With MotoGP reconvened at Jerez, after being forced to skip Motegi due to volcanic ash grounding flights in Europe, the paddock in Southern Spain is filling up once again. Hospitality units are up, and team members forced to skip Qatar to cut spending are all back in the paddock, giving the place a more homely feel. "It feels like the first day back at school," MotoGP technical guru Neil Spalding said, upon entering the media center this morning. "Qatar just isn't the same."
That is in part because Qatar is an overseas round, where the teams are housed in rows of temporary huts, all identical and impossible to distinguish one from another. At Jerez, the hospitality units are back, adding color and visual interest to the paddock, and creating an easily navigable route for finding your way about. Most of all, though, is the return to a normal schedule, with activity taking place during daylight hours, rather than starting as the sun goes down and the day ending as the sun returns again.
The hospitality paddock is fuller too, as the 40 Moto2 riders and their teams make their presence felt. A host of new units lines the inside of the back straight, brightly colored and bearing new and unfamiliar names. After spending last week in Assen, where the depleted Supersport field especially made the paddock feel empty, the contrast with the World Superbike paddock is striking.
On my travels through the Moto2 section of the paddock, I also ran into two of Moto2's American contingent, in the broadest sense of the word. I spent a few minutes catching up with Robertino Pietri of the Italtrans STR team, who I last saw before the last race of the year at Valencia. Pietri told me he was looking forward to riding at Jerez, back at a track he actually knew. The first outing at Qatar had been a real learning experience, Pietri being surprised at the ferocity of the last 10 minutes of qualifying. During the race, Pietri had been given instructions by his team to bring the bike home in one piece and get data. He took the first few laps carefully, before speeding up as the race went on. The Venezuelan and former AMA racer told me he was targeting top 20 finish this weekend, which given the closeness of the field in Moto2 is a highly realistic prospect. The most important thing, Pietri said, was that the team was happy with his progress so far, and they have already been talking about next season.
My next port of call was Kenny Noyes, the son of American veteran journalist Dennis Noyes. Noyes had been strong all pre-season, but like Pietri, had been caught out by the frenetic last ten minutes of qualifying. "We've got a plan," he told me, hoping to qualify much further up the field, and get closer to the front of the pack during the race. Noyes had been in or near the top 3 throughout the preseason, and intends to get back there during Sunday's race, now that he is back at a track he knows so well both from preseason testing and from racing in the Spanish CEV championship.
Moto2 has caused a giant headache for MotoGP's technical director Mike Webb. I bumped into him in pit lane, as his technical staff was checking over the Aprilia of Ricardo Moretti. Webb's workload had increased when MotoGP went to a spec tire, as Webb's staff are in charge of distributing the tire allocation to the riders. The new engine rules added to his work, making it necessary to keep a tag on all of the engines used so far, and making sure the allocation has not been exceeded.
But Moto2 has completely eclipsed this former workload. Spec tires and spec engines, which Webb is now in charge of overseeing, mean extra databases to be created and maintained. Then there's the extra work of the technical inspection, ensuring that all 40 of the bikes comply with the detailed rules laid down in Moto2's regulations. All of a sudden, Mike Webb and the 20 new staff he has at his disposal have their hands full.
Tomorrow, though, things return more or less to normal for Webb. With the work of scrutineering done, it's just a matter of monitoring what has happened. Fridays are more manageable than Thursdays, the explosion of rules making for an explosion of work.
Despite the changes, though, the paddock feels like an ordinary paddock once again. In a strange and exotic way, as I walked among the hospitality units and pit boxes here at Jerez, it felt like coming home again. For MotoGP, and for me, it's good to be back.