2019 Alpinestars Friends and Family Ride Day at Willow Springs
The first annual Alpinestars Friends and Family Ride Day is in the books, and we are still reeling from it all.
It’s a rare opportunity to see big names from MotoGP, WSBK, IndyCar, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, supercross, stunt riding, downhill mountain biking, aerobatic flying, Alpinestars dealers, and more under one roof – or more accurately, sharing the paddock of Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosemond, California.
How do you get that random assortment of top-tier Alpinestars athletes to show up to a circuit in the middle of the California desert?
Well, you simply ask all your friends at Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Ducati, and Aprilia to show up with squeaky-clean press bikes for everyone to tear around the track on.
Professional riders and drivers who are no stranger to the track took to Willow’s charming asphalt like fishes to water. However, there were plenty of professional riders and invitees who hadn’t ever been on a sportbike, a track, or both!
In fact, that was an important goal for Alpinestars—getting all walks of life to come in and enjoy motorcycling together, veterans, and new riders alike. Everyone shared the track, traded tips, and had loads of fun, with select members of the media, too.
To help those who didn’t have much time in the saddle, or riders who simply wanted to take advantage of top-notch professional coaching, Yamaha Champions Riding School was there. YCRS was led by AMA road racing title holders Nick Ienatsch and Chris Peris.
“At Champ school, we include quotes from Ben Spies and Casey Stoner, so it was fun to renew our association with Ben and to finally meet Casey,” Ienatsch said. “We base our curriculum on what world champions do to find the consistency necessary to win titles. Speed follows consistency if the techniques are right.”
Spies and Stoner were probably good on their own, but Ienatsch hit on their job for the day: “The A’Stars family includes athletes who have never been on a sportbike or a racetrack or both. We jumped at the chance to introduce these VIPs to our addiction!”
It was quite the star-studded event, with former two-time MotoGP world champion Stoner spinning laps alongside former World Superbike and AMA Superbike champion Spies. I never thought I’d be able to say that I shared the track with those two names, but here we are.
Spies, who spent the entire day shredding tires on Yamaha YZF-R1Ms with Stoner, shared his thoughts on the event. “Honestly, a day like today, it doesn’t happen too often with this many athletes from different sports crossing over and coming to this,” Spies said.
“Back when I was racing, I was one of those guys that was so focused, I never did these events and didn’t want to do them. Now that I’m done racing, it’s one of the best days that I’ve had on a bike in a long time—just getting to ride with a lot of buddies that have always supported me and helped me, then getting to ride with a lot of the moto guys and freestyle guys and everything.
“I think Gab (Alpinestars President Gabriele Mazzarollo) might have overdone himself trying to put this on, but I think he needs to keep doing it,” Spies continues, “and like I said, yeah, it was a blast.”
Spies has spent his fair share of time lapping circuits across the globe, and he spent quite a bit of time in his early days at Willow Springs International Raceway. The Texan did many club races there before jumping into AMA and onto the world stage.
In addition, MotoAmerica Yoshimura Suzuki hot-shots Toni Elias and Josh Herrin were putting down rubber at Willow.
Despite his illustrious racing career as a cross-country rally racer and Dakar challenger, Monster Energy Honda Team’s Ricky Brabec hasn’t spent any time tearing around asphalt circuits.
“The racetrack is a little bit new for me,” Brabec said. “The asphalt track, that is. I’ve never ridden a crotch-rocket style, streetbike-style machine. [laughs] Today, I did four 20-minute motos out here, and it’s quite the adrenaline rush. We’re going up to a hundred-plus miles an hour and, having never done it, I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous as heck. As the day went on, we got better and more confident.”
“I had a blast,” Brabec continued. “It’s always good to have events like this to take your mind off what your true discipline is. There’s a lot of people out here that’s are in the same boat as I am. Motocross racers, mountain biker, F1 drivers—we got airplane stunt pilots! We have everybody out here. There are a couple MotoGP guys here, too. But, you know what, that’s them coming, showing support, and helping the beginners like myself.”
Helping prop up the dirt-bike contingent was Monster Energy Supercross racer and Yamaha Factory Racing Team member Justin Barcia. He is another pilot who is no stranger to the seat of a motorcycle, but has spent precious little time on street bikes.
Nate Adams, 2002 Freestyle Motocross World Champion, X-Games gold medalist, and Red Bull X-Fighters winner had a bit more experience than some of his dirt riding brethren. He borrowed a friend’s Yamaha YZF-R6 when they were in high school.
“I was actually a bit nervous beforehand and even when just trying to get this leather suit,” Adams said. “I looked like a moron trying to get this thing on. [laughs]. But I got out there. I got some good instruction from Yamaha Champions Riding School. Like motocross, they wanted your eyes looking ahead, especially here. A long sweeping corner could be a half-mile or a quarter-mile. So, you really got to pick your eyes up then bring your eyes back and forth—just really keep an eye ahead on the track of where you’re going,” Adams said.
“You’re going so much faster than on a motocross track or on a motocross bike,” Adams continued describing his experience on track for the first time. “Everything you’re doing, it’s slower, much slower, more like smoother motions. Riding this will probably make me a better motocross rider and faster on a motocross track, but lots of similarities and lots of differences.”
When asked if he’d like to come back, Adams’ answer was clear: “Totally. Now, I’m like, ‘how can I swing buying a sportbike? How can I get an R6 or R1?’ So, this is a blast.”
Leah Tokelove, a UK-based Super Hooligan flat track racer, came out to the US to check out Babes Ride Out. While here, she was able to take part in the Alpinestars Ride Day. “I’ve done the Ron Haslam Race School back in England once before,” Tokelove said, “and I’m here for my first proper track day. And it’s not raining, which is great.”
Tokelove took full advantage of the YCRS coaches and was able to get comfortable quite quickly. “I think it’s definitely helped me to become way more confident,” Tokelove said. “In my last session, I was going loads faster. I was really getting my weight off the bike more, and I realized that you can push yourself so much more than you think. Every now and then, an instructor will fly past and get you to copy them and follow, which is awesome.”
There was a whole load more of fanfare going on during the lunch break, which was supplemented by stunt shows from Alpinestars and Red Bull athlete Aaron Colton aboard his Indian FTR 1200. He slid or wheelied his V-twin beast around with ease.
Indy Lights champion J.R. Hildebrand offered rides in his McLaren 720S supercar. Initially, I regretted not joining in the fun. However, after watching Hildebrand display why he is an IndyCar Series racer with his McLaren, I was certain it was for the best for me, and his McLaren’s upholstery. I had just finished devouring lots of tasty barbecue.
There was also an aerobatic stunt show. Alpinestars recruited Air Race pilot Anthony Oshinuga to perform stunts in his Pitts S-1S biplane, and he didn’t miss the opportunity to keep two-wheels on the ground, either.
“It was amazing, man,” Oshinuga said. “I mean the instructors with YCRS were all top tier—number one. They put us in a 14-passenger van, took us around the course at 100 miles per hour, showed us the lines, where to brake, our braking points, our lean angles, and all that good stuff., then went in the classroom and talked about it over again.”
A common theme with anyone working with YCRS is that their confidence is boosted, even in a paddock rife with experience. Oshinuga continued, “I started as the beginner and, by the third lap in, I felt like I can handle some stuff. [laughs] I felt comfortable on the track, but I don’t think I can go into Intermediate because I’m sure there’s more finer points to understand and learn. It’s like flying airplanes. You can’t just jump to the next category. You got to kind of master one category, and then move up.”
Alpinestars is a household name in the world of motorsports for a reason—the Italian company makes protective equipment for anyone that participates in any motorized racing event. The dedication to action sports, in general, has given Alpinestars a unique opportunity to amass a list of who’s who in extreme sports.
The kind of exuberance displayed at the Alpinestars Friends and Family Ride Day was second to none, with broad smiles being just as common as Alpinestars leathers. Regardless of skill level, everyone there was riding, trading tips, talking shop, creating a genuinely positive atmosphere.