Wet and Wild: The Grand Finale
It has been exactly three weeks to the day. You would think the memory has dimmed. But it hasn’t. I let my eyes glaze over a bit and think back. The memories come flooding back – the growl of the motorcycles echoing through the circuit, looming dark grey clouds across the sky, the smattering of rain drops, a crowd of fans clamouring at the gates and inside, the blast of music at the merchandising area, and fans grouped around motor homes, waiting for their heroes to make an appearance. Within minutes I am back at the Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana. No, the memory hasn’t dimmed in the slightest. It is just like it was yesterday.
I woke up at 6am – anxious. I didn’t want to miss a single minute. I looked out of the window and saw the clouds – dark and thick inching their way across the sky. A couple of hours later, I scrambled towards the cab, my umbrella battling the wind. The windshield wipers swept the raindrops out of the way as I sat on the edge of my seat looking ahead, anxiously. The traffic slowed down to a crawl as we drew closer to the circuit: buses, motorcycles and cars fighting for space.
I entered the circuit, holding up my umbrella, trying to avoid the intermittent raindrops, big and fat. It was going to be a wet race. I mapped out my game plan. I would watch 15 laps at the Pramac Racing Team’s hospitality tent and 15 laps from the team’s racing box. It would be a quick sprint between the two places – I didn’t want to miss any bit of the race.
And so it turned out that it would be a wet race, despite a dry racing line. The beginning was chaos. The track was drying and last-minute tyre changes saw Dani Pedrosa start the race from the pitlane. Pedrosa later said in a press release, “It was very difficult at the start to make the decision with tyres. I saw Jorge on slicks on the grid and I was pretty sure with my decision, but standing there, the track was drying up very quickly and before the start I didn’t know if it would be better to forget about the pole and start from the pits or go out on wets and stop after 4 or 5 laps. In the last corner of the sighting lap, the instinct told me to get in immediately.” It was a smart move, as changing track conditions had riders popping into the pit lane after a few laps and make a quick switch to a dry set-up bike. It gave Pedrosa the lead he wanted. It seemed like a handful of other riders had come to the same decision. Nicky Hayden, Cal Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista decided to start from the pits switching to slicks.
We were warm and dry inside the tent. A group of us sat in a semi-circle around the large-screen television that aired the race. “Valeeeee,” screamed someone, as the camera zoomed in on Rossi. A smattering of claps echoed through the room. We watched, mouths agape and unbelieving, as Aleix Espargaro from Power Electronics Aspar lead the race – a first for a CRT bike. I lost track of riders as Casey Stoner, Hector Barbera and Andrea Dovizioso dived in to jump off their bike and clamber on to a waiting bike with a slicks setup. It was madness. I shook my head and stared at the screen, unblinking. Then, Nicky, Ivan Silva and Roberto Rolfo crashed out. Pedrosa had worked his through the pack to the top and was giving Lorenzo, who was in the lead, a run for his money. Things continued to turn chaotic as Stefan Bradl lost control and crashed while at 3rd. Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Yamaha’s stand-in and Cal battled for 3rd, until, at lap 12, the Honey Badger edged his way past the Japanese. Meanwhile Pedrosa ran wide and lost precious seconds behind Lorenzo in his fight for 1st. The race was becoming unbearably tense.
I turned and scampered out of the hospitality tent. I was going to watch the rest of the race from the racing box. I ran to the sounds of racing motorcycles echoing through the Paddock and entered the Pramac Racing Box. The team, in their distinctive green and white gear stood around the numerous screens watching. There was quiet tension as the riders whizzed pass outside, on the circuit. Then, the unthinkable happened. Lorenzo crashed. Anxious yelps and shouts went up in the box, as we watched the replay. It was a scary high-side tumble as Lorenzo tried to get past the back markers. He was lucky. The crashes continued at an alarming frequency. Hector Barbera fell to the gasps of the team. There was anxiety and then relief as Barbera got up and walked away. Randy de Puniet went into the kitty litter just as Claudio Corti. Then, at lap 23, Cal, who was running at an incredible 2nd, crashed out.
The wrap-up began in the racing box, as the tools were put away. Outside, the race continued. Pedrosa was leading and the Honda team gathered at the railing outside, ready to celebrate. Nakasuga was at 2nd and it seemed that Bautista would grab 3rd. But coming up behind was the determined Stoner, hell-bent on taking his last podium. He succeeded. The Honda team erupted in celebration, yelling and screaming. The race – an incredible finale to the season – was over.
We scrambled across the pitlane and rushed towards the podium as the riders came in. Valentino Rossi, who came a disappointing 10th – his last race on a Ducati – sped past. But all eyes were on the two Honda riders and Yamaha’s surprise winner. There were cheers, claps, and grins all around. I fumbled with my camera and pointed it at podium as Pedrosa took the trophy and then sprayed champagne. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was right there, where I have always wanted to be. I was torn between recording every minute on my camera and watching the winners celebrate. By the time I came a decision and realized that I did indeed have a zoom option in my camera, it was over.
We walked away, towards the Paddock. The bikes still growled, but now in their cages – the racing boxes. It was over.
This incredible moment is now just a memory, but a vivid one nonetheless, to be remembered again and again. Until, that is, the start of the 2013 season. Trust me, it will come soon.