This doesn't smell like a hospital. Those are your first thoughts as you step into Dr. Claudio Costa's new Clinic Mobilia. The scent inside the old mobile clinic of lore was of leathers and sweat, the same as inside a rider's suit, but the new clinic smells as clean and fresh as it looks.
All four of the immaculate exam tables are occupied and medical personnel bustle around, administering to the riders who, while they wait, can watch the various live-feed monitors as 250 qualifying plays out outside of Dr. Claudio Costa's brand new traveling medical facility. This is the home of the infamous "Costa Cocktail", the injection that dulled the pain for many a GP rider and allowed them to ride when their broken bones said no.
Dr. Claudio Marcello Costa has been a fixture of the Grand Prix community since 1977. His home, the one without wheels, is at Imola and his father, Checco, designed and created the Imola circuit, he still works at that legendary Italian racetrack. Costa grew up at Imola. "I was born" he says proudly, "in the motorcycle world."
He has treated hundreds if not thousands of riders during his tenure in Grand Prix, curiously he himself is not a rider. "I have never ridden a motorcycle," he says plainly.
Costa is fifty-seven years old, a sturdily-built man with intense eyes, graying non-styled hair and soft hands. He wears no lab coat; just brown corduroy trousers and a bright white shirt as his only concession to the mediacal profession. Although he keeps a practice in Imola and is an attending surgeon at an Imola hospital, he tends to neglect both during the racing season.
We talk. From time to time the interview is put on hold as Costa rises to attend to his work. He's very hands-on: a rider comes in complaining of pain in his knee from an old injury. Costa wraps his big hands around the rider's tiny limb and caresses it, feeling for muscle or cartilage damage. He observes as 125 rider Nobby Ueda, clad only in red bikini underwear, receives a massage from one of the physical therapist. Loris Capirossi comes in complaining of breathing trouble, and Costa applies a breathe-right bandage to the bridge of his patient's nose. He moves silently through the confined space of the trailer, tending to five patients at once, advising, consoling and joking with those he knows. When there is a break he walks to one of the three overhead monitors and watches qualifying. "Is he married, does he have children," I ask his Lisa Loeb-looking assistant and translator Claudia Cherici, one of two assistants to the Doctor (she is also his daughter). "No," she slowly replies, "well, they are separated." He has no children. "The riders and people of Grand Prix are my family," he explains.
The newest traveling medical facility is the fourth such machine built by Costa and IRTA and is by far the largest and most well-equipped. It is the size of a modern motorhome but was designed, by the same Vareese shop that builds the Ferrari race cars, to expand once it is at the racetrack. Like an accordion several walls are pulled out increasing the clinic's size by perhaps forty percent. The different sections of the expanded facility are kept within three rooms: a plush waiting area, with seats upholstered in royal blue velour; a small surgery, all expensive equipment neatly stowed away; an x-ray booth, trauma area and the general medical and physiotherapy room. In all, five beds or exam tables fill the place while there were only two or three in the old clinic. IV bottles, giving the riders pre-race edge and post-race relief from dehydration hang above each bed. A laptop computer sits on Costa's desk, with television and VCR built right into the wall.
There are over five hundred crashes a season in Grand Prix, according to Costa, and he'll see nearly every rider in the paddock before the season ends, some more often than others. His patient list does not end there, as anyone in the GP paddock--mechanics, friends, managers can seek help at the clinic.
In Spain and much of Europe free medical care is the right of every taxpayer, and in Grand Prix basic care by Costa and his assistants is free, although the top riders pay an extra fee for services they demand. His main supporter is IRTA (International Race Teams Association) but the whole paddock is behind him. When the new clinic was built, Michelin gave him tires, and Renault gave him the tractor to pull his clinic.
It is open 24 hours a day.