This is taken from an email I composed shortly after the experience, it is long, rambles at times, a bit incoherent, and highlights how overwhelmed I was during the experience.
On Friday July 13th, 2007 just after 4pm my plans changed.
I had not intended on attending the MotoGP. I learned that I and a group from work would be heading down to Laguna-Seca for a full technology review on how our products at Apple were used in the Dorna production pipeline. We would be touring their onsite facilities and having conversations about opportunities for improvement. This would be a 2 way conversation we would suggest ways to optimize their workflow as well as gathering information about how we could add features to our toolset to make future productions that much easier.
Thursday night I headed down to connect with a group of friends that have rented the same Bed and Breakfast for many years. Fortunately for me they had room... not the optimal sleeping accommodations but I wasn't going to complain. Not knowing exactly what to expect but having seen a preliminary schedule of events for Friday I was, needless to say, very excited. We headed down to Bullwackers for dinner. Out on the patio Neil Hodgson was signing autographs promoting his new Corona sponsored Honda... There was much conversation about how he was a world champion and barely anyone was there to see him.
When we came out of Bullwackers there was quite a commotion going on... multiple cops, paddy wagon, lights spinning and a large crowd gathered right in the middle of Cannery Row. We did a bit of asking around to get the story and the summary is: Thursday morning a bike was missing from a trailer. Thursday evening they see the missing bike on cannery row. The friends of the owner call the cops to report it stolen. A member of the Ruff Riders jumps on the bike and goes to take off... the friends block his exit to give the cops enough time to arrive.. they find out he is a felon and still has the ignition core in his pocket and a screwdriver to start the bike... OFF to jail he goes. Bike off to the police station to wait for the owner to arrive.
Enough excitement we called it an early one and were off to bed.
We started the day at 8am to pick up our credentials and then head over to the track to connect with the guys from Dorna. I had ridden down to the track so I only had the motorcycle as my means of transportation and the 3 other guys from Apple followed me to the track, well sort of.
SCRAMP decided to put a little kink in the plan of me guiding my coworkers to the track. Our first meeting was scheduled for 8:30am and it was close to 8:15 as we arrived at the South Boundary Entrance...
I pull up to the gate with parking pass and credentials displayed and the security working there states "no motorcycles".
"I am leading these two cars to a business meeting that starts in 15 min" I explain.
"we are meeting with the international organization that put this entire event together and YOU are going to make us late, the two cars behind me don't know where they are going and I have been asked to escort them to the meeting."
This goes on for a few minutes before I finally let the overly ambitious security guard have his way and I try to explain the best I can as to where the rest of my group needs to go/be. I then head off on my 1/2 tour of the northern part of Ford Ord as I now have to take the LONG way in, despite the fact that I am less the 5 min away from the track and could make the lives of those I am leading that much easier.
The path through Fort Ord is a nice ride... but you can hardly enjoy it when you are super frustrated at the previous situation. As I am heading up the hill before the bridge to the infield I see one of the cars I was leading heading down the hill, they have no clue where they are going, I flag them down and get them to follow me, but there is no sign of the second car. Too many people directing traffic, and none of them knowing exactly where any of the specific locations are. So they are forced in to one parking space as I am directed to another location even though we both have the same EXACT parking pass, mine clearly visible in my tank bag, and theirs clearly visible in the windshield.
After parking we head into the paddock to meet at the media center. At this point we are 30 minutes late and get news that our the 5th member of our team was stuck in Chicago over night and won't be in until at least noon. No worries... we connect with the guys from Dorna and we are off to our first meeting.
We spent the first 1/2 hour or so making introductions and getting an idea of what to expect from the days ahead. First up is to tour the logistics behind shipping the gear from site to site. Everything from the Dorna side is loaded up into cargo crates and shipped from location to location via a pair of jumbo cargo planes. The team bikes are also shipped via cargo plane as well and are typically mingled with the other gear Dorna is relocating, this is done to ensure that the whole show is all together. This was fascinating to us because Dorna runs all the logistics behind the loading and unloading of things and doesn't subcontract this out to some transport company. This would be a hint at how involved Dorna really is in the entire process.
After chatting for a while with the team we went up to the corkscrew to watch the Friday morning practice from 10-11. This gave our host some time to get back to his directing gig and hop behind the console as the practice started. We watched him control the action for a bit and then hopped in a Suburban and we headed up the hill. For the remainder of practice we sat inside the wall near the jib camera which was just fantastic. We arrived Just as Hofmann was t-boned by Guintoli. So close to the action, no chain link fence in the way. We made sure when we headed back down to see some highlights of the crash from various different camera angles.
Toward the end of practice back down to the paddock to tour the control rooms for all the on track cameras. A total of 96 cameras are in use at any given time. Covering nearly every inch of track and getting a great deal of overlap so we as fans don't miss a single bit of action. (if we do miss something it is most likely because SpeedTV went to commercial at the most inopportune time).
66 on board (only 4 active at any one time due to a limit to analog bandwidth)
Their command center for the US consists of 2 rented media trailers that are filled with NTSC equipment for all the on track capture. This includes all on track cameras (minus the roving hand held cameras and the onboard cameras) The content is captured to a digital system where all clips are tagged with metadata to allow for instant access to any element of the race needed for play back. The best elements from this system, either live or prerecorded, are then converted to PAL and sent to a 3rd trailer where all the feeds are put together for the international feed (the commercial free feed we can only see via http://www.motogp.com). This is where everything we see comes together.. This control room is where the director is calling the show from start to finish. Trailer 4 contains all the controls for the onboard cameras/systems ( more on this later). Trailer 5 is where all the offline editing happens, they make all the tapes for various television stations as well as production of the DVDs and downloads found on the website. From the time the race ends to the time the DVD is finished is less than 6 hours. Pushed out to DLT and shipped off to the replication facility in order to be on the "shelves" by the wednesday after the race.
Over 12 hours of live material is produced at every venue. Approximately 135 million people watch the races LIVE in 184 countries and approximately 300 million see each race. In 2006 nearly 3,600 hours of footage was created for the GP season. 45 different broadcasters make this possible and this doesn't included the downloads from the motoGP site.
These numbers are staggering.
This is all possible because Dorna has its own engineering staff of 16 to keep all their gear running for every show. Minus the rented NTSC systems they have everything else to make the show go. With the help of technology and hardware companies they have designed hardware and software to fit extremely specific functions. Software development includes metadata tagging, onscreen data visualization, timing/scoring management, advertising air time, team air time, time spent per bike, onboard controls, radio management, scheduling, media management, accreditation services as well as customer relationship management. Hardware development includes, onboard systems, control room communications, cabling, camera enclosures, wireless camera systems, camera cleaning systems and future technologies.
Just after practice we headed over to the garages to get a tour of their camera systems and a couple garages to see how they were installed on the bikes. Our tour started in the camera garage, then proceeded through the Ducati, Honda and Yamaha garages.
The relationships they have built with various technology companies have allowed them to get coverage in amazing ways. Their onboard systems are truly remarkable. It is entirely self contained and the only connection to the bike is to keep things from wiggling around. No tethering is necessary to the bike's electrical system. All enclosures for the cameras are custom carbon fiber housings that are designed by the staff in spain.
• 4 cameras, 1 front facing with a auto cleaning mechanism, 1 butt camera we are all too familiar with (visions of rossi diggin for gold), one rear facing camera, and a "lipstick" camera that is much more of a micro camera than anything, this camera can be placed anywhere on the bike: foot, brake, clutch, forward facing low or rear.
• gps module for speed differential calculations
• lean angle monitor containing 3 micro gyroscopes
• microphone for on bike sounds as well as audio analysis of the engine noise to approximate RPMs and to give accurate gear indication
• bluetooth module to allow for rider data such as body temperature heart rate and soon to allow the rider to talk to the garage but not to receive information
• multiple antennas for both transmitting and receiving
• high frequency antenna for system control
• a data box
• battery power
All that and only 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds). All teams must equip their bikes with this equipment but where they put the system is entirely up to them. Dorna engineers work directly with each team to ensure the system can be configured and located on the bike according the the team's desires.
Such amazing technologies to make sure we don't miss a single bit of information.
The walk through the garages made my palms sweat and heart race... These bikes are beautiful.. I was able to snap a few shots in the Ducati and Yamaha garages but the Hondas were pulled apart and they requested us not take pictures. The mechanics were very open to our desires to fondle the bikes and it made for some moments of elation as we gently squeezed the grips on the various bikes and imagining our selves being in the boots of, Casey, Loris, Nicky, Valentino and Colin. I had no interest in Dani's bike and I think there are plenty of people that share the same sentiments. As we were exiting the Honda garage Dani was on the way in, I played the part of a gentleman extended my hand wishing him good luck and continued on our way. It was time for lunch.
We had lunch in the Dorna tent where a home cooked italian meal was prepared by their traveling catering staff. Nice and light and the perfect amount of food.
After lunch we headed outside of the front straight into the timing box near the red bull bridge to get an over view of how they keep track of all the information being generated. The second hour of practice was about to start so the timing box would be another great vantage point to see the action. The director of timing and scoring showed us systems that they had created and explained the various pieces and parts. He talked through the fail safes they had designed into the systems and how it was both a visual as well as a transponder based system to ensure accuracy. He also talked through how all the information was sent back to Barcelona so that the website could be kept up to date with all the latest scores.
We then headed off to have a couple hour conversation with the heads of various aspects of their production.
When the production meeting was over it was nearly 4pm and our main host quickly grabbed me and the only other Apple guy that had a prior interest in the GP racing world... we didn't know where he was taking us... Into the media center for a press conference.
A press conference with some of the previous US worldGP champions... Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Kenny Roberts, Freddy Spencer, Kevin Schwantz. The interviews were conducted by Nick Harris. It was very interesting to hear the conversations about the sport and where it is going... many of the champions agreed that the http://www.redbullrookiescup.com/ would do wonders for the sport and help get some more talent in the sport.
After the press conference ended we headed back to the Dorna Office to see what the plan would be for saturday. We made our plans and started to head off as our host handed us the keys to a few of the pit scooters and asked if we wanted to go out for a few laps. UH YEAH!!! Being the only one of our group that had been on the track before and the most enthusiastic about motorcycles the put me in the lead. The scooters maxed out at about 40mph downhill with a stiff wind so it was slow going, but nonetheless an absolute hoot. Full throttle through the corkscrew... who knew it was possible. HAH. this was just a taste of what was to come.
Dinner plans for 15 quickly turned to 18 for our Bay Area VFR owners group and the place in pacific grove was able to accommodate with out a hitch. Good food, good friends and good conversations.
After dinner a few of us headed to old town monterey to check out the area that Red Bull had sectioned off for the stunt show. http://www.chrispfeiffer.com/ was the main attraction. I must say... it was VERY impressive... remarkable amount of control. The show ended and we headed to the plaza hotel lounge for some drinks. An hour or so later it was time to head back to the B&B. We walked out and my roommate headed toward the nearest cab as the door opened I recognized the woman getting out of the cab as he got in. Pretty trippy. She said we should connect the next day so I could head up to the Red Bull Energy Center with her and her boyfriend ( who just happens to be a pace car driver for Laguna-Seca).
what a DAY. Still 2 more to go.
7:30am Sunday morning my phone beeps... text message... "how much do you weigh"
LONG LONG PAUSE..... HOLY FUCK I am going on the Ducati 2UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
I respond "200#s".
the response back is "in kilos?"....
"meet me at my office at 10am and don't be late."
I am ABSOLUTELY giddy. Giddy as I have ever been before/
I pack the panniers and the top box on the VFR knowing that I am heading home after the day is done. At 8:30 I head off to the track to see what awaits... I am extremely excited but still not 100% certain of exactly what is happening.
I am greeted and passed on to another member of the Dorna crew where I am informed that it is the 2UP ride I need to get prepped for. Sign some papers... a trip through the medical tent for a BP and Heart rate check up.. all is good so it is off to the Alpinestars motorhome for some more briefings.
I need to preface this with the fact that I feel like the lowest man on the totem pole in this room... director michael mann (miami vice), actor kip pardue, actor john hensley, actor giovani ribisi, wes brewer from SanDisk, and a guy alex from LA that does high end home theater installations for celebrities. I am humbled by just being here.
We all get fitted with the race replica leathers, the supertech boots, a pair of gloves, and an Arai RX7 helmet. we are set to go.
Randy arrives and gives us a pep talk about how the ride is for us, talks through the signals/communications and a bit about what to expect. Asks everyone in the motor home our level of comfort and everyone talks about riding experience and talks about how the pillion rider can affect the ride.
He suits up and we walk through the paddock... the crowd parts as we emerge from the paddock tent area and we head through one of the GP privateer garages to the pit lane where the bike is set up. HUGE crowd is gathered... michael jordan, tim allen, david allen greer, greg white, jason lee, and a TON of other people. I notice a coworker in the crowd and he starts snapping pics (thankfully), I was hoping someone would be out there with a camera, cause I had no room to hide one. The order was set... michael mann was first, I was second and giovani was after me... after that I didn't try to keep track of the order. all 7 of us do a dry run on the bike to see what the body language will be, then Randy walks through the crowd for photo ops with the crowd that has gathered.. giovani shares with me how he is freakin out and just ready to GO! John and Kip are of equal excitement and we all share sentiments of how much of a rush this is going to be.
Next Randy Fires up the bike and goes out for a couple laps to scrub the tires.
Go time... They corral us over to the pit wall break that opens up on the the track.. they set up a red "security rope" similar to what you see at any night club, and get michael ready and Randy rolls up and does a Rolling stoppie from about 20 feet out. Michael hops on and they are off for a pair of laps... They come down the front straight and Randy lofts the front wheel in the air and I am signaled that it is time to put the helmet on. As they come back through turn 11 the second time I do my best to suppress the butterflies that I can feel as I see the bike getting closer.
No time to think about that... concentrate... CONCENTRATE... you are about to go faster around this track on the back of a bike than you will probably ever go by your self.... now GET ON THE BIKE.
Grab the handles, slide the butt back... squeeze the legs and we are off. Front wheel immediately comes off the ground as we head up the hill under acceleration... quickly settles down and we are quickly gaining speed. Cresting the hill into turn 1 the wheel is coming up as we are starting to lean it over for the second of 22 corner (2 laps). The wheel comes down and we are hard on the brakes for the andretti hairpin. I look through the corner and spot the exit point and head toward 3. Tip it right head toward 4 we are just getting warmed up. The first lap is so Randy can see our comfort level through the corners and allows him to judge how hard he can push it on lap 2. Heading up the hill into seven I remember how blind the corkscrew really is. Snap left... wheelie down the corkscrew... settle the front and tip it right for the entry into rainey which is the double apex down hill left.... At this point I can tell the rhythm is great and we are moving synchronously. After turn 10 the front gets a bit light again and we set it up wide for the quick flick in to 11.
Going down the front straight the front gets light... and stays light for what seems like an eternity, the wheel was off the ground the entire length of the grid and I don't think it settled until well past the finish line. Turn one is much smoother this time and with significantly more speed we enter 2... Randy turns his head.. gives me the thumbs up and indicates this time it is going to be MUCH faster. I feel at this point if I were to stick my knee out I would be draggin it... I strengthen my grip on the bar and we are working together to keep the fluidity of the ride. turn 3, turn 4... front gets light... we are going WAY FAASTER.... Look over his shoulder, keep the rhythm. HARD on the brakes.. MUCH harder on the brakes going in to turn 5... I can really feel the forces trying to send me into his back crushing him against the tank but I hold strong and my chest doesn't make contact. The bike gets a bit squirrelly under acceleration but quickly Randy has things back under control. We are headed up to 6, 7 and up to 8 for the roller coaster ride down the cork screw... absolutely FLYING through turn 9 again I am close enough that I feel I could just stick my knee out a bit and I would be draggin but I hold position and we rocket toward 10. Coming through 11 for the second time I can feel the back step out a bit and we are heading toward the line I was previously standing in. As we approach the rope I feel a hand on my left knee to signal I need to tighten my grip on the seat. Rolling stoppie and we are done... Giovani.. your turn.
WOW.... Unbelievable. I have A LOT to learn about bike control. I can't wait to come back to laguna with my bike in November. I revel in the fact that my heart is pumping and I can feel the adrenaline flowing.
I stroll around the pit wall as people crowd around to ask questions... seems as though Michael had disappeared and was off to his next big thing. I see Greg White.. He comes over and asks me how the ride was... I am speechless. I regain my composure and introduce myself... we chat for a bit and I tell him we need him back on the air promoting responsible motorcycling. I let him know a LOT of people miss his show and he was doing wonderful things for the community. He asks a few more questions and how I got connected to do this.. I give him the 2 minute elevator speech and he wants to keep in touch. So I give him the email and we shake hands and he says he will keep in touch.
Giovani is back and is smiling Ear to ear. Not that you can see it under that ENORMOUS mustache he is sporting ( when we were in the motor home he informed me his next role would be Einstein, PERFECT, he totally fits the part). Jason Lee walks over and Giovani and he start chatting about all the excitement. He introduces me to Jason and I let him know that pro skater turned actor is quite the resume.. He laughs and we have a great few minutes talking about "Earl" and the hilarious scenarios of the show. I chat with a few of the other people hovering around and soon the queue of riders is finished and we head back to the motor home to return to our less than super hero status.
As I step off the pit lane I am greeted by one of the Dorna guys who holds out an encase DVD and says " a gift from dorna" ... my jaw drops... video... of the whole thing? INCREDIBLE. if you are reading this and have made it this far in my story I am SURE you have seen the video. less than 15 minutes after my ride I am holding a PAL formatted DVD of my entire experience. Am I dreaming... this weekend can't be real... some body pinch me... on second thought DON'T why would I want this weekend to end.
We chat for a bit after changing back into our plebe clothing and Randy addresses each of us individually. He wants to know what we do. I tell him... he informs me that he will be in the US for the next few weeks and his parents live less than 5 miles from Apple... asks if he can come by for lunch one day... UH YEAH... NO problem.. he gives me his number and lets me know that he will be gone from wednesday to sunday and to give him a call to let him know which day will work for him to come by. Wednesday it is... I also told him that the Ducati north america office was across the street and I could call my friends there and we could head over after lunch... he says "great, I have never been."
How am I going to unwind from this.
Well no time to think about it... I am next greeted by another member of the Dorna team who adds another credential to my neck hangers and lets me know that I can walk the grid with the press during the "umbrella" stop.
I thought the VIP status was enough... Now I get to walk the GRID, don't wake up now... keep the dream going... we head out to the pit wall where the BMW M6 rolls up and an Apple coworker hops out and in his best Will Smith impersonation says " I's GOTs to GETs me one of these"
We push up against the pit wall and the bikes roll out of the garage for the tire scrub lap and we wait for them to start rolling in the grid boxes. As they round turn 11 the pit crews, us and the media are allowed through the wall to see everyone in their zones. I snap a few pics and just walk around a bit to absorb, trying to stay out of the way as much as possible. Valentino, Nicky, Casey, Hopper, Vermeulen, Marco, Loris, Miguel and Colin. As I snap a couple shots of Colin he hops of the bike and heads over to hopper there is a friendly exchange and a hug from Colin and the smile on Hopper's face is huge.
The anthem begins.. and the f18s do their fly by and we are escorted to the opposite side of the wall for the start of the race... The flag comes out, the flag goes away... and the roar of bikes go screaming by us standing at the finish line. As we are heading out of the pits we hear screams from the stands and look up to see hopper sliding across the track and nicky fighting to keep it upright. we quickly rush up to the suite and watch the replay. From there the race was pretty uneventful, it was really nice not having to listen to the commercials and have the roar of the bikes as they came ripping down the front straight.
It was over 45ish minutes later and we were outside to snap a couple shots of the bikes as they victory wheelied across the line and the GP was over.
After the race we met up with our friends from Dorna to decide on next steps and they felt that it would be good for us to be in Valencia for the final race where they would be testing a 16x9 format. For next years GP it will be in 16x9 format. In 2009 will be in HD.
Looks like I have something to look forward to in november... valencia for the first weekend and a keigwin's day for me on the 14th.
I can't wait.
Thanks for taking the time to read this... I know I am not the most eloquent writer, so hopefully it wasn't too painful for my faithful readers.
I know I am EXTREMELY lucky to be a part of every aspect of the story above, and I am still in awe about the whole thing, a true chance of a lifetime. I thought my passion for motorcycles was large but this just confirms that it is beyond enormous.
Thankful that this was the beginning of years of amazing experiences with Randy, his friends and family, Dorna and all the amazing riders in the MotoGP. This is just one many more amazing stories from the past 10 years, such an incredible sport.