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Romain Febvre at the 2018 Grand Prix of Portugal
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My MXGP: A factory race mechanic talks…

Apr 152018

Manuel Volpato is the Monster Energy Yamaha race mechanic for Romain Febvre. The 41 year old has been wielding the spanners for the Italian crew for thirteen years and has been with Febvre all the way: from his emphatic title-winning debut in 2015 and up to the current phases of the 2018 campaign where the Frenchman is a regular podium contender.

Last weekend ‘Manu’ helped Febvre and his #461 machine ride to fourth place across the rough and technical red Agueda soil for the Grand Prix of Portugal and round five of the series and the second MXGP event in a week.

We asked the Italian to let us know what it’s like being one of the key crew members and for a job that involves long hours and intimate knowledge of a race bike that cannot be bought…

"On Friday we’ll start to prepare for the race and with an eye on the track conditions and weather, so the bike set-up, tyres, protection and so on."

The start of the routine…

We usually leave the workshop on a Tuesday but of course it depends on the distance to the Grand Prix. We aim to be at the circuit and parked by Thursday morning or afternoon and then start to build the structure and the awning. There are four of us and it can take about four hours for everything to be finished. On Friday we’ll start to prepare for the race and with an eye on the track conditions and weather, so the bike set-up, tyres, protection and so on. The rest of the team, including the riders, arrive at some point on Friday. The important job is technical control; everything is finished when the bike is complete and set for Saturday’s first Free Practice. Sometimes we are selected to make Noise Control and you have to do that between 10.00-16.00. When the rider arrives then it is a good moment to catch-up because you might not have seen him for a week. We’ll talk about his work, my work, what might be new on the bike and discuss the components.

No need for a bigger truck…

We have a very big truck with a large workshop space and we can load it up. We carry many spares. The racebikes now are a little more complicated than they used to be but everybody in this team has a job role. I build the whole bike and take care of it but I don’t build the engines, the suspension or the electronics. With fuel injection now everything is done with computer whereas before, with the two-strokes, it was a mechanical process. It is a different way; before fuel injection I had even more things to do than I have now.

A late wake-up call…

Like the other guys I sleep in the truck in a small bunk space. We don’t have such an early start on Saturdays; the first MXGP Free Practice is not until 12.00! I still like to wake up early because I like to see the other classes riding the track and it is maybe one hour of the weekend where I can be like a fan and just watch guys out on the bikes. Coming back to the team I need maybe an hour to do all my checks and then Romain rides out to the pitlane.

Wielding the pitboard…

When Romain is riding I’m talking with the rest of the team through headsets; it can be really noisy by the pitlane and it usually the part of the track where the riders are fully on the gas. I’m giving Romain messages with the pitboard. He mostly wants to know how much time is left in the session. He also likes to know his position when he pushes for a fast lap. Sometimes he’ll want to know his worst sector of the track from the four splits.

"The connection and feeling with every rider is different."

Wash, check, prep. Wash, check, prep…

After each session we’ll have a very small debrief and then I put on my boots and coat and take the bike down to the washbay. We usually have more than two hours between each track session so it is time enough to get everything clean and prepare everything for the next outing, so checking the clutch, throttle, chain, wheels and so on. After the Qualification Heat, which starts quite late at 17.00 I am working on the bike again by 17.45. If everything is OK and the bike is working fine and doesn't need any big changes then I’ll be done by 21.00. It can be later. Sunday comes quickly and when we are ready, we’ve done warm-up, then we’re down in the gate for the first race. It is always an exciting and slightly nervous time. I’m not sure about other mechanics but I’m always excited and emotional about raceday…even after all these years.

In between the motos…

This is the worst and craziest time of the GP. We still have the same amount of time as we do on Saturday but it is more stressful because the riders are normally pushing more in the races and the bike is under more pressure. So it is important to check twice as carefully. We have a great hospitality unit with Yamaha now but sometimes on raceday it is not possible to get there…or if I do then it is very quickly. Often I don't even feel hungry. I have a good breakfast and that sets me up.

When it’s done and dusted…

It depends if we are on a back-to-back race schedule. That means we stay in the paddock that night and also Monday in order to rebuild the bike for the next GP. If we are due to head back home then we will take down everything and start to pack and it will be a busy couple of hours. There is not too much time to celebrate if we’ve had a good result. It is not a stressy time but there is just a lot to do. To collapse the awning and set-up on a Sunday is easier because we are more people and it will take about an hour and a half to be finished. It is a bit like a puzzle!

The connection with the rider…

The connection and feeling with every rider is different. I knew Romain before he came to the team in 2015. We were friends in the paddock and used to joke around a lot. I speak French and Romain doesn't talk all that much but before we worked together it was nice to be around him because he’s a friendly guy with a good sense of humour. So the relationship was already there and it meant it was easy to start the job together and it removed some stress. There were some good laughs and I think that was, and still is, important: to try and take some of the pressure away and make the best environment possible. While we can joke we also work well together because Romain knows what he wants from the bike. I think he is the easiest rider I’ve ever worked with. I can tell what he thinks of something on the bike usually by a gesture or small reaction. Romain gives a lot of himself and so much effort. He is very dedicated and that's a positive quality. His personality doesn't change much at a GP and he also doesn't demand much of the bike. Assen in 2015, where we won the championship, was one of the best days of my life…after one of the only times on Saturday night where I could not get any sleep!

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