Crash.Net BSB News
EXCLUSIVE Josh Brookes - Q&A
9 July 2013
By Christian Tiburtius
An exclusive interview with Tyco Suzuki star Josh Brookes in which the Australian speaks in detail about all aspects of his career, including this year's BSB title challenge and 'evo' technical rules, his impressive Isle of Man TT debut and much more...
You've just come back from Australia, do you enjoy living in England?
I enjoy racing in England, everything in life's comparative though. It's the same with motorbikes, the best bike is the one you know. If you've never ridden a great motorbike then the one you've got is perfect, when you ride a better one though... It's the same with where I live. Once you've experienced Australia as home, it's difficult to compare somewhere else to it.
I don't think it matters where you're born, you've always got that strong connection. Australia's a lovely country and it's definitely home. I like being in the countryside there and I feel really uncomfortable in built up areas.
I left Australia in '06 so I'm starting to be able to handle the weather too, I just have to accept the place for what it is and that includes the weather. The last couple of years I've been living in Northern Ireland anyway, and that's not the best place to pick for weather but that's just where the team is and that's where I've chosen to be.
For sure, when I get the opportunity to duck home though, I take it because I figured this year I'd only get one chance because of the TT, Northwest 200 and Japan for the Suzuka 8 hour.
How did you get into racing?
There's no racing history in my family, my dad was a social rider though and before he had a family he'd go out camping in the outback with some mates on a bike and go dirt bike riding. My elder brother was the one who really got me into it, he was always pursuing bikes and getting at dad to ride all the time so when I was born there was always a motorbike around. We grew up in five acres so had plenty of space to run about in.
We started to compete at motorbike events as kids and at the age of six I'd decided what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I just got this notion into my head that that was going to be my life. When I was a kid I used to watch videos of Rick Johnson, probably the best motocrosser in America at the time, because I was just into dirt bikes then. In '86, '87 and '88 he was the main man and I just thought he was the greatest guy in the world and wanted to be the same as him.
I can't remember the year, but dad took me to Eastern Creek, the second nearest road racing circuit to the western suburbs of Sydney where we live, to see my first race and that made a great impression. I remember looking out of the window of the car and could see bikes that happened to be on a session when we were arriving at the circuit cut through turns four and five and I was just amazed by it, I thought it was brilliant.
I remember Wayne Gardner being a significant figure but where it really hit was when Doohan was winning races and championships. I remember, it was Sunday night, 2 o'clock in the morning watching the Grand Prix and my mum shouting up to tell me I had school in the morning, I just had to watch the race though. It kind of became an obsession.
In Australia, you can't race properly until you're 16 so I had quite a few years to wait and in the meantime kept racing dirt bikes.
Looking at the way you ride, is it the thrill that attracts you?
No it's not that, it's the freedom. It's the only time you feel properly free.
Everything in life is controlled - how much you earn, how fast you can drive, how much tax you've got to pay and even if there's no law there is always the restriction of what's acceptable. You've got to watch what you say so you don't offend anybody, you can't criticise anybody or speak in a way which might be seen as offensive. When I'm on the bike it's the only time I feel properly free. It's all my own choices, it's what I can do and where I can take it.
So when you jump that high at Cadwell Park you don't do it for the thrill of it?
Josh Brookes:It's a combination of things. When you get it right you get a sense of thrill and enjoyment, though I do believe that it's quicker anyway.
It's great that people want to see me do it. I get a great kickback from the fans because they're all stood by the fence waiting for you to come round and jump and I get a good feeling from that.
There is an element of showmanship to it, I enjoy that people get something in return for it. I'm there just doing what I like doing anyway and it's great that people are thrilled to watch it happen. I think they get that sense of excitement and fear just by being close.
Do you get a sense of fear?
Of course, there's always the possibility that any corner can go wrong. You can always see the danger of what you're doing.
It's something you consider but you've got to learn to control it. If it controlled me I couldn't do it, I wouldn't go on track, I wouldn't do the jump and I wouldn't take corners. Obviously there's fear, it's just something I have to control and am conscious of.
What was the motivation to do the TT?
It's just the most extreme version of what I do. I've raced motorbikes all my life and I've always wanted to take it as far as it will go, be that to ride the fastest lap or the most demanding track. I've always wanted to get to the pinnacle.
You set yourself a goal as a kid and you strive for it until you achieve it or die trying. I've still got all those goals in place and with the Isle of Man TT being one of the most extreme of them, I felt I had to do it to achieve self-satisfaction. If I hadn't done it I would probably have regretted never doing the TT.
You use the word 'pinnacle', do you regard the TT as being the pinnacle of the sport?
Status wise it's not the pinnacle of the sport because MotoGP is and that has to be the position you want to arrive at, but the TT holds a very high position in my personal estimation. Racing today owes it all to the Isle of Man because that's where motorcycle racing started. At the turn of the last century when bike manufacturers wanted to prove their skills they did it there and that's where true competitive riding was born.
The English government said it was illegal to ride at more than 40mph and if you were caught racing you were in trouble, so the Isle of Man government was approached because they were independent and made their own rules and they created the event and it's run ever since. So motorcycle racing of any kind started in 1907 at the Isle of Man.
The heritage of the race wasn't important to me initially but after going there it was. When I was growing up I was never exposed to any road racing and the first time I actually experienced it was when I came to England and HM Plant invited me to go there.
From the very first moment I was there I thought 'Man, I've gotta do this!' I immediately thought it was something I needed to do, I didn't know when or how, I just knew it. Since then I tried to learn more about it, it was that decision that motivated me to learn more about the history of it.
Did the fact that you wanted to ride at the TT influence you to sign for TAS?
No, not really. I signed with TAS because I thought it was the better position for me, it wasn't motivated by one element it just seemed like a better situation.
Financially it wasn't particularly a strong move, I just felt that HM Plant wasn't a great environment for me. I didn't feel comfortable. The bikes were brilliant, the mechanics were nothing but professional and the materials I was supplied with were first class, it was just the corporate environment of Honda didn't feel comfortable.
It was almost scripted what I had to say after each race and if I spoke at all freely I could be reprimanded afterwards. It was as if you couldn't have an opinion or say what you felt, you had to say it the Honda way. You had to toe the line there and I felt TAS was a better place for me. I just felt I would enjoy my racing more.
Honda had put the offer on the table for the following year and at the same time I had had negotiations with TAS and had an offer from them. There were other offers too but I decided to say to Neil Tuxworth 'thanks, but no thanks' and move to new opportunities.
If the wages were huge you might accept more but these days the big money isn't in racing anymore, MotoGP yes sure, but in BSB the wages aren't enough to make you suffer. You've got to do it because you love it and if you stop enjoying it like I was there, you've got to find a way of improving it.
The wages in BSB are something around the £100K mark?
No, far below that.
I took a pay cut of between 5 to 10 thousand dollars to go to TAS. It was give or take though as there were other benefits such as a car which balanced it out somewhat. The change was really motivated by enjoyment factors.
I know my own personality in that as soon as I lose my independence and freedom and I have to rely on other people too much I start to feel uncomfortable and I can feel it straight away.
How would you describe the atmosphere at TAS?
They're extremely professional when it comes to presentation, quality and materials for the bike but then there's a real balance there. Everyone loves to have a joke. There's got to be a bit of laughter and fun about it. As soon as it gets too serious, like no-one's enjoying themselves anymore, it spreads like wildfire and everyone recognises that they're not having fun and something needs to give and change to get back the situation where everyone's having a good laugh as well as going racing.
I think there's also a good mix and variety of guys in the team so you can bounce things off one another. Especially at evening times when all the tools are down, the bike's packed away and you're on the way to the hotel. Everyone has a drink, you can chat things over and it's like a bunch of mates going out for a Sunday evening.
It was never like that at Honda, there's an extremely corporate atmosphere there that beats the fun out of it. It was like if you had a smile on your face, there was something wrong. Whereas at TAS, even after a sh*tty day when there might have been a crash or a fall, you can brush off the negatives of the day with a few drinks and laughs and the next day you're back up to speed again. I think that's a great balance to have.
So you're set to stay at TAS for a while?
I've only ever had year by year contracts. In all teams I've ridden for it's always been like that.
There's no use a team holding you to ransom to stay there if you're not happy nor would I want a team to have to retain me if they weren't happy with my services. If you've had a great year and agreed the terms for next year then perfect, if you can't agree terms, no harm done, each goes their own way and you wish each other the best. I'm happy there but then there's always every motivation to move on to bigger and better things, I don't want to rule out any opportunity that may come my way in WSBK or MotoGP.
Are you planning a long term commitment to the TT?
I'd like to, but short circuits are still my main priority. The TT at the moment has been like perhaps a satellite plan running in conjunction with BSB and if a contract I was pursuing clashed with the TT then it would have to take second place and I'd continue my short circuit aspirations. If the chance is there though, I'll continue to do it.
You would certainly need to take part for at least a couple of years before you could expect to win anything, even if you had a great team and good motorcycle skills. I feel I did a great job this year to start with though. I set the record for fastest newcomer and I feel that was probably the best I could hope for and that has already happened. I think that a top ten result in Superbikes on a first visit there, you could even say was exceptional.
The circuit has so much to offer in itself and regardless of which position I finished in, it was the single most rewarding thing I've done in my life. It also carries the highest risk of anything I've done in my life and before you go you've got to do the maths and take your choice.
For the next year and the year after it I still want to be there and to improve, my problem is that I don't know how long it will take to win though, it depends on the individual. I took to it well but I don't know how fast I would improve. Having said that, the track does have a huge amount of enjoyment regardless of where you finish.
You also get a lot more pressure as you get closer to the front. I didn't have any pressure to perform and could just take it as it comes. When you go for your second or third years and you become one of the recognised front runners, like my team-mate Guy Martin, you must get a lot of pressure to do well, perhaps represent products and you'd also have your own expectations. I don't know how much I would enjoy that. Also when you start to represent a manufacturer and sponsors you kind of lose that feeling of doing it for yourself.
It's a fiercely dangerous place and if you got carried away you could easily make a mistake. I really, really enjoyed it as a first timer there without that expectation and we'd like to go back again, it's just that I'm not sure how much I'm looking forward to the hopes and pressure in the future.
Coming back to BSB, how would you rank the Suzuki against the main competitors?
I feel that the rules they've created in BSB have made an extremely competitive championship and they continue to alter the specs to restrict or help a bike depending on its results. I feel that our bike has some really strong elements that aren't actually being used to their full potential because of the rules and that other bikes are being given more leeway where their bike isn't as strong as ours.
For example, we could take a balancer shaft out of the engine because we've got a well-balanced four cylinder motor which has the shaft in there for mass production. If we took the shaft out, the engine would accelerate quicker, the problem is that we can't because Yamaha can't take theirs out because of the design of their engine, and because they can't, we can't. But then the Yamaha has a restricted airbox as standard, so the rule has opened things out so that they can use whatever airbox they want to make that the same as other bikes.
Likewise, the Honda has an air bleed system which is an add-on to the standard ECU, which is controlled for everybody even if they already have a system in place. They don't have a system in place for corner entry stability using throttle control whereas Suzuki has a stepper motor system which constantly resets the closed throttle position to keep the front and back wheels aligned as you enter the corner.
Because Honda don't have the system as a standard part, the rules then say they can have an air bleed system to bring them to parity. So basically the Suzuki's advantage is being taken away.
The Suzuki is already a very good package but the other bikes are getting add-ons to match it and at best we can only be equal to the other guys.
With the Kawasaki, I'm not sure where its strong or weak points are, one thing's for sure though, it's got a strong motor. They've got a lot of acceleration and that's where my bike suffers.
I think the Suzuki has superior handling and it may look as if I'm over riding the bike because I'm using that to compensate for the Kawasaki's acceleration. I'm not just satisfied to ride around and say that's as fast as the bike will go though, I want to win. I can either break my competition with fitness or mental strength or something or I've got to work to find the weak link in my opponents because our bike isn't the strongest.
So you feel the Suzuki is slightly down on performance when compared to the other three?
It appears visually to be that way. I can only say what I see though because it's easy to say that the grass is greener on the other side and I don't want to sound as if I'm blaming other things. Either way, if we are down in any area then that's something the team has to work on and they'll continue to find small areas of improvement within the rules.
I don't feel the rules disadvantage us, it's just that they bring the others up to compete. I think the BSB Evo rule concept is brilliant, when you look at the individual position though it's different. At first the Suzuki was fine, but Yamaha had a problem and solved it, then Honda had a problem and solved it and then suddenly Suzuki has a problem.
After Knockhill, you're 30 points down on Shakey at the moment, how do you feel?
The title is definitely fully in reach, we're only four rounds in and then of course there's the shootout which levels everybody off. It's completely wide open.
It's not just Shakey either, Alex Lowes is showing good form and there are three other guys going through too.
Kiyo's been very up and down for the past two seasons so you're not looking at him to be the strongest opposition but you definitely can't rule him out. For sure though, Shakey's in my sights as being the strongest challenge and then you look at everybody else and think you can't discount them either.
Do you think the Evo rules and shootout format have been positive for the championship?
They've definitely been positive for the championship. I don't necessarily endorse the shootout system and it wouldn't be my personal choice. It just seems fairer to me from the rider's point of view to have the traditional points tally, but when I see the dwindling numbers on the grids of Superbikes and MotoGP and then you see we've got a full grid of Superbikes in BSB, whatever they're doing it's on the right track.
When you've got a great crowd for a domestic championship, with great competition and racing, something is right. It makes a great opportunity to attract new sponsors. Our jobs revolve around keeping the championship healthy so when a championship is this productive, you can't really question it.
You always look incredibly miserable when you come second in a race in the post-race interview, are you aware of that?
I'm certainly aware of it, and I try, I try not to do that! I watch it and it definitely doesn't look good. There are guys who've raced for years in BSB and have never made it onto the podium and there I am pulling a big sulk because I'm second? I do feel a little critical of myself and think that I should show a little more respect.
My problem is that I can't help my own feelings, if I come second I don't feel I did myself justice, I should have done something better or am thinking how I can improve next race. It definitely comes out in my personality that I'm disappointed to come second, but then when I watch it back later I think that it might not be a very good attitude to have and I should be a bit more happy. I guess I just can't change how I feel.
When you arrived in BSB, you initially got a reputation as someone who raced too hard?
I don't feel I was portrayed very well. I certainly didn't feel I got a warm welcome. I don't know any of the people personally who I feel didn't give me a fair chance, but I certainly don't hold a grudge. Nobody actually came out to me to say that they were disappointed that I'd arrived in BSB, so I wouldn't know who to talk to anyway.
I don't blame anyone because you can only form an impression according to what you can see, read or hear and if you're seeing, reading and hearing the worst things then you're going to make a bad impression. My problem was that the reported facts weren't accurate to the situation.
When I first signed for HM Plant, the general opinion seemed to be that there were plenty of good Brit riders and why do we need another international rider so I was already on the back foot there.
Then, the team wasn't set up to employ international riders and I couldn't get a visa until Honda UK as a company were registered as a sponsor with the UK border control. Until they did that I could do nothing. I then missed the first round and the public's thinking, 'Is this guy an idiot, doesn't he know how to fill in the paperwork?' so I get slated again.
I did OK in my first round and then I went to Donington Park. There the brakes failed and I crashed into Sylvain Guintoli. Honda would have been held liable if they had admitted fault with the machine. So the only way to avoid liability was to say it was a rider error and if it's rider error it just goes down as being a racing incident.
So you're saying that the team said it was a rider error when they might have known it was a technical problem?
Oh absolutely, they knew 100% it was a technical problem, but they couldn't admit liability and publicly and in the press it became a rider error.
I became the International rider who can't fill out paperwork, is useless in the first round and then crashes into another guy and breaks his leg because he's a jerk. So you just cop flak the whole way.
I was then on a suspended ban which they would monitor for three rounds and then the ban would then be cleared. So the next three rounds I think I finished on the podium every race, I didn't generate great support, but I felt things had levelled off a bit and there wasn't any strong hatred going on.
The next thing was that at Mallory I wasn't happy with the bike and I'd started from fairly low on the grid. I'd made it up to fourth place and with eight laps to go just made an error. I was trying to overtake Chris Walker who's extremely late on the brakes. I'd been following him for four laps and was starting to get frustrated and tried to make a pass which went wrong. I only personally hit Simon Andrews but the bike had let oil out and the next five or so riders fell off on the oil and I went back to being the worst guy in the world again.
That racing incident got viewed in the worst possible light. If it were just a single occurrence it would have been seen as a racing incident but because of all the build-up before it I got a two race ban. That didn't fit the situation anyway because the incident at Mallory was after the initial suspended ban had been lifted.
We tried to convince the tribunal, they weren't to be persuaded though and said they had to consider stuff from the past. So the next two races I had to watch and one of those was Cadwell Park which was the one I was most looking forward to.
Is it important to you what people think of you?
It isn't important as regards whether I continue to race, it certainly is important for my own peace of mind though. It's important to you how you're perceived by the public and you want people to form their opinion from the truth. That was the biggest thing, I felt I was being judged from inaccurate material in the press. If the truth was put out there and people formed their opinion from it then I'd have to accept that.
And do you think the media has been fair to you?
Some media seemed fair and others not. Every media outlet wants a story, they want the big headline. They want the good guy and they want the villain. That's just how it works, I understand the system, they need to sell newspapers. You see that with footballers and movie stars where they can't do anything without being ridiculed for it later.
Luckily in a smaller industry like bike racing you're never in the spotlight like they are but you certainly see that they are still trying to sell papers and get hits on the website so they try to put the most controversial headline they can up there. Sometimes the body of the story doesn't even live up to the headline. Problem is that a lot of people read the headline without reading the material. Understanding it all though doesn't necessarily make you feel good about it.
Do you enjoy the publicity/fame side of the job?
The publicity side of things isn't my favourite, no, though there are certain times when I feel I have plenty of time for people. The problem is that around the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of a race weekend when fans have most access to you, that's when you most need your own space. I certainly have had moments when I've wished that there wasn't so much public access and so many press related duties, but you've got to take the good with the bad and everything in between.
My thing is that I just like to ride the bike, there are people who love the attention. Music stars and so forth really enjoy the limelight, I head the other way though, I don't like to be fussed over.
I'm recognised at places like airports quite regularly and when I'm fine I'm happy to chat and take photos. But it can get a bit awkward if a dad is pushing forward a kid who doesn't even recognize you for a photo, at the right time though, it's a great feeling.
Thanks for that.