Once again we were reminded why Estoril is our favourite European destination for the MotoGP.


Beautiful place, very easy going, friendly & accommodating people (with an astonishingly high fraction of English speakers) and a track that ALWAYS throws up exciting racing.


The weekend started with two dark clouds: rain was threatening and the Sunday predictions were dire. Even worse, this was the last year of the beloved Estoril MotoGP contract and there had been no indication of it being extended - indeed, the rumour mills were grinding rapidly predicting the imminent demise of the event.


Thankfully the first projection never came to pass; and the latest rumour is that the Estoril round will return in 2012 - although its future remains in doubt. If you, like us and 100% of the customers we have ever brought to this wonderful destination, agree that this is one of the great rounds of MotoGP then please let your opinion be known to public forums (or comment on our facebook page).


Thursday was beautiful. We enjoyed drinks on the terrace of our seaside hotel in charming Cascais; and several customers went up to the circuit to have a drink and private tour of the pits and paddock of our partner MotoGP team San Carlo Honda Gresini. Meeting Jorge Lorenzo was just the kind of unexpected treat that we have come to expect for these Thursday “MotoGP Insider Nights”.


Friday a small group of us hit the track. The heavy rain over breakfast did not bode well; but the weather proved on/off and we got a great chance to check out one of the most challenging circuits in MotoGP. Of course, being huge fans of Gresini and of course Marco Simoncelli, our
joy knew no boundaries as he set the fastest pace in BOTH practice sessions! Gresini wasn’t satisfied with just this however, and their Moto2 rider Yuki Takahashi was on a mission to take a podium to honour his brother Koki, tragically lost in an auto accident just a week earlier. He too took both sessions at the top of the charts. More about Yuki later...

Our top delight of the day however was our sponsored Red Bull Rookie Brad Binder, who took (of course!) Pole Position in the qualifiers!


Friday night we held our opening reception in Cascais. We were delighted to welcome two British 125cc riders, our sponsored Danny Webb and rookie Harry Stafford.  Both were delighted to answer many questions from the audience about their training, experience of the track and background. We unveil the new Danny Webb tee-shirts! Many sales ensue! Harry came up from the Red Bull Rookies, where he had an excellent final year,
after a huge, nearly career-ending accident the previous year. Not only does he have considerable talent, he has been riding the season so far with a broken wrist he got in testing.  No small impediment, yet his talent and courage shine through - he will end up qualifying 17th, just one place behind his more experienced (and our sponsored) team-mate Jakub Kornfiel.  Perhaps most amusingly, we had invited the fathers of Danny and Harry to the event and they shared some parental moments with us!  Quite apart from the hundreds (literally) of thousands of pounds they shed in support of their boys, the stress levels are stratospheric as you can imagine!  Hats off to Jimmy Webb and Roy Stafford!  Later pole man Rookie Brad Binder pitched up; and was worshipped appropriately along with his very proud family!


We concluded Friday at our usual hang-out, O’Neills Irish bar next to our 3* hotel. We have sent so many customers there over the years that we should be shareholders by now! At one point we were looking around the outdoor area and realised that apart from one table, every person there was either a customer or associated with a team we work with...!  (We will end up there every night over the Estoril weekend...)


Saturday wasn’t promising bags of sunshine either... The wet/dry track conditions ma
de all morning sessions treacherous; or in the more colourful description of Hiroshi Aoyama’s crew chief Antonio Jimenez, “a total  waste of tyres & time!”. But this being the Atlantic seacoast, if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour. We were rewarded with some great & dry qualifying sessions! Marco was burning up the track as he had done all weekend; looking a sure bet for pole.  Alas, he crashed about 5 minutes before the end of the session, so didn’t have a chance to retaliate again Jorge Lorenzo, who bested him by about a tenth. Hang on -- Marco crashed with 5 minutes to go, yet still took 2nd position?!  This is a champion in the making.


We think Jorge recognises this as well...  In one of the funniest press conferences we have seen in a while, Jorge and Marco had a bit of a ding-dong over Marco’s supposed aggressive riding style. While they both had legitimate points to make, Marco was funnier so the journalists generally view him as the victor in the exchange! Of course we don’t want to see anyone hurt out there, but these are sportsmen competing in the top class in a dangerous sport; aggression on the track is inevitable - this is what makes champions! We think very hig
hly of both riders, both as sportsmen and personally; but I hope they don’t mind me saying that this sort of off-track battling really enlivens the sport!  (See it on motogp.com)


Speaking of champions, Cal Crutchlow, our new favourite MotoGP rider gave a private pit tour to some of our VIPs. What an experience!


However, what will remain my personal Best Moment of the weekend (and possibly the year!) was the first Red Bull Rookies race. Our sponsored rider from South Africa, Brad Binder, won the race from pole by about 2 days... An awesome tour de force; I watched the end of the race from the Tech3 moto2 pit with Bradley Smith and Brad Binder’s mum and younger brother.  To say the family were delighted at his first victory would be the understatement of the decade; for us, it was also an historic moment - the first time (in 5 years) that a rider we have sponsored has taken a victory!  I was almost as proud as his dad Trevor Binder.


Saturday night most of the group enjoyed the many pubs and restaurants (and Irish bars!) around Cascais.  A privileged few joined us in the paddock as guests of team Gresini.  We toured the pits, badgered riders all over; paid a visit to Kev Coghlan and checked out his Moto2 bike; and join team LCR Honda for drinks and stories...  Moto2 world champion Tony Elias came by later; super-friendly, as always. I really have to hand it to him, he is having a rough return to MotoGP for sure; but he doesn’t stop smiling!  Of course, LCR’s new hostess, Eliana, would give any man something to smile about!  Dinner with Gresini gave us an opportunity to meet and chat with Takahashi, where we offered our condolences and told him we would see him next on the podium! Marco of course appeared; a bit late, we surmise he was out drinking with Jorge... :-)
We don’t usually report races in detail in these reports - they get plenty of coverage.  However we have to single out the most emotional podium I have ever experienced. Yuki Takahashi, on a mission to honour his brother, was trailing a distant 4th about 5 laps from the end of the Moto2 race. Then, in what can only be described as a miracle, Iannone crashed, gifting the final place on the podium to a deserving Yuki. When he rolled up to park ferme, he just put his helmet on the fuel tank - obviously crying bittersweet tears. He brought a photo of his brother up to the podium and shared the champagne with him. Bradl won the race but all eyes were on Yuki and the honour and grief he showed Koki.

Sunday night we had our traditional Portugese winding-down dinner. Far too much wine, mountains of scrumptious food, rounds of port, and a rousing happy 30th birthday celebration for our ace guide, Eva.


What, how did we end up at the Irish bar afterwards?!


This weekend didn’t end with the race day.  Monday was the MotoGP test, transplanted from Jerez. A small group of us went up to enjoy the day; watching Gresini work miracles in their pits; getting awesome views of the bikes right from the edge of the pit lane; lunch with Gresini and an insightful talk from star MotoGP tech head Neil Spalding.  One of his subjects was a graphical explanation of how the improved gearbox performance (notably of Honda) gave huge added benefit in the are of fuel consumption. Even the non-techies were illuminated!


Monday night, the faithful few remaining got to enjoy dinner with the Webb family (Jimmy swears by the piri piri chicken. His elder son & BSB rider James Webb groaned that this was their fourth time that weekend!). Oddly enough, we went to the Irish bar later...  But finally, in a departure from script, we closed the weekend appropriately with wine on the seaside terrace of our stunning 5* hotel trading anecdotes from years (and days!) gone by.


All GP weekends should go like this.  Estoril is magic.

 

MotoGP of Portugal 29 April - 2 May 2011