Whenever I go to a MotoGP race, it seems that something weird always happens. Not just the kind of weird stuff that happens when you go on vacation - that happens often enough - but stuff that catches you off guard and leaves baffled and bewildered.
So it was this morning. After a very long night finishing up my season preview and an account of the Fiat On The Web team's adventures - three quarters of which I lost, due to my own stupidity, and had to retype - I awoke to an eerie silence. In a place where daytime temps can reach 40 degrees, even this early in the year, that silence means trouble, because it replaces the hiss of the air conditioning unit, the only thing that lies between you and a lot of sweating, puffing, and fanning yourself while you attempt not to boil.
A quick flick of the light switch proved that it wasn't the airco that was the problem, but that the electricity was out entirely. Still, there was a faint wireless signal and my laptop had plenty of battery left, so I finished up some work and decided to head to the circuit. The late night meant I had overslept, and the Fiat On The Web team had gone on their road trip without me - a trip Alex later reported was fun, but hot - so I headed downstairs to the car hire desk in the hotel.
Given that MotoGP was in town, I was in luck, as there was only a single car left, the rest having previously been booked by fans and team crew heading to and from the track for the weekend. Feeling a tinge of guilt that it was not a Fiat - they are after all paying for my stay here - I took it, only to learn to my dismay that it was brand spanking new. The worst thing about having a brand new hire car is that it is in absolutely pristine condition. Spending four days driving back and forth to the circuit and keeping the car in pristine condition - given the robust way that Qataris drive - seems a tall order, so I've mentally written off the waiver.
I had written down the instructions that Dorna sent us on how to get to the track, but failed completely to get my bearings, and ended up driving in circles for half an hour, trying to follow my sense of direction. Having earned a crust as a motorcycle despatch rider back in the mid-80s, I had high hopes of my sense of direction, but years of GPS dependency have robbed me of most of that.
Eventually, though, I found Doha Golf Club, and from the highway to the circuit. The track was easy to spot: Qatar is a flat and desolate landscape, and as a forest of lighting poles rose up ahead, I knew I was on the right track.
After being passed by another hire car, and waved at by its occupants - Nico Terol, Hector Barbera and what looked like Julian Simon, but I couldn't be sure - I picked up my shiny permanent pass from the accreditation center, and headed through the tunnel and into the paddock.
There's a strange atmosphere at Qatar in the paddock. People greet each other after long absences, and there's a lot of chatting and catching up to do. Familiar faces appear in unfamiliar garb, as it's not just riders who swap teams over the winter, press officers, mechanics, catering staff, everyone shifts from place to place, in a giant merry-go-round.
In the media center, the journalists are all wandering around, looking for something to report, but because the season hasn't really started, there's nothing really to say. Talking to Nicky Hayden after the pre-event press conference illustrated the point perfectly. "What do you want me to say? Nothing's been done on the track, it's all talk right now, and it don't mean nothing." So the media are left with nothing of significance to talk about, apart from puzzle over the new rules, and debate the finer points of the penalty for taking an extra engine, beyond the permitted allotment of six, that will have to last each rider for a season.
The only people with any real work to do were the mechanics, getting the bikes ready to roll for the next day. Meanwhile, the rest of us sat and watched, and talked among ourselves. I had a long conversation with Mary Spies, a woman with a formidable reputation, but still friendly and charming, discussing son Ben's home in Como, in Italy (current occupant, Roger Lee Hayden), Ben's passion for cycling, and the people he goes cycling with in Italy (including Lampre rider Brent Copeland).
About 7 o'clock, I ran into a wall, my last reserves of energy gone from a lack of sleep and nervous excitement. So I headed into the paddock restaurant, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed back to the hotel. Tonight, it's time for an early night, saving my energy for the weekend to come. Tomorrow, there'll be bikes on track, and the moment we've been waiting for so long will be here at last. Everyone I spoke to, journalists, riders, crew, all said it had been far too long. Nicky Hayden was positively fidgeting, the need to go racing made physically manifest. Though I won't be going racing, I knew exactly what he meant.