Other than the profound experience of being at the TT for the first time, my time on the Isle of Man was also unique in that I knew the photographs I was taking were for the express purpose of being used in a book. Throughout the fortnight, there was a fair amount of photos that I would mentally earmark to make an appearance in ink and paper form. The above image was one of them.
As I have mentioned before, the premise of my book project was originally centered on Guy Martin. Even after four events of no podium finishes and the Senior TT getting canceled, I still loosely held onto the original topic and continued to document Guy as much as I could which included his post-TT interviews.
It all started on a Tuesday in February. I was having a chat with Scott Jones that afternoon about our photography plans for the 2012 season. I had no concrete plans at the time so I just deadpanned that I’d like to check out the Isle of Man TT someday.
Somewhat on a whim, Scott suggested trying crowdsourcing to raise funds to go to the TT this year, with a book project serving as backer rewards for contributions. I played along, daydreaming out loud about making a book on Guy Martin’s first TT win. Jokes about quitting my job ensued. It was impossible, I thought. Surely this was just a pipe dream.
Incredibly, it wasn’t. Three months later I was at the Isle of Man TT, having both quit my job, and raised enough funds thanks to the generous help of too many people to name here. It was a fairy tale dream come true, with just one minor hiccup: Guy Martin didn’t win.
The corkscrew is widely considered to be the masterpiece of Laguna Seca, and few would argue that there is a more iconic turn in all of motorsports. For race fans from around the world, a pilgrimage to the world-famous California track doesn’t truly end until they have reached the corkscrew.
However, Turn Five is what holds a special place in my heart, as that is where I first stumbled off a bus five years ago as a starry-eyed first-time race attendee. Having only experienced motorcycle racing on various television and computer screens up to that point, I will forever remember my jaw dropping to the ground as I finally witnessed firsthand the awesome and terrifying presence of MotoGP machines.
Valentino Rossi had just come off a relative high from Mugello having finished fifth at the Italian GP and less than twelve seconds behind race winner Jorge Lorenzo. Toss in the [admittedly somewhat cryptic] “let’s stick together” theme of his helmet and the seemingly positive talks with Audi, it appeared that the Italian legend just might be happy with where he was at Ducati Corse.
Fast-forward to the Thursday at Laguna Seca, where the pre-race press conference had just ended, the riders had all scattered about the room to answer additional questions. The small band of journalists crowded around Valentino were mostly speaking in Italian so I wasn’t able to understand much of what was being talked about but the number 46 was indeed mostly smiles, which I attempted to capture in my press room photos.
Only a select few men in the world can say they have defeated Valentino Rossi in a last lap duel in a MotoGP race. On that very short list is one Toni Elias, who bested the Italian legend to the checkered flag for his first and only premier class victory at Estoril in 2006, on a satellite machine no less. Championship-deciding repercussions aside, the win granted Elias a contract extension at a time when his GP career was in doubt.
However, the onset of the 800cc era, coupled with the introduction of control tires the following year, would prove to be the start of a rough roller coaster ride for Tiger Toni. Five seasons, a Moto2 World Championship title, and two MotoGP exits later, Elias was given an extremely rare third shot at a premier class ride this past weekend as a replacement rider for the Pramac Ducati’s Hector Barbera. True to the up and down nature of his career in recent years, this opportunity came just a week after he parted ways with the Mapfre Apspar Moto2 team at the previous round in Mugello, after being unable to replicate his title-winning form back in the GP middleweight class.
Unfortunately, his latest attempt at challenging the fastest motorcycle racers in the world came to an abrupt and disappointing end after crashing out of the US GP on only his second lap. With no further confirmed top class appearances on the horizon, Toni’s tenure at the pinnacle of the sport appears to have ended in the gravel trap at Laguna Seca. However, a MotoGP race win will always be on his curriculum vitae, and that’s no small feat.