Today, I woke up to a rainy London. Just some days ago it was spring, the weather was nice and warm. Now it feels like I lost a summer, time travel can do that to you; take time, give time, change the season. On a more positive note, I got my life’s longest birthday, I saw 4 movies and listened to the complete recording of Terry Pratchett’s “Thief of Time”. The book of choice was a bit ironic since I was actually given back the time that was taken from me on my journey Down Under. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. It all started 3 weeks ago – I was heading out to a WIMA rally. Normally, for me, this takes a week or so. This time it only took 26 hours or two days, depending on how you regard the time-travelling issue, of course. So I must say that despite being on the opposite site of the globe, with regards to time, the journey was one of the shortest.
When I arrived at the airport and queued for customs I met Keiko, her flight from Japan had just landed. We were met by Liv from South Australia and we were to pick up Syl as well, arriving from the USA just an hour later. Our immediate destination was Phillip Island’s Moto GP circuit, where we would meet Moira, WIMA Australia’s national president and the organiser of the WIMA rally. Soon, yet another lot of WIMAs from around the world would arrive – the pre-rally event and our marshal experience was about to start.
On the Thursday we were equipped with our orange overalls and trained in how to recover bikes and safety measures around the track. On Friday, at dawn, we started working. There are a lot more things going on at the circuit than is shown on TV so we were on post from early morning until late afternoon and it was a busy day.
From our post in Doohan’s corner, turn 1 at the gravel trap immediately after the straight, we recovered 3 crashed bikes that day and we tried to push start another one on the other side, at Stoner’s corner. The adrenalin that gets pumping when you see a crash and run out there to recover the bike and, if necessary, the injured rider (didn’t happen on our corner, luckily) is a great reminder of what your body is capable of, how fast and strong you can be when you need it. No doubt, despite all safety measures, there is a real danger going out there and we were constantly reminded never to turn our backs to the track – one crash can be followed by another. This proved true for us, we had just returned from recovering a bike when another crashed and we had to go out again. All this action led me to believe that the weekend was going to continue like this but the worst drama was already over. On Saturday, there were two more crashes in our corner but nothing as dramatic. My marshal colleague Chris got to help one of the Aussie riders to recover his bike, which was exciting but not dramatic. On Sunday, we expected more crashes, especially during qualifying because they push so hard and during the first lap of the race. I was so sure that there would be one if not a few bikes coming off in our corner at the start of the Moto 3 race: they are travelling in a pack, slipstreaming and it’s a large grid. However, my prediction failed and we didn’t have a single recovery that day. But don’t think that our day lacked excitement, not even for one minute. We were always on guard but could, nevertheless, enjoy the race very close up. Besides, our spot had a TV screen so we could follow the race all the way through the track just to turn around and watch the real action when the bikes raced down the straight. Since the track banks so much in our corner, the bikes disappear completely out of sight when they lean in at high speed. I can’t provide any pictures illustrating the action since, obviously, no phones or cameras are allowed when bikes are on the track. In one of the breaks we managed to get organised for a group shot with all the “trackies” in our sector, i.e. the Doohan corner.
The Moto GP race deserves special mention here. It was, probably because of the first-hand view, one of the most exciting races I have seen. We had talked amongst ourselves about who we wanted to see on the podium and concluded that to see Rossi up there would be great but also that it would be nice if something unexpected happened. As it turned out, Iannone, who is a favourite of mine, was leading in the beginning of the race and the battle was hard. We were following the action first hand on the screen and live – twisting and turning back and forth. We were all very animated and at one point I thought, are we allowed to be this emotional?!? But it was just not possible to hold back the excitement. In addition, I was wearing the radio and could hear the communication about what was happening on other parts of the track, i.e. what to do with the poor seagull that had collided with Iannone, riders that came off, or went wide in different corners – things that were not shown on TV which gave an extra dimension to the experience.
At the end of the race, the spectators invaded the track and everyone wanted to get close to the podium. Chris had already told me about his routine to quickly return and use the marshal privileges to get in front of the crowd and next to the podium. So, as soon as we were off duty, we headed back and experienced the atmosphere by the podium. We were so close that we could inspect the bikes up front, see the tyre wear and hear the engine when they were started up and formally inspected. After this, we hung around in the paddock and spotted more riders and watched the teams pack up. It is amazing how quickly they dissemble their garages, pack up and leave.
We finished the day in the marshals’ muster shed with beer and stories, then campfire at the marshal campsite, more beer and more stories. Then: sunburnt, slightly drunk, very tired but extremely happy – zonk, zzzzzz. Up next, WIMA rally Australia!
Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Moira who made this pre-rally happen. This was a unique experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life and I will try my best to come back and do it again.
Lastly, thanks to Chris, my marshal colleague and mentor, who told me the tricks about how to get the best value out of the special status that the marshal vest gives and the great photos of me by the podium. I envy you Chris, you can do this every year!