rain started to come down harder. Bummer for the rest of the group that missed their chance. As luck would have it the fickle Phillip Island weather gods allowed a 2nd sessions to be completed fully towards the end of the day.
Certainly during our lap I could feel several times mid-corner where Randy would lose grip at the front and have to button off and gather it back up again to regrip. It must be enormously difficult to balance the bike out with all my extra weight on the back wheel. It gave a sneak peak into the feel and bravery these MotoGP guys have for pushing the limits of adhesion.

Debrief
Randy explained in the debrief just what a knifes edge the riders dance along in terms of tyre grip. At other circuits like Sepang when it gets wet the the track still has temperature in it so they can get the wet tyres up to temperature pretty easily and still find grip. At The Island, because the track temp is invariably low when they get showers of rain the grip drops off a cliff and it is very difficult for them to push the tyres to generate heat into them again in the non-flying lap.
Randy said in the debrief that they really only get to use about 25-30% throttle opening on the 230HP Desmosedici engine because of us fat pillions swinging off the back axle!
We returned into the pits and went one-by-one to the Alpinestars hut to de-suit and get changed back into our civvies.
As a special reminder of the day I even got to hang onto the Alpinestars SP8 gloves I wore, signed by Randy Mamola and Franco Battaini. The next day we also received a signed photograph featuring a static pose with Randy on the start line and an action shot cranking around a left hander. I’m quite proud of the fact my eyes are open at this point and actually looking through the corner! #straighttothepoolroom
A huge thank you to Alpinestars and the Monza Imports Australia boys Jy Morgan and Steve Jennings for the hook up through Alpinestars.
I fear now that many of my riding friends will no longer talk to me! I know many of you out there would likely give up your left nut for an experience like this and truth be told I probably would too.
I certainly did finish our Southern High ride on just that.