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Chaz Checks In... Motegi

After the Portuguese Grand Prix I came home on the Monday evening and for the first few days gave my body a rest. On Tuesday I went to the doctors just to get my hands checked out which were still very much black and blue and also got my arm re-dressed where the skin was missing just to save getting an infection around where the stitches were. Later in the week I did some mountain-biking and I also sold my old bike and bought a proper cross-country bike, off a friend, because I think I might enter some races in the winter and if I want to do any good, then I have to change my bike.

On the Sunday I went to Oulton Park to watch the BSB and catch up with a few mates which was quite good and also nice to be around people who all speak English rather than about 15 different languages!

I left home by myself for Heathrow airport early at 3.00am Tuesday morning and got there for 6.30am ready for my flight to Frankfurt at 9.00am. My dad would normally come with me, if the rest of the fly-away races followed immediately after the Japanese GP, but as I was coming home after the race it was a bit expensive for him to come out for just one race and also he is not a big fan of Japan!

The plane landed in Tokyo at 7.00am local time and the task for the rest of the day was to stay awake until that evening. For Japan the temperature was pretty hot and also the humidity made it seem hotter. It was as hot as I've known Japan after coming here for 3 years because its normally not cold but quite fresh. In the afternoon after getting organised at the hotel we went to the circuit for a few hours, got set-up and I walked the track for 1 lap with Casey and Stiggy and then went back to the hotel.

On Thursday morning I was wide awake at 3.30am and didn't feel like I was going to go back to sleep so I watched The Simpson's box set! Casey, who was sharing the hotel room with me was also wide awake at 3.30am. At about 10.00am we went for a wander through Motegi town which I have to say was pretty dead. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a box of cereal out there! Our hotel pretty much only served a traditional Japanese breakfast of different types fish, like octopus etc, noodles mixed up with some stuff that didn't look too clever and a load of other things which me or Casey didn't have a clue what they were and neither of us were brave enough to experiment with! So, we went for a look down the town and went into a fair few shops but none of them sold cereal and then we found a small supermarket which had some cornflake like cereal there, which was a big relief because I didn't fancy octopus for breakfast!

On Thursday afternoon I had a riders briefing which concerned the new 'passing under a yellow flag' rule. For the rest of the afternoon I had done everything I needed to do and then went back to the hotel. That evening there was a Welcome Party from the Motegi Circuit at the circuit hotel and by the time we left there at 9.30pm I was feeling pretty tired.

On Friday morning I again woke up way too early at 4.00am. Casey went down to the circuit with my team boss Dieter Stappert at about 8.00am because his Free Practice starts at 9.00am and I went down with Stiggy at 9.15am for the start of our Free Practice at 11.15am.

Last year, at Motegi, I had probably my best weekend of the year so I was pretty confident coming into the weekend. Last year I was normally just on the edge of the top 10 in all the sessions with a couple of Wild Cards ahead as well.

In the early stages of the first free practice it didn't take long to get back into the circuit because its quite a straight forward circuit and not too technical. About midway through the session we made some small adjustments to the front to help with some chattering on the fast corners. At first we made the problem worse but then improved it the next time I came into the pits. By the end of the first session I wasn't very happy with the feeling of the bike and was struggling to do what I wanted with it. For the afternoon we went with harder construction tyres on the front and rear to try and make the bike hold the line better after heavy braking. When braking, the softer construction tyre tends to squash under the force that heavy braking puts on it and then when you try to turn into the corner the front doesn't feel positive and gives a 'mushy' feeling and runs wide. The idea of the harder construction tyre is so that the tyre doesn't squash and as soon as you pitch the bike into the corner it goes where you want it too and holds the line as you want it too.

The harder tyre for the afternoon was a definite improvement but it was still not perfect. The engine in the afternoon was the biggest problem. On acceleration the engine was not feeling as if it was driving very hard and not revving as fast as it should. My engine mechanic made some small changes but it did not seem to make much difference. Normally in Motegi it is difficult to keep the front end down when coming out of both of the 1st gear corners and then under the bridges but I had no problem keeping the front down which is normally a good indicator that the engine isn't so strong. At the end of the session I finished 17th but only 0.6 off 12th and knew if we could get the engine going better, then that extra bit wouldn't be so difficult to gain.

For Saturday morning I had to run in a new set of pistons for 4 laps and then do 1 lap of revving the engine fairly hard and then come into the pits. At the end of my 3rd lap of running in, the engine stopped revving completely so I stopped in the pits, told my engine mechanic and after 12 minutes he sent me back out to try it again. I finished off running in the engine for another lap and on my 3rd lap again the engine cut out and stopped revving. My mechanics checked the bike again and adjusted the carburettor in hope of curing the problem but again I did another 3 laps and at the very end of the 3rd lap on the exit of the final corner it stopped revving and I had to crawl around the rest of the lap. After another 15 minutes in the pits I went back out and from the very start of my out lap the bike wouldn't run properly so I came back to the pits and that was the session more or less over with only 4 minutes left. After checking the bike after the session my mechanics found that the problem was coming from the fuel tank. We never really accomplished anything that morning because of the lack of laps so we had to wait until the afternoon's session to try the bike.

For final Qualifying we changed the fuel tank on the bike and had no problems with it cutting out. Early on I tried to get into a rhythm so I could catch up on the time I had lost in the morning and on my 4th lap I had a very near high side coming out of the quite quick 'S' bend. The rear stepped out and threw me up in the seat and I battled to stay on the bike but very luckily did. For the next laps I strung together 3 average laps but was cautious of what my rear end was doing. On my 6th lap Joan Olive slowed up in hope to get a tow off me but if there is somebody out there who I'll never tow - its him. For the next 3 laps he wouldn't give up trying to follow me and whenever I put a spurt on to get away from him he would still be behind me and also if I slowed down to almost a complete stop he would do the same. The next lap I did, I did ½ a lap at a reasonably fast pace and I knew he was still behind me because I could hear him and then went into the hairpin before the back straight and more or less stopped it to make sure he wouldn't get a decent lap behind me. I've fallen for this trick a few times before from the experienced people in the class like Battaini and Matsudo but also learnt it off them. At the end of that lap I stopped in the pits and told my chassis man I was still having a little bit of trouble with chattering in the fast corners and also told my engine man that the engine was still not as strong as it should be. When I went back out I immediately felt that the chattering was worse so I came straight back in and got a new rear tyre for the last burst. The change had improved the chattering but the only problem was Olive was looking for another tow. Again he tried to get me to tow him but I definitely wasn't going to. After I spent 3 laps shaking him off I did 1 good lap which improved my qualifying time but didn't manage to do another. My engine was still lacking acceleration compared with some other bikes but my mechanic didn't seem to think he could improve it. I ended up 19th on the grid and not so happy because nothing was feeling like it was working well. On the entry to some heavy braking corners it didn't feel like I was going to be able to stop the bike but then at the last second the bike would pull up but it would be hit or miss whether I could get in on the perfect line or not. I knew I was going to be in for a hard day come Sunday.

I got some pretty good sleep on Saturday night and woke up at 6.00am which beats waking up at 4.00am. For morning warm-up I had to run in new pistons again for the first 4 laps. After running in I stopped quickly in the pits and then went back out. I did 1 out lap then was going to string a few laps together just too get a feel for the bike with a full tank of fuel. On my 2nd lap I came out of the double left 2nd corner where the first part is quite a tight 2nd gear corner and then you short shift up to 3rd gear in between the two corners and the last part is quite quick and opens up. Without any warning on the exit of the last part of the corner the rear stepped sideways just like it had done the day before but this time I didn't get so lucky and I fought to stay on the bike what seemed like quite a long way and it eventually threw me over the top. I was un-injured apart from a gash on my neck where I battled to stay on the bike and put my neck through the screen and also had a sore hip. As far as I can remember this was the first time I had ever crashed in warm up but It went so fast and I no chance to stay on it. It's a mechanics nightmare for their rider to crash in warm up as it leaves them more work and things to fix before the race but luckily the bike wasn't too badly damaged.

The warm up crash didn't affect my confidence at all for the race but I knew it was going to be a tough race because of the way things were going through the whole weekend.

My start was pretty average, I didn't gain anything but didn't lose anything. For the first 10 laps I was in quite a big group with Poggiali, Hector Faubel, Hugo Marchand and Naoki Matsudo and two wild cards. Faubel was very difficult to pass because his bike was very fast. After 10 laps my bike was very hard work. I could hang on to the group but was just losing touch with Matsudo and Faubel, Marchand and 1 wildcard. I passed Poggiali after he took a slight de-tour and I passed one of the wild card but couldn't stay on terms with the others in the group. On lap 21 I did nothing different on the exit of the final corner but the rear snapped sideways and before I knew it, I was down again. I got up more or less straight away in a huge cloud of dust but soon realised that my heel/ankle area was a bit painful so I got on the stretcher and got carted off to the medical centre. After cleaning me up and patching up the same hip which I'd skinned in the morning the medics X-rayed my foot and found a small crack in my heel. The medics gave me some of the old-fashioned under the arm crutches which were so painful to use because they were like razorblades under my arm but it was better than walking. The Italian Doctor in Dr. Costa's Clinica Mobil said that given a bit of rest, my heel should be OK for Qatar which was good to hear.

All in all it was a disappointing weekend and one of those weekends where nothing was going right. Between now and Qatar I am going to rest myself and my heel. The next GP will be interesting as it's a new circuit and apparently on the Sunday of Motegi it was 47 degrees centigrade there!

The flight home from Japan was quite a difficult one with a broken heel. From Japan to Munich there was 1 free seat in Business Class which me and French 125 rider Mike Di Meglio (who had broken a bone in his foot) shared for 6 hours each which made it a bit easier. About half way through the flight I just started dozing off and I had what I call a high side in sleep. It's a riders thing where you'll just be getting to sleep quite nicely and dreaming about riding on the bike and all of a sudden you get high sided off the bike and it comes as a huge shock and you wake as soon as the rear lets go! Its quite funny to talk about but believe me, it isn't funny to do, it's damn scary! The worst thing was I jarred my foot and hurt all where I had injured the tendons from my crash. I had my tray table down and had an empty cup on it which I smacked everywhere and I was sat next to Danny Pedrosa's mechanic. He looked over and said "You OK'" and I explained to him what had happened and he said that when he used to work for Capirossi he used to get them all the time. I think every rider gets them and I spoke to Jeremy McWilliams about them earlier this year and he said that he had a big crash in the early 90's where he badly damaged his little finger and had to have it stitched to his stomach to keep the blood circulating. He was sleeping in the hospital that night and had an 'In bed high side' and ripped his finger clean off his stomach! That must have hurt!

In Munich airport I had a wheelchair waiting and had to hang around a bit for the connection flight to Heathrow. Luckily French rider Sylvain Guintoli was on the same flight as me and he helped me carry my hand luggage and laptop on to the plane as I wasn't allowed to take the wheelchair down the 'tube' so I had to hop. Also when I got to London, Guintoli helped me collect my baggage which weighed 26kg and get to the car. It was a good job he was there otherwise it would have been a real drama! The drive home was a tiring one because I had been more or less awake for 30 straight hours since we left Japan and had the odd ½ hour sleep on the plane! My car has a tiptronic gearbox so it has no clutch and I didn't have to use my left foot which was good. When I got home my mum brought some crutches out to my car and normally I would have been able to see my dad but I presumed he must have gone to bed. I asked mum where he was and she said "Bit of a problem". "He's in hospital with a broken leg!". I rang him when I was in Munich airport and he was just going out on his supermoto and just after that he broke his tib & fib so he's just had it pinned and screwed. So, with both me and my dad hobbling around my mums a bit stressed! Another week and my foot should be pretty good but I think it'll be a bit longer for my dad and I don't know if he will be coming to the rest of the flyaways.

I'll make sure to pack the shorts and sun-tan cream for Qatar and hopefully things will brighten up from there.




© 2006

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