First of all, sorry for the late posting of my last report. I’ve been having major internet troubles, but hopefully the worst of that is over with. Now, the major problem is gas, or a serious lack thereof. IÕm now in France at the des Nations, but it’s currently very difficult to buy gas in this country. It seems that the prices were getting rather high, so many people who make their livings by driving (like truck and taxi drivers) have blockaded petroleum refineries and some roads. Buying diesel fuel is basically impossible, and gasoline is getting increasingly difficult. Luckily, most of the riders and team personnel seem to have made it here okay despite the problems, but the situation will no doubt affect spectator turnout. A blockade prevented Ryan Hughes and Ricky Carmichael from getting to a nearby practice track on Thursday, so they had to use another option. Fortunately, Travis Pastrana left just before them, and was able to get through to the track, where he spent most of the day practicing. As for me, my rental car was on the warning light when I was returning from the track (with five other people crammed in), but I was able to convince a gas station attendant to sell me a quarter tank’s worth.
I went out to the race track on both Thursday and Friday, and it’s beautiful. Most of it is laid out on a scenic hillside, so it’s great from a spectator’s point of view. It’s got about a zillion uphills and downhills, which will make it tough on the 125s – especially because some of the ascents have momentum-robbing jumps. To make matters worse, the soil consists primarily of gravel and small rocks, so the 500s will be throwing some evil roost. Chest protectors will be a must.
Weather-wise, things are ideal. Thursday and Friday were both sunny and warm, without a cloud in sight. Carmichael, accustomed to the steamy U.S. national scene, seemed happy about that, even going so far as to say he’d like it hotter.
As for race news, there’s not a whole lot yet. No one has ridden the track yet, as Friday was just for technical inspection. Saturday will see the riders qualify for starting position. Carmichael is having some difficulty getting his Fox helmet approved by the tech officials, who aren’t satisfied with the Snell logo, but I’m sure he’ll get that all sorted out.
Our USA team is set up in the pits out of three different race rigs. Carmichael is in with Jan DeGroot’s Winfield Kawasaki squad, Pastrana is working out of Sylvain Geboers’ Corona Suzuki truck, and Hughes is situated in his normal PAMO Honda area. Fortunately, all three teams are together, so getting back and forth is no trouble. Pastrana will run number 10, Carmichael is 11, and Hughes is 12.
I spoke briefly with James Dobb, who will be racing a KTM open four-stroke after campaigning a 125cc two-stroke. He admits that the two are quite different, and says KTM didn’t want him spending much time on the 500 while the GP season was still going on, but he doesn’t seem too concerned.
Joel Smets is still feeling the affects of his crash last week in Switzerland. His elbow, which required stitches, is still quite sore, but in the words of Mickael PichonÕs mechanic Frank Schroyen, a Belgian, “Joel at 80 percent is still better than another Belgian at 100 percent. HeÕs tough.”
Speaking of KTM, the Italian who that team has signed for next year – Thomas Traversini – is a last-minute entry for his country. Alessio Chiodi had intended to ride the 125cc class, but opted out at the last minute. “He raced the last three GPs of the year, and now he wants to give his wrist a break,” said Traversini in Italian. Traversini will race a Husqvarna 125, with Claudio Federici on a Yammaha YZ250 and Andrea Bartolini on an open-class Yamaha four-stroke, and he admits to feeling some pressure.
And speaking of Husqvarna, word here is that Larry Ward has been in discussions with that team about the possibility of racing the 250cc GP circuit in 2001. That’s very unconfirmed, however, and now that I’ve stooped to the level of gossip, I think I’ll shut up and post an interview I did with Hughes on Friday afternoon.