34×34: Merry Christmas & No Way Will I Ever Drive The Chase Van Again …

The road, the highway down there, can be almost, I think, as dangerous as any of the race course,


Team Mighty Swell. Remind me not to be a team manager again or drive the chase van in Mexico. Ever. Again.
Team Mighty Swell. Remind me not to be a team manager again or drive the chase van in Mexico. Ever. Again. Marnie

 

Merry Christmas everybody!

Here’s my end of season column. I’ll cover a few things that I’ve been up to this year and also talk some MotoGP.

There’s an annual ride called GRINduro that the Kirkpatrick family puts on in Post, TX, that benefits the Kurt Caselli Foundation. And I’ve ridden it every year except last year. So we’re back up this year. Came up a couple days early, went to try and shoot some sandhill cranes. The cranes won – we only got one, with six people hunting. Anyway, that’s about it.

Probably my biggest focus this year has been on Baja. We went and rode Baja almost two years ago.  Right before the pandemic started. We went and rode Baja, and a couple of the guys that rode it said, man, “We need to come back and race Baja. It’s on the bucket list.” So we started trying to put a team together, figure out who the four, five, six riders, however many riders we were going to use, were going to be. I had told them that I really loved riding Baja, but that I was not going to race it, but I’d be the team manager, and I’d pre-ride with them, and I’d try to help organize things and use any pull that I might have in the industry to get some stuff accomplished if we needed it.

November 3rd we flew to San Diego, got across the border, started riding the next day. Day 4 of the pre-ride, a buddy of mine, who was going to be one of the racers, fell off, and unfortunately broke his femur. So we spent the next two days trying to get him out of Mexico and sent back to Austin so he could see my orthopedic doctor there. And of course the whole time my guys, the other four guys that are riding, are like, “we need a replacement rider now.” While looking at me. I said, “It’s not going to be me. I’m not doing it.” They were like “Just ride the last hundred miles. That’s all you gotta do. Everything’ll be decided by then, it’ll just be a ride for you, no race.”

Ah, no.

I said, “I’m done. I do not race any more.” We had one of the guys that pre-rode with us, that worked for Chris Haines, that came and rode, Oscar Hale. Oscar’s ridden Baja, probably raced the 1000, twenty-five times. So the day that we struggled the most – the day that Ron got hurt, we missed pre-riding about 300 miles of the course. Fortunately for us, we let Oscar do that section in the race, because he had ridden it two or three times that year. We didn’t get to ride it, so we didn’t know what that looked like. So of all the 1227 miles that the Baja 1000 was this year, we did, we probably did 1000 of it – and actually, they did 1000 of it. I missed the second day, trying to get him from the hospital to the airport on the plane, so I missed a few days of riding.

Anyway, Team Mighty Swell (James Garbo, Bret Biggart, Brad Robinson, Alex Arumi and Oscar Hale) finished in 32 hours and 40 minutes. We had a few penalties. Missing a virtual checkpoint, maybe some speeding – we’re not exactly sure what our penalties were, but it wasn’t enough that it caused us to lose a position. It ended up our total time was 33:05. What an accomplishment. The guys that finished behind us were some people that I had met at GRINduro two years ago. The one South African guy had said he’d raced the 1000 I think eight times.

We had an issue with the brakes the very first – when our guy took off at two in the morning, he did the first five hours of riding without any rear brake. On a roadrace bike that’s no big deal. But on a dirt bike, you do use the rear brake 80% of the time and the front 20 – it’s like, you live by the rear brake. So that was quite an accomplishment for [James] Garbo to get the bike to us and not have made any serious mistakes. Got the brakes fixed that first time, and otherwise it went pretty smooth. We just about ran out of gas because we didn’t quite get enough fuel in it the last stop. As we crossed the finish line the bike was sputtering, about to run out of fuel. We were lucky in a couple ways as well. Good team effort, and Oscar filled in for us nicely. Chris Haines actually prepared the bike, and that’s about all I’m going to give Chris credit for.

Here’s what’s even funnier. Marnie [Lincoln] and Tara started off on the pre-ride with us, and they were in the van. When my buddy got hurt, Marnie flew back with him, and Tara stayed in the van while we continued riding, and then we spent three days in Cabo San Lucas and flew back up to get signed up and the bike teched and our gear teched and everything ready for the start on the morning of the 18th.

I was not riding. I no longer race.  I was a team manager. So I was stuck in the van. Important note: the most dangerous part of the Baja 1000 is not racing. It’s the friggin’ van trip up and down Mexico. When it runs 1227 miles top to bottom, every fourth year I think they run it straight top to bottom, not down and around and back up in. It doesn’t start and finish in Ensenada. So the logistics on a loop like that is much easier than the logistics of trying to stay in front of the motorcycle and be prepared every stop. The road, the highway down there, can be almost, I think, as dangerous as any of the race course, with all the trophy truck teams, and motorcycle teams, and side-by-side teams trying to get to their next stop and be ready for their team.

After that I don’t think I’ll be a team manager again. I might think about going back to racing before I’d ever be a team manager and have to be in the van again.

Marno

MotoGP:  I think we start off with Moto3 and Pedro Acosta. What a treat to meet the kid at COTA this year, just to watch his continued progress through the Moto3 class and winning the championship. Moving on to Moto2 next year. I think those guys better be ready. I think – and we’ll just step class to class, because I think he goes to Moto2, Raúl Fernández, who did everything but beat Remy Gardner this year – and congratulations to Remy. What a great championship. He rode it smart. He did make one mistake, and could have very easily continued to make them, but recovered from that. He was the class of the field most of the year. Fernández I think kind of turned the tables on him a little at the end of the season, but I think Remy Gardner’s a very deserving champion as well.

I don’t ever remember meeting Remy until he was already, maybe even racing dirt track, road racing in Australia. He was – it’s funny, as a young kid, he was a complete knockoff of his dad. I almost couldn’t stand to talk to him. But it’s great to see that, and I think he’s realized he’s got some talent, he’s got some ability, he can take that a long ways, as long as he’s his own self. He doesn’t have to be Little Wayne. He can be his own person, and I think he’s managed to do that for sure.

Going on to MotoGP, I think it was great to see – I saw Heinz Kinigadner. It must have been at COTA, because it’s the only race I’ve been to in the past couple of years. And I said, “You guys got a monopoly on this, where to groom kids and how to get them into the classes, in Moto3 and Moto2. And he says, “Yes, Kevin. But it only takes money.” That is one thing they’re definitely doing. But it’s great to see Rookies Cup kids come through and get into Moto3 and into Moto2. Jorge Martín in MotoGP this year. Getting banged up the first part of the season, coming back – I think he’s a kid to watch in MotoGP for sure.

Quartararo – never before a French World Champ, I think? I think it’s great to see, and congratulations to Quartararo. I’m sure the French are very, very proud of him. Bagnaia, I think – and the Ducati looked to be the package to be on. He and Miller were pretty consistent as qualifiers the last three or four races. Racing at the front the whole time. Miller making a few mistakes here and there, but I think Pecco is – if you were just to have to, at the end of the season, have to pick who you thought might be the front-runner for the first part of the season in 2022, I think Pecco’s definitely there. I think Jack Miller should be right there. There’s no reason Quartararo and the Yamaha can’t continue to develop. I’d just like to see the rest of the Yamahas being a bit more consistent. Morbidelli I know is still coming back from an injury. I WhatsApp with him occasionally and he’s just not 100% yet. He’s good at the beginning, but his physical fitness just isn’t quite there. The knee’s still bothering him a little bit.

I guess the big story in all of MotoGP is seeing the 46 retire. He went out with a 10th place finish, which was awesome, and then he went out and won a 100 km race at his ranch the 4th and 5th of December. I got an invite to go be part of it and participate, but I had already made plans, and it was like six days before the event. Great to see him, and some of the other guys there, that made the event even more special. Congratulations to the 46 on an unbelievable career.

Maverick was really a mystery. Yeah. I’ve seen riders frustrated with equipment back in the day. Kocinski’s the classic. He gets beat at Assen by Tetsuya Harada. Harada outbraked him in the last corner and beat him. Had nothing to do with the friggin’ engine. For whatever mistake John made, Harada was just better on the brakes. Anyway, a bit of a rev check after the race and blew the thing up. Suzuki ended up parting ways with JK because of that.

As a rider, you just gotta – every day can’t be the best. We wish we could be at 100% every weekend, but sometimes we don’t get the bike setup right, sometimes we’re riding – as riders, we’re tense, we’re tight. The best example I can use is going to a track where I knew I’d struggled the season before, and the first practice I was out there, just friggin’ giving it everything. Riding as hard as I possibly could. Which was not the way to make things better. Back up, smooth out, get the rhythm, and start building pace. And at the end of the weekend, I’d still be junk. And the reason we were junk was because of me. The weekend before the bike had sat on pole and maybe won the race, and the week after same thing. But because, as a rider, you’re thinking, “wow, first practice, my teammate’s faster than me by three-tenths, three-quarters of a second, I’ve got to start trying harder.”

And you know, it’s not always “try harder.” As a rider at that level, it’s about being smooth and calculating. If you let somebody get in your head that’s in the garage beside you, you’re doomed to start making big mistakes and errors and doing silly things. That’s about, I can only read into it what I’ve read. His cousin got killed; I’m sure that was huge in as far as him wanting to get back on the bike and racing again. Who knows. Maybe Maverick gets a good off-season in of testing and comes back and is the Maverick we knew that won the first Grand Prix for Suzuki in many, many years at Silverstone. Six years ago, that was?

Going to Aprilia’s always going to be tough, because Aleix has done a great job getting the most out of the bike, but it’s a smaller manufacturer. It’s going to be tough on them to make changes. It’s just kind of like racing at Suzuki. You’ve got to be there and realize that things aren’t going to happen quite as quickly as maybe they did somewhere else you might have been, and all I can do is assume. Seems like Yamaha and Honda could make changes to chassis and suspensions and stuff a whole lot quicker than we could. They’d invent something and we’d try and copy it, or we’d try and make something that we wanted that would be the same, it’s just longer and longer, because it’s a smaller staff in Japan. Aprilia’s going to be a very similar scenario, I’m sure, for Maverick. But we know he’s got the ability. We know he’s got the mindset when things are right. Hopefully he gets over the hurdle of losing a close family member, and can come back swinging next year.

KTM struggled most of the year. I would’ve thought that Miguel Oliveira was going to be a championship contender this year, when he won two of the last, what, five races of the season last year? Whatever that number is, he won two races late in the season. I would’ve sworn that he and KTM and Brad Binder were going to be threats all season long. I think KTM did end up winning some races this year, but nowhere near the consistency that they’d shown the season before.

It’s that tight at the top. When you watch qualifying, you see pole position to last place on the grid is less than two seconds. Sometimes it’s even closer to one. You blink an eye wrong mid-corner, you’re just off line a little bit, and you’ve missed it. You’ve lost it. And you’ll be halfway back in the field. It’s going to be interesting to see. Petrucci and Lecuona are going elsewhere, and bringing in Remy and Raúl Fernández. They’re bringing two new riders in, and I think Tech 3 has shown that their bikes can be just as competitive as any of them. So best of luck to KTM.

I think Suzuki did a good job; they just never were that super great, super efficient race bike late in the race that they had been the year before. I think everybody kind of, maybe asked them to be better as the tires wore. As tire wear, tire degradation … I think everybody caught up a little bit with them, as far as race pace goes. I think Rins and Mir did a great job this season. Rins is still falling off the thing a little bit more than we’d like to see. It’s easier to develop a bike when you’ve got a full race of data to look at and go by, and get the rider’s input from it. A confident Alex Rins is probably one of the fastest guys on the racetrack. But a Rins who’s crashed in the last two races and not finished isn’t as much value to you as the Rins who’s been fast and can run at the front of races. I’m sure the input – just like it is with any rider – the input’s not going to be nearly as good when your rider’s got a bad attitude because he’s been on the ground. Hopefully those two guys can work together as teammates and get the Suzuki back up front a little bit.

Honda: Márquez has shown us that he can be great again. When I saw what he did at the Sachsenring, I thought, “you guys are done. He’s just going to do that to you the rest of the season.” And he didn’t show that in the next couple of races. At Misano, it was all he could do to stay with Quartararo and Bagnaia. And then the dirt bike accident at the end, the double vision is something that, is it going to go away? Is it going to be something he’s stuck with for life? I really hope he gets back and can get over, the vision all gets back to normal, and he can get back to being the Marc Márquez we know. I think he did his best to make Grand Prix racing boring for us for three or four seasons, but I don’t think we want him to be hurt and then not come back and compete. I think he’s great for the sport. With the 46 gone, I think the 93 was starting to pick up a big part of the crowd, so we’re all cheering for him to get back to 100%.

I wish I knew more about the re-pave at CotA. I haven’t been in touch to talk to Regan Holley, who’s kind of the man in charge up there now. They’ve been just overwhelmed with everything, MotoGP straight into F1, and then Regan managed to tip over on his little scooter and break some ribs.

So hopefully they can fix some of those bumps.

Honestly, I’ve always felt that the rougher the track the better. It makes it to where everybody can’t do it. If it’s not billiard-table smooth, it’s going to be tough, because everybody’s going to be able to do it exactly the same. When you’ve got to remember where those bumps are, and try and dodge them, and try and shape the corner accordingly, it turns into a little bit more of a rider’s racetrack. Maybe there’s certain places that bumps are – and of course, I haven’t been on a modern-day Grand Prix bike in seven or eight years. Maybe there are some bumps in certain places. But as a rider, what your mission is to do is to get around the racetrack faster than everybody else, and what that means is that if there’s a big bump in the center of that corner right at the apex, change your line. Make your apex earlier. Make it later. Do something so you go straight across that bump. And you don’t fall, because if you fall you don’t score points. I don’t need to preach it to them, I’m sure they all know. But I think all of them included have got to be a bit of prima donnas, if there’s not a better word for it. Oh, this track’s too rough. This track’s too … you know what? Go race on a street circuit somewhere. Go … Indy cars, Formula One cars, everybody races different places. I know safety’s a completely different issue for us, but it’s a good, safe racetrack, and if it’s got some bumps in bad places, just remember that, and ADAPT.

From start to finish in a race you’ve got to be adapting, because the bike’s changing. Fuel’s burning off, the handling changes, the grip’s changing, every – you’ve got to be able to. And a rough racetrack just makes you have to adapt in one more spot. I think good guys are still going to be good guys … Great guys are still going to be great guys. It’s not the end of the world if the track’s bumpy, but I guess if they all agree that they want something done, then the circuit’s going to build a racetrack that’s good enough and safe enough for you to come back.

I’d like to congratulate my old crewchief Stuart Shenton and his rider Cam Beaubier. They did well this year and next year looks even better.

Merry Christmas to everybody. I hope the fishing gets better on the Texas coast.

My old crewchief Stuart Shenton. Good to have you back, buddy. LUCKY STRIKE SUZUKI


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