Mr. Seck goes to the Turkish GP!

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Words: Richard Seck   Photos: Richard Seck

MR. SECK GOES TO THE GRAND PRIX OF TURKEY

How did I get here?

Before I begin this tale, I should make it quite clear that the good folks at the MotoGP organization did not invite CMG for an all-expenses-paid junket to this third round of the 2006 MotoGP series. Nor did Editor ‘arris win the lottery and, in a moment of drunken euphoria, decide that Mr. Seck needed to be finally rewarded for the most-excellent work he does at this fine publication.

No, it was quite simply a case of dumb luck that I stood in the expensive grandstand seating area overlooking the starting grid at Istanbul Park, my ear cavities dangerously close to spurting blood, as the most gifted motorcycle racers in the world dumped the clutches of their state-of-the-art machinery and twisted their right grips hard – thus releasing a sonic assault that can only be described as apocalyptic!

Jeez, maybe the five euros for a set of earplugs at the Repsol booth wasn’t such a bad deal after all …

MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE … POSSIBLE

No shortage of interesting architecture to explore in Istanbul …

With a regular CMG income, the idea of a two-week vacation in Europe/Asia is a bit of a stretch*. Interestingly though, a few months ago, I got a call from a friend who had received some funding to locate and retrieve a collection of paintings and prints (created by Pakistani artist, Zahoor ul Akhlaq) that were left behind in Turkey after an exhibition some fourteen years prior.

My role in this trip would be to help with the packing and shipping of the artwork, and if all went well, there would be a good chunk of the trip dedicated to exploring the rich history of this unique city that sits on two continents (that’s Europe and Asia for those who failed geography class).

Needless to say, when the offer came to participate in this venture and visit one of the oldest still-existing cities in the world, I didn’t need to be asked twice.

*euphemistic phrase

WHAT’S WITH ALL THESE MOTO GP BILLBOARDS?

… and lots of bazaar bargain items to be had.

We arrived in late April and, despite a jetlag-induced haze, I couldn’t help noticing the huge yellow billboards that seemed to indicate that a MotoGP event was coming up some time in the future.

I can’t read Turkish and my immediate impression was that the event was at least a month away, so I didn’t think too much more about it until some days later when I walked by a tour company office that had a MotoGP sign on the window. I went in and enquired, only to discover that that the race was actually on that very weekend – and they could supply transportation to and from the event!

A bit of haggling later I had parted with fifty-eight Turkish lira and the promise that a guy named Ramazan would pick me up at 7am on Sunday morning.

Holy shit, I’m going to a MotoGP!!!

Ramazan.

The ride to the track was shared with race fans from all over the world. One guy was a retired American businessman whose retirement plan seemed to consist of taking trips to all the MotoGP events and spending extra time to explore the hosting cities. Not bad.

Then there was a Finn who was following the progress of Mika Kallio, a Red Bull KTM 125cc racer who has a good shot at winning the 125 title this year. However, the most animated group by far were the Aussies at the back of the bus who somehow must have sensed the show that Casey Stoner was going to put on later in the day.

THE QUEST FOR CMG MEDIA GLORY?

I had my own race to run that day, and that was the quest for one of the holy grails of the motorcycle media world – a MotoGP press pass! I mean, why sit on the wet grass with the hoi polloi when I could be having expressos with the likes of Valentino & Loris, and then wander freely throughout the paddock checking out the rides-du-jour?

Eight lira later …

As luck would have it, I had a few CMG business cards in my bag and had worked out a good schpeel for the MotoGP reps, while en route to the track. This was going to be fun!

Early setbacks at the entrance gate caused a slight stumble when I discovered that communicating with the MotoGP media centre was impossible until I gained entry to the park. Much to my surprise however, hoi polloi-grass-seat tickets were a ridiculously cheap eight lira (about CDN $7.00). That worked fine to get me in and I now had the directions to the media centre.

The track from there was a bit circuitous, with much fast-talking and business card waving required at various points along the way before I finally arrived at the gates of the inner sanctum. This is where my excellent progress ground to a halt.

‘Extremely friendly security guard who spoke perfect English’.

“No media pass – no entry”, was what I was able to glean from the security officer’s broken English. Even the beautifully designed, high-gloss CMG business card failed to make an impression.

Luckily, persistence finally paid off when they presented me with an extremely friendly security guard who spoke perfect English. I carefully explained that CMG was the most important motorcycle publication in Canada, and what good luck it was for the MotoGP people that I was able to attend this race and cover it for our beloved readership …

He understood completely and soon had his superiors convinced that it would be a bad idea not to let me speak to the MotoGP people about a last minute press pass. And so I crossed over into the zone where few mortals without gobs of cash or influence have ever tread. Yes, housed in this courtyard were the MotoGP bikes, riders, and the racing team offices. I had arrived, almost …

Having never done anything like this before, my security escort took me to various offices in the process of trying to find the appropriate person to grant my request. Along the way I was able to peruse the incredible facilities offered to those who were blessed with the all-important press pass. Impressive indeed.

I almost met Colin Edwards!

Whichever office we arrived at, the people in charge were completely baffled by how I had been able to get as far as I did. However, the support staff found my quest quite entertaining, although they didn’t hold much of a hope of my actually getting the all-important pass. I could even overhear communication between the security officers, who seemed to be curious about whether I had pulled it off or not.

Finally, when we did find the decision maker, I was taken into what felt like an interrogation room with only one table and two chairs, and no windows. To make an already long story a bit shorter I was eventually informed that all MotoGP press passes are distributed months in advance and at this point it would be impossible to accommodate me.

Actually, I think I blew it by unknowingly handing him a blank, generic CMG business card when I met him, instead of a personalized one. Turns out that I gave my last proper card to his associate several buildings way, but at that point it was clear that I had run my race and had sadly DNFed.

Simit man dreamed of the catwalk.

As consolation though, on my way out, I did get close enough to Colin Edwards that if I had an arm the length of a small bus, I could have actually touched him. Additionally my security guard friend and his buddies seemed genuinely saddened that I had come all this way, yet was unable to come away with a trophy and the associated benefits that would go along with such a win.

GOT ANY CARDBOARD TO SIT ON?

So it seemed that I would be joining the Turks on the grass, gnawing on a simit (big Turkish sesame pretzel) and swigging Efes pilsner. Hmmmh, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Sadly, in the process of getting to my grassy knoll, I managed to miss most of the 125 cc race because I didn’t realize that when I crossed the bridge from the sacred ground, that I was actually getting ejected from the race park entirely!

Turkish Delight man had given up on dreams and put on a Fez.

So while I joined the masses in a long hike back to the main gate, Alvaro Bautista and Mika Kallio battled for the race lead. Unfortunately for Mika, and my Finnish compatriot from the bus, a technical problem with his KTM would end his race on lap 16, allowing the Master MVA Aspar Team a clean sweep on the podium.

In the meantime, I had purchased my simit and managed to once again get through the heavy security checks and re-enter the park.

The 250cc race wasn’t for another hour, so this allowed me to take in the fairground-like atmosphere of the vendors. You just don’t see stuff like this at Shannonville – Bimota displays, giant inflatable race clothing shops (with equally inflated prices), young Turkish girls shakin’ what they got at the Pepsi dance competition, simit sales guys displaying their goods on their head, soft-toy aliens trying to sell you a cell phone, Turkish Delight vendors (complete with fez), and the list goes on.

They’re off! Weeeeaaahhhhh …

It was easy to blow a lot of time soaking in such sites, but I thought I’d better head to the cheap seats so that I didn’t risk missing another race. As luck would have it, as I passed one of the entrances to the main grandstand, the security guard was being distracted by a mob of people who were obviously claiming that they had the appropriate tickets to get into this most-expensive area in the park.

I didn’t pause for a second, and fluidly ascended to the top of the stairs, sporting the appropriate “I belong here” look. Score one for the team!

“Very civilized indeed”, was my thought as I surveyed my altogether plusher seating options. Being in the main grandstand meant that I could choose a vantage point overlooking the starting grid, or the first corner, or the last corner. I settled on the first corner for the 250cc race, and what a choice that turned out to be! I was right there clicking away with my happy snapper as the first corner chaos unfolded in front of me – with no less six riders going down!

First corner carnage!

Amazingly, despite the carnage, the race continued uninterrupted, although the pile up had taken out the championship leader, Jorge Lorenzo. Paramedics worked on the injured track-side with nothing but a foamy block in front of them that was supposed to protect them if more riders happened to go down in the next lap. Talk about an adrenaline rush for these guys!

Adrenaline rushes abounded in this race, with the final lap being a heart-stopper, when front-runners, Alex de Angelis and Hector Barbera, connected at over 250kph. It was an absolute miracle that de Angelis didn’t crash before running off the track, never mind Barbera who actually managed to stay on track and hold on for a second place finish!.

Horoshi Aoyama, who was running neck and neck with these guys, took advantage of the chaos and grabbed the win.

HOMETOWN HERO

Turk wild card entry, Sinan Sifuoglu, found it to be a lonely race.

With all that excitement I forgot to mention Sinan Sofuoglu, the sole Turkish rider on the 250cc grid. If there was a CMG award at this Grand Prix of Turkey, Sinan would have grabbed the honours. Heavily outgunned by the competition, he went out there and gave it his all!

Even when it was clear that there was no hope other than an absolute last place finish, he kept going. I loved the Turkish race fans enthusiasm – despite his continued regress to the back of the pack – throughout the race the Turks cheered wildly for there hometown hero each time he blasted past.

This enthusiasm was only diminished slightly when Sinan started to get lapped by the front-runners. But then I don’t think it was because the fans were disappointed, it was just much more difficult to pick him out in a crowd than when he had the whole track to himself!

THE MAIN EVENT

Sadly while the bi-plane entertained the crowds in the grandstand, Mr. Seck was out back taking pictures of nothing much.

After an intermission that saw a vintage bi-plane fly down the home straight with one wing pointing downwards – nearly taking out the signage below in the process – we were ready for the main event.

I chose to stand just above the grid for the start, so that I’d have the best view possible of these icons of motorcycle racing. I also made the decision that I’d put away the camera before the beginning of the race so that I wouldn’t be watching it on the mini screen of my digital camera. I wanted to be there – completely.

As mentioned earlier, the sound these bikes make is unbelievable. To me, they almost sound like heavily amplified big-bore two strokes, an amalgam of a shriek and roar. I think “apocalyptic” is the best word to describe it.

Aural sensations aside, the race itself provided its own drama, with a superb battle between Australian, Casey Stoner, and Spaniard, Dani Pedrosa. Then, on the beginning of the last lap, Pedrosa crashed, and Marco Melandri closed the gap with Stoner, making his move to grab the win in the last seconds of the race!

Casey Stoner took second, much to the drunken happiness of my Australian bus-buddies.

photo credit: motogp.com

Nick Hayden, managed to secure the final spot on the podium with Rossi, who rode a solid race, grabbing fourth after fighting back from 14th place!

Excellent racing, although I’d have to say that the 250cc race was the highlight of the day.

EPILOGUE

Next time (and hopefully the gods will smile on Mr.Seck again) I hope to score the all-important MotoGP press or VIP pass and get even closer to the action, the riders, and the bikes. Now excuse me while I fill out the appropriate paperwork for Laguna Seca …

For more info on MotoGP, go to: www.motogp.com.

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