I’m moving to India.
Back in the pit box, Laverty pushes back to first place some twenty something laps into the race. Guintoli close behind. Marco Melandri, the legend, Sykes the legend, both behind. Laverty is going to do it.
From silence to a few nervous squeals to a roar. The room erupts. The man at the centre, grey hair is the team manager for Aprilia. The team members turn to one another and the passengers like me look at one another in delight. This is a privilege, this is amazing.
Let me distract you. I forgot to mention the safety car. My clients whom I now believe are going to take me captive and make me do bad things (they have been so nice I owe them my life) have booked me a ride.
'Strap in, fast please' comes the command, the last thing I hear from my driver before we squeal out of the pits. I'm thrust into the seat, flung around like a fool and holding my hands out imagining I am riding. I must have looked about 10 years old.
The corckscrew approaches, wow, it’s blind, steep, fast, pushing you into the seat and whoosh you are sliding out the other side.
ENI, I’m ready, what do I need to do…
At the grid I am grabbed by the elbow by a glamorous Russian sounding woman who tells me I must go with her. I do as I am told and whilst I can’t figure out how a Russian PR for Honda has done it, or why, it appears I am actually going to watch the race here in the Aprilia pit box, she evaporates and I take my place at the back of the room.
I had prepared to be beside the track. The pit during a race is a special place. You keep away, leave it to the professionals. I stood very still, fearful I would trip over a tire warmer, lean on something expensive and carbon or ask a dumb question. Again it was silent, another tier of conversation was happening all around me on headphones, another language being spoken, tensions I could not see or feel.
Laverty holds pole, Sykes is pinned into second and Guintoli is not far behind, the race is on. Suddenly I am at the epicentre of a very exciting day. Thank you ENI, thank you, you have my loyalty forever. And thank you glamorous Russian lady, whomever you were.
The legendary Laguna Seca corkscrew. Just imagine the demands on the riders, what their line of sight can be and how difficult it must be to adjust your critical body position through this and stay on line.
The next day, race day is warm and clear. Perfect Monterey fall weather I’m told. We arrive at the circuit and it’s clear this will be special. My hosts ENI are making me feel like a king. I am ushered early into the Aprilia pitbox and allowed to see the bikes.
Lines of tires like battery chickens are wired up with all sorts of arcane data written on them. Laverty’s bike is exposed, naked, all carbon, perfect and high tech. It’s quiet, not frantic, these guys know what they are doing. This is the bike that went on to win…
After I do my piece on brands (titled ‘Powerful brands, separating fact from friction..geddit?) to the oil distributors, we have some very special guests. The team manager and two riders Laverty and Guintoli come on to take questions.
Both young men are utterly charming, they often are, but both are down and frustrated by the day’s performances and crashes.
The most interesting questions relate to preparation. What music do they listen to for example? Are they calm on the grid?, what do they think about at 150mph?
It’s not Metallica, it’s calm in there. Earplugs, a meditative state and confidence. They don’t see the brolly girls or hear the noise. Though Laverty made a funny observation on the girls…
"Whenever I go watch my brother race I see all these pretty girls and I ask myself why they aren’t there when I go on?"
Of course he is just not seeing them.
There’s a clear camaraderie here. They are both in training to win and to push Tom Sykes out of the way if at all possible. They both acknowledge they love this but are risking their lives to win.
Laguna Seca is a very demanding track, very physical. I try to relate it to my experiences at NYST, hills, camber, tight turns. I ask about the circuit, home of the legendary ‘corkscrew’ turn and where they find it challenging. It’s clear that there are two places which freak them out. The first of ehich being turn 1 which is moderate but completely blind.
All you can do is focus on a tree and a house in the distance as markers and ride flat out over the crest.
They both say that takes some getting used to and it reminds me of the IOM TT which must be full of such demands.
The second is of course the corkscrew and it’s not till the next day when I get a run around in a safety car at speed that I fully appreciate it.
I, like most race fans, have only ever seen it from helicopter views but the elevation change is dramatic, the pressure on the suspension must push you right down into the bike and really test the tires. Laverty said later after race day that his front wheel was slipping out on occasion…
We stood, we applauded them and we tried to give them a boost.