Taxi Driver

Posted on 4 Sep, 2014 by Scott Jones
Scott Jones with Stefan Bradl Silverstone

I’m often amused at how a chain of events can lead to an utterly surprising conclusion. If I hadn’t done one little thing, a bunch of other things wouldn’t have resulted in a kind of domino effect that led to the above photograph by good friend Andrew Northcott.

This one started when I stopped by to say hello to friend and fellow MotoGP photographer, Bonnie Lane. I met her years ago while as we were both frequent volunteers for Riders for Health events. She happened to be speaking to one of the Riders staff when I stopped by her place at the Silverstone Media Center. Mid conversation, she saw me arrive and I could see that she’d just had a little light go off.

“Of course, we could get Scott to do it,” she said to her interlocutor as she smiled at me.

Just like that I’d volunteered to photograph Randy Mamola on the Ducati 2-seater. Riders had sold several rides at the Day of Champions auction, and to reward the supporters, Riders wanted to provide photos of their experiences. Glad to help!

But having two extra sessions to cover complicated the rest of the weekend for me and Bonnie. It was much more of a challenge for her since she was moving around with the 2-up riders as they got dressed in their Alpinestars leathers, listened to the briefing about how to be safe and enjoy the unique experience, the moved to the grid to begin their rides. I had it easy just going out to a spot on the track and photographing the two 2-seaters as they came past.

Randy mamola Ducati two-seater

Bonnie had a scooter for the weekend and offered it to me for the 2-up ride sessions as this would make getting from the paddock to the track and back much easier.

As much as I appreciated the loaner, the scooter itself had some hard paddock miles on it. The ignition key had fallen out long ago, so it only required a firm kick to fire up. It had no power to spare, and something was amiss with the steering that made negotiating turns pretty exciting if going over about 15 mph. Tire pressures were also monitored without the same precision as those on a MotoGP bike.

But it got me there and back without stranding me, so job well done, little Aprilia!

Saturday morning I stopped by Bonnie’s place in the Media Center again to touch base about the second Ducati session. After settling that, we discussed our plans for covering the day’s MotoGP action. It turned out she didn’t need her scooter for FP4, so she offered it to me, kind soul that she is. I gladly accepted, and since I now had wheels, decided to head out to Vale for the half hour FP4.

I arrived several minutes into the session to find that a new policy about crossing the unused pit lane entrance had been instated since last time I was there. The new policy was that this would no longer be allowed. Great. Just as I began a well-mannered (on my part) conversation with a marshall about the situation, Stefan Bradl crashed.

I grabbed a few shots of him with his airbag inflated as he walked toward us, then realized he would need a ride back to the paddock. I looked around and saw none of the rider taxis, folks stationed around the track on dirt bikes just for this purpose.

I moved back through the gate and started getting ready in case I was needed. As Bradl walked past me, I said, “I can take you if you’d like.”

“Ok, thank you,” he said in his excellent but accented English. Just then a rider on a dirt bike appeared a short distance off, and Bradl pointed to him, indicating that I was no longer needed. Oh well.

But the other fellow turned right and headed off in another direction. I kicked the Aprilia to life, or as close to it as it could manage. Bradl looked around, and took one step in my direction just as another dirt biker appeared in the distance, riding down the street behind The Wing. Bradl gave me a little thanks anyway wave and moved toward this guy. Oh well, again.

But that rider also turned off before coming to the stranded rider’s rescue. Bradl then gave up on the official service and walked over to where I was waiting. “Ok, let’s go if you don’t mind.” So polite!

He climbed on the back and away we went.

I didn’t get the feeling he was impressed with the scooter’s power or handling. With the extra weight on the back, getting the thing to turn was even more of a challenge. For my part, I had no idea if we were on TV as riders being taken back after a crash sometimes are, so I was concentrating pretty intently on not making a fool of myself.

Silverstone is a long track from end to end, and Bradl has crashed nearly as far from the paddock as it was possible to do. So we had a several-minute long trip. As we got close, I by habit started to go left along the road that would take us to the media center, because that’s how I enter pit lane. But he tapped me, politely but firmly, on the shoulder, and said, “No, this way please,” indicating I should go right instead.

Fighting the understeer, wondering if the tires were yet warm enough to pull this turn off, I flicked it over while hoping no one was drafting. I couldn’t drag a knee as I had camera gear over each shoulder, but I’m pretty sure Bradl did. I thought I heard knee slider on tarmac.

We raced (the throttle was pinned, anyway) toward the desired paddock entrance and as we approached and slowed for the security pass scanning station, Bradl said, “Just go through, don’t stop.”

The Dorna security folks let us pass without chasing after us. A few quickish turns later we were passing through the human chicanes of a crowded paddock area and spied Oscar, the LCR majordomo, rushing toward us on a team scooter. I slowed to let my rider hop off and join his colleague. Both of them thanked me with surprising sincerity, given that time was a factor, and went on their way. Mission accomplished.

I have to say it was a pretty cool experience, giving a MotoGP rider a lift back to the paddock. A couple of people got photos of me in action, the best (no surprise there) being from Andrew Northcott. I plan to have this image printed and ask Herr Bradl to sign it for display in my office, another unique moment in my MotoGP experience.

Thanks to Bonnie, Andrew, and of course Stefan Bradl, for making this the highlight of my 2014 British GP.

Photograph: ©2014 by Andrew Northcott – All Rights Reserved

 

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Comments

  • bobheathcote 2014-09-04

    Oh thank gosh: I thought i was going to read that the scooter broke down! Very cool experience for you and perhaps a favor or two for you in the future will be returned

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