I wasn’t feeling too perky towards the end of last year. I hate the dark winter months with a passion, with Christmas always being a particularly hideous dread that looms out of the darkness, reminding me of what I don’t have as everyone retreats into their little family units. An impending breakdown was on the cards, with all sorts of trouble starting to come to a head: a job I hated, health issues spiraling out of control, and yet again heartache coming at the worst possible time.
I was on a girl’s night out to The Bike Shed, when one of my friends asked if I fancied a trip to Austin to see both The Handbuilt Show (mmmkay, great, but not enough to get me on a flight…) and oh yeah the Moto GP is on that weekend there too. Cha-ching!!!!! That’s the killer punch right there. The thought of being so completely away from cold, horrible London winter, somewhere sunny, and watching my favourite sport at a beautiful circuit was just what the Doctor ordered.
As it was, the Doctor happened to be on the same flight as us, out of London, to Austin, as was half the paddock, on the Wednesday before the race. Slightly surreal to have Jeremy McWilliams sit near us in cattle class, but nothing compared to encountering Mr Rossi and his friend Uccio in the tiny customs and baggage reclaim hall in the airport in Austin. Along with Julian Ryder, Keith Heuwen etc!
We got to the hotel, got changed, and went out in search of the elusive Shiner Bock beer. I had been promised it was “the best beer in the world” and I couldn’t quite consider it as superlative as that, but it certainly hit the spot.
The heat was oppressive in Texas, and on the Thursday afternoon, I was starting to suffer in my blue Scottish skin. We went to the launch party of the Handbuilt Show on the Thursday night, but I didn’t want to party too hard, as we had to be at the circuit first thing the next morning, to collect our paddock passes. I had asked an old friend if he could help with getting cheaper Sunday tickets, as the cost of the holiday was mounting up, and I got an email back telling me I had weekend paddock passes!!!!!
We got a cab to the circuit (past the hamlet of Pilot Knob, and its off-licence…) collected the paddock passes, then cruised in to the circuit like a pair of Queens of Sheba. The only issue with the tickets, was that there were no seats associated with the passes, so we had to sneak in and out of ticketed stands, and then find the way in to the paddock. Unlike a European race, the riders don’t have their motorhomes with them, also, there are far fewer crazy Spanish and Italian fans, which makes for a much more relaxed experience all round. The riders are more relaxed, the paddock is a fairly peaceful oasis.
Me being the MotoGP fan was spotting riders right away, Yonny Hernandez being the first I saw once I got through the turnstile, whereas my friend had Rossi go past her on a scooter and remained oblivious! The Moto 2 and 3 teams all had little tent areas as there were only enough pit lane garages for the Moto GP teams. Every so often the security would pull out crash barriers, and bikes would go across and through an open garage onto pitlane and then the track. It was surreal having, particularly the Moto 2 bikes, screaming past our noses.
After FP2, we returned back to our hotel to go to the Handbuilt Show. If you like custom bikes, this is your mecca, the bikes on display here were years ahead of the European custom scene, even Julian Ryder agreed. The show itself is a mix of vintage exotica, immaculate restorations and mind-blowing customs (Walt Seigel will always get my vote), with a focus purely on the bikes. The only merch for sale is for Revival Cycles who put the show on, and sponsors are tastefully in the background, with Rev-It providing a free shuttle bus service between the show and the Circuit of the Americas. The food trucks were outside, and there was a Wall of Death set up in the garden area.
Saturday was back to the track for qualifying, and more rider-spotting in pitlane. My friend was bored by this time, and just wanted to go back to the Handbuilt Show, so I was feeling the pressure to just go back to Austin, but with all the top riders doing their post-qualifying press in the paddock, I wanted to stay, as this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m glad I did stay, I spied lovely Andrea Iannone, and scuttled off down the paddock to go and meet him, and get my fan club hat signed. Sadly the selfie turned out awful because of the angle, and my friend was studying her fingernails elsewhere in the paddock waiting to drag me out of there. Andrea was lovely and smiled nicely for the camera, signed my hat, and I was happy to leave after that. I spied John McPhee on the way out, and had a nice chat with him, before waiting an hour for the Rev-It shuttle bus outside. Whilst we were waiting, Danny Kent walked by us without a care in the world. He didn’t race the next day, and it was soon announced he’d parted company with his team.
On the lovely air-conditioned bus back to Austin, I tweeted that all the sunburn was worth meeting lovely Iannone again. He liked my tweet. I freaked out.
More hours were spent at the Handbuilt Show that evening, but with there not being any entertainment other than the same bikes I’d seen, my attention was starting to wain, plus there was a race the next day to look forward to. The novelty of being ID’d every time I bought a drink was wearing off, and with limited beverage options in the actual show (because if you left to get food or anything, you faced a long queue to get back in) I was happy to call it a night.
So Sunday was the race day, and I wanted to get to the track as early as possible, to catch the rider parade, if not warm ups. In the cab there my friend asked how early we could leave. Before a single bike was on the grid. It became more and more apparent that she didn’t want to be there at all, and was only using the experience of being at the race or in the paddock as an Instagram opportunity. Questions were met with one word answers, and a complete lack of any interest in any conversation, which was a massive buzz-kill when I was bouncing off the walls with excitement.
The Moto 3 race was eventful, with Japanese rider Toba crashing in front of us, causing a red-flag situation. The marshals seemed panicked with the situation, and chose to recover the bike rather than place the bale in front of the downed rider on the track, to top it off, the ambulance parked by this turn drove away without the rider even being attended to! Moto 3 restarted, then I made the decision to watch Moto 2 from inside the air conditioned paddock bar as the Factor 50 was yet again letting me down and I was burning up. Also, it’s my least favourite class of the three, and I wanted to save myself for the main act.
The race itself wasn’t up there with Catalunya 09, although it had its moments, Iannone’s overtake on Lorenzo was brutal and spectacular, Marquez made for a textbook win, and Loris Baz crashed right in front of us. Before the cool down lap was over, and we were making our way back to the paddock, my friend decided to leave right then. I had no intention of letting my experience end at that point, and went back to the paddock by myself just to soak up the last of the atmosphere, and see what was going on.
The riders were starting to emerge and do their press with their background boards being put outside the back of their garages in the paddock area, and I watched Iannone do some press, he was happy with his 7th position, and was doing a few TV interviews, with his legendary manager Carlo Pernat hovering by his shoulder. After the interviews finished, a rather odd American woman shoved her late teenage daughter in Iannone’s direction, with some blue Yamaha stuff to get signed. There were a few American fans getting his autograph, and I had my Iannone basketball vest that I work out in with me, and I wanted it signed if possible. I was being rather British and polite about it, then Pernat spotted my fan club hat and ushered me past the Americans to get my shirt signed. Andrea’s brother Angelo had to hold it, and Andrea said hello again, I thanked Carlo, and scuttled off to recover.
At which point lovely Danilo Petrucci walked past, and I had to get another selfie with him, after the one from World Ducati Week. Cal Crutchlow emerged and Davide Tardozzi said hello to him by grabbing his arse. And there was GiGi off to plot more Ducati domination. I was in 7th heaven. I had a chat with lovely Neil Hodgson (and got a pic), had an emergency beer then went off to wait for the shuttle bus that never came. Thankfully a few other Handbuilt Show attendees were waiting too, and one of them split a cab back to Austin with me.
I decided to forego the closing party for the Handbuilt Show, and go see the bats, and have a stroll round Austin, as I’d not seen much that didn’t involve 2 wheels since I arrived. Early night, and I was flying home the next day.
At the airport, the flight was actually listed as MotoGP flight, so I don’t know if it was a part Dorna charter. There wasn’t a lounge by the boarding gate so I was trying to not look bothered when Johann Zarco came and sat opposite. Then Davide Tardozzi appeared, Petrucci strolled up (with a girlfriend even shorter than me), then Hodgy, Heuwen and Ryder appeared. I’d been chatting with Simon from MCN on the flight out, and bumped into him in the paddock a few times over the weekend, and yes, he was on our flight back too. I was sat in the middle section of cattle class, surrounded by the Pramac Ducati crew, then Johann Zarco walked past, to a seat right at the back of cattle class, by the bogs. I can only think that Rossi may have organised it after his strong overtake during the race….
Sadly, rumour has it that the Austin GP is off the schedule for next year, which puts paid to that as the ultimate bike indulgence weekend if so.
Footnote – I lost my purse on the flight back, and British Airways and their contracted out company who are meant to look after lost property were no help whatsoever. I couldn’t even complain about it, as the customer satisfaction survey crashed whilst I was completing it…