Seen from outside, getting to follow the MotoGP circus around and flying from race to race sounds immeasurably glamorous. But just as any seasoned business traveler will tell you, the glamor soon wears thin. The day for me started out at the crack of dawn (and I'm not a morning person), traipsing off to Amsterdam airport, submitting myself to the ritual humiliation that is international air travel nowadays - nine parts theater, one part security - before boarding a short flight to Frankfurt, chasing around with just 40 minutes to transfer onto a Qatar Airways flight, being shouted at by the woman at the gate for attempting to board without a boarding pass, before finally settling into my (surprisingly roomy) economy class seat for the 5 hour flight to Qatar. The delay due to "technical problems" (not a phrase you are keen to hear before the plane has even taken off) kept us on the apron for an extra thirty minutes, but we were soon underway, and off to the sands of Arabia.
I spotted a few familiar faces on the plane: the press officers for Honda and Pramac Ducati were on board, along with a large contingent from the Repsol Honda team, a smattering of Italian and Spanish journalists, and a certain Mr Loris Capirossi. Capirossi, however, was sat comfortably in business class, while we slummed it back in coach. But having endured a US Air flight to Philadelphia last year, Qatar Airways isn't such a bad place to slum it: Decent food, actual room in front of my knees and a personal entertainment screen in the seat-back in front of me. I even managed to get some work done.
Arriving in Qatar was a surprise, though arriving after dark in a strange country is always both deceptive and confusing. After passing through customs - guided by men dressed in the traditional flowing robes and headdress of the Arab peninsula - and paying 100 Riyal (about 20 euros) for a tourist visa to a man in a uniform, I headed out into the warmth of the evening, a pleasant change after the long and bitterly cold winter we have had back in Holland.
On the shuttle bus to the hotel, a few things struck me. Firstly, nearly all of the cars here appear to be Toyotas. A lot of fairly standard Corollas and other sedans, with a healthy smattering of SUVs, Hi Lux pickups and Land Cruisers. Those cars which aren't Toyotas are Bentleys, AMG Mercedes, BMW 7 Series, Escalades and other expensive vehicles. The Qataris clearly love their vehicles. I even saw a couple of bikes: A CBR1000RR ridden by a guy in helmet, protective jacket and sneakers, and a dude on a loud Harley fitted with outrageous apehanger bars.
While waiting in line to get my visa, I struck up conversation with the guy behind me, another itinerant Australian racer. He introduced himself only as Alex, and it didn't dawn on me until this evening that it was Alex Cudlin, formerly of the Phase One Endurance team and brother of Damo Cudlin, who spent last year flitting around the AMA and is in the German Superbike championship. It merely strengthened my impression that wherever you go in the world, if it's near a circuit, you'll bump into a fast Australian doing whatever it takes to race bikes.