An exclusive interview with Josh Brookes talking about his disappointing 2016 World Superbike campaign with Milwaukee BMW and his plans for 2017.

After seven consecutive years in the MCE British Superbike championship, Brookes achieved his goal of winning the title in 2015 with Milwaukee Yamaha which set up his move to World Superbikes.

With paid rides drying up in both BSB and WorldSBK for 2017, Brookes has laid out his current plans in an open and forthright account.

Crash.net:
Hi Josh, I guess that you're recuperating in Oz now after a hard season?

Josh Brookes:
Yeah, we're right where my parents have their house in the Western suburbs of Sydney about an hours drive from the city centre.

It's not just a question of recuperating because this is my postal address and I've got quite a lot of things to catch up on like tax, insurance and licensing. When I go away it all builds up here and unfortunately it's here waiting for me when I get back.

Imagine if you just packed your things, shut up your house and came back 8 months later there'd be a hell of a pile waiting for you when you got back. I'm trying to enjoy a bit of down time but at the moment I'm catching up with all that stuff that a racer also has to keep up to date with.

Crash.net:
So even though you spend so much time away from home and sometimes live in team provided accommodation, home is still definitely Oz?

Josh Brookes:
Yeah for sure, this is where I was born and it's always the place I come back to.

Even on paper I can't enter the UK without a visa, I'm always a visitor and each year I have to go through a long process to justify my entering the UK.

Coming back to Oz is non-negotiable for personal, emotional and legal reasons.

Crash.net:
I guess it also allows you to clear your head and consider the season dispassionately?

Josh Brookes:
Yeah for sure but honestly as a professional rider you should be able to do that in any part of the world but it has to be said that it feels like a separate life that I live here when compared to the one I live in the UK and that's good for getting things into perspective.

Crash.net:
Coming back to the season, achieving 14th with 89 points and beating your team mate by 4 places on a new bike in a super competitive series like WorldSBK might be considered a positive by some but I'm guessing you don't see it that way?

Josh Brookes:
No, definitely not. It's not that I'm uninterested in results but I didn't even know my result from this year until you told me.

My placing and points weren't something I'd checked up on because being so far away from my expectations made them irrelevant. It was an absolute fumble of a year for me, you only really check the score card if there's something to see.

Karel was actually in the same situation that I was, he was disappointed by the bike and the general attitude. There are a multitude of words you can use but we were both equally disappointed with what we had to work with this year.

Crash.net:
Given that you'd gelled with the Yamaha so well, what was the idea of moving to BMW?

Josh Brookes:
That wasn't a long-term intention. Yamaha didn't want to have a rival to Crescent Yamaha in the championship. They just wanted the one team to concentrate on and not have another one to make them either look good or bad or to throw up controversial results.

We were going in with a year of running the Yamaha in BSB so there was a good chance of having some upsets as regards the results of a supported team versus a private team. Yamaha basically told us that a rival team in WorldSBK wasn't going to happen.

At that point Shaun had to go about the business of finding an alternative manufacturer. It's possible that we could have stayed with Yamaha in BSB but Milwaukee had done their three year contract there and made it clear they wanted more international exposure.

So Shaun was in the hard position of either staying with Yamaha in BSB and losing his sponsor or going to WorldSBK, keeping his sponsor and losing Yamaha - and I think that we all know that it's easier to find another bike manufacturer than a new sponsor.

I believe that there was a conversation with a number of brands and the BMW came up as being the most financially viable.

Crash.net:
You make it sound as if you are quite remote from decisions made in the team?

Josh Brookes:
Well yes absolutely, I am. I'm a sole trader, I'm employed to do the riding and like any business it's the people at the top that make the decisions. Shaun asked me if I'd ride a BMW for him and I said yes, it wasn't a decision I had any part in.

It certainly didn't start out as having a disconnect between the various parts of the team. When we started everyone was super excited and all pulling in the same direction but in this business results control everything.

As soon as the bike didn't perform, I started looking to the team to make changes and the team were immediately looking at me wondering if I'd adapted and so forth. Nobody really wants to take responsibility when things get difficult.

Whether you're the manager, crew chief, mechanic or rider, everyone's looking at each other and saying what they think the problem is but each person's got a different story because they've got a different perspective.

My perspective is just from a rider's point of view and I just know that I'm on a bike that I'm not comfortable on whereas Shaun from a manager's point of view is asking himself if his problem is with the rider or with the bike. You ask 10 people you get 10 different opinions.

Crash.net:
...but that was later in the season.

Josh Brookes:
Sure, at the beginning everyone was excited and motivated and as a result had high expectations but when the results didn't come it felt like a clear divide formed in the team.

Crash.net:
One thing that always amazes me in bike racing is how quickly a championship ride such as yours or Sylvain Guintoli's is forgotten...

Josh Brookes:
Yeah, I agree with you, the paddock tends to have a very short memory.

I think what happens is that when the cost of racing is so high you have to find answers quickly.

Sponsors are contacting teams and asking where the results are and why they're not getting exposure on the television or in the media. The team manager then turns to the team and says 'You don't understand the pressure I'm under here, where are the results?' they then turn to me and ask me the same and it's me at the end of the line and my head on the block.

What I've got to do is to try and stop that wave of energy and say 'Look, I'm the rider and I've sacrificed a huge number of things to get the best results I possibly can because that's all I want to do. I'm not married, I don't have a house, I haven't got children and that's all to race motorbikes and then you question whether I'm giving my all?'

I've got to turn that 'Why, why, why' energy the other way and try and ask questions of the team too. If you don't do that it just goes around in a circle again and again.

Crash.net:
Did you have the same team and crew as you did in your BSB championship year?

Josh Brookes:
My crew chief and first mechanic were the same and the data engineer, tyre man and second mechanic were changed.

But of course the data engineer I had in 2014 worked for Yamaha, he then changed roles the year after to a combination of team management at SMR and data engineering so that really changed the team dynamic.

Even with that change and even though I noticed it, that wasn't the key factor to our problems. For me the main factor was the actual motorbike. Those changes would have gone by the wayside if the bike had given us the possibility of results.

Crash.net:
Was the higher technical level of the WorldSBK bike a problem?

Josh Brookes:
It's a difficult question to answer but having reflected on things I think the problems came from a couple of directions.

If you work with a Japanese manufacturer all their bikes in the various championships; AMA, BSB, WorldSBK will all be running with the same materials. The factory racing department will manufacture specialist parts like swingarms and triple clamps and supply those to teams that can afford to purchase them.

Or the teams may buy the factory part at a high cost and then replicate them but the beautiful thing about that system is that all the teams will be running the same base package which means that the debrief information sent back to Japan will be about the same package and therefore be comparable.

The factory can then analyse all the data coming back and what they learn from that will all be relevant because we're all using the same parts. That means that the factory can spread information between teams and championships, obviously not each guy's exact set up, but the broad findings. They can give you a helping hand to find a direction.

BMW doesn't have a racing department. When the department closed so did all the part and motor development so if you look at BMW's in the various championships they're all different, BSB BMW's use Suter swingarms, we use something else, all the teams seem to make they're own triple clamps and it means that all the bikes are different.

There's no way that information on such different bikes can be compared to help a team that's struggling. If we want to see what they're doing in BSB it won't help us because we're running a different swingarm, seat unit, fuel tank, swing arm and link. It's like comparing apples and pears.

If you're racing a BMW you're really on your own so the momentum that comes from communicating with each other is lost.

Crash.net:
So data from the Althea team wouldn't have been any help?

Josh Brookes:
There were bits and pieces leaked at a human level in an unofficial way but we couldn't work with it systematically because of the different components they were using.

If you look at the Superstock bikes around the world all the BMW bikes with their standard components seem to do very well because they can compare with and help each other but once you get above that level and start to use specialist parts a lot of the ultimate performance is lost.

Crash.net:
...and the other direction you mentioned?

Josh Brookes:
For me it was the engine development. It was never put together with an eye to race track environments and everything is done in isolation at the German factory. It's simply put together according to specifications and dyno results and I noticed that every motor I got from the start of the year to the end was exactly the same.

I believe that was a negative for the brand because I feel they should work with riders and develop what works on the race track. The figures they get on their measurement instruments may be impressive but trying to tailor the engine characteristics to the variable race track environment would have been beneficial.

There's a philosophy in the brand that as long as they can reach certain figures on the dyno then you can make it work and adjust it with electronics for the track conditions. I'm just a little bit old school and still feel the basic engine characteristics beyond what the electronics are doing. I feel that put a bit of a brake on their performance.

Crash.net:
It almost sounds as if with the lack of communication from the team and BMW that you felt as if you were alone out there on track?

Josh Brookes:
I think that may be a good way to explain it, this year I did start to feel a little alone at times. It's maybe an over emotional way of explaining it but it's got an element of truth in it.

Crash.net:
As they say, success has many parents but failure is an orphan.

Josh Brookes:
Yeah, I'd go with that.

Crash.net:
How many years contract did you have with SMR in WSBK?

Josh Brookes:
I've always done contracts year by year. If you've got good faith in your abilities it means that you're not locked into a situation and also that the situation isn't stuck with you.

I don't want to hold the team to ransom if they don't want me there and likewise I don't want to be locked in. The key is success and if that's coming then there's always plenty to negotiate about.

Crash.net:
So the question has to be, What about next year?

Josh Brookes:
That's a difficult question to answer. At the moment I'm not only in a difficult position but there's also a difficult financial climate. Also in BSB three teams have dropped out and they've also introduced Giugliano and Guintoli to the series so there are a lot of people looking for rides.

Last year my team was one of those leaving but I went with them but now that they're carrying on without me I either have to find a ride in WorldSBK or jump into the musical chairs in BSB where all the seats are oversubscribed.

The other problem which hurts my chances is that I'm racing motorbikes as a career, not a hobby, and as a previous BSB champion I feel that I deserve a decent salary and there aren't a lot of teams in BSB that can do that.

I actually had a good offer equal to what I've had the past two years from Tyco BMW quite early on but I turned that down in favour of another possible offer and also because I wasn't keen to spend more time on the BMW given the problems I'd had this season.

Unfortunately those other three or four possibilities I had at the time have all fallen by the wayside. So I'm left in the position now where I don't want to ride for a team that doesn't pay a salary and there aren't a lot of top teams looking.

My realistic options at the moment might be to secure a paying position at the NW200 and the Isle Of Man TT, maybe doing the Suzuka 8 hour with Yoshimura and I'm also talking about riding in a three round Chinese championship which actually matches my salary for this year.

It's not quite the normal racing season structure but if I have to do that to keep racing and pay the bills then that's what I'm going to do. There are no contracts in place yet but they're in negotiation.

So at the moment without wishing misfortune on anyone, unless a rider has a problem or a new team is born then I'll remain a private contractor who can be hired race by race.

Crash.net:
Maybe not so bad given the very successful year Leon Camier had as a super sub?

Josh Brookes:
Or what Anthony West has done this year where he's riding different bikes in different championships and probably being paid race by race.

The other thing I've got to contend with is Sod's law where there aren't any great rides available so I sign for any team in BSB and then get a phone call the next day from a high ranking Moto2 team to say they need someone. You've got to judge things carefully and while the rides I'm being offered aren't what I'm used to and happy to sign for I'll remain a private contractor.

Obviously I don't want to see people get hurt but inevitably during a season people do have accidents and that might turn out to be an opportunity to re-establish my credibility.

Crash.net:
But there is a good chance that you'll be riding in the TT?

Josh Brookes:
Yeah, there's a really strong possibility. I actually wanted to ride it this year and last but it was a request from SMR not to do it. It was seen as a distraction from the circuit racing but I see it as a positive with any time on a bike particularly one similar to your race bike as being good.

Also I think my TT riding makes me a bit unusual amongst riders and perhaps team managers don't like the unusual.

Crash.net:
Did you try in AMA?

Josh Brookes:
I did, Keith McCarthy is a friend of mine from my time at Yamaha but unfortunately Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier are very well established there.

I also spoke with Yoshimura and again they pushed hard but it wouldn't have been correct of them to lose one of their current riders as they done a sterling job for them and I support them in that decision. Unfortunately those are the only two proper paying rides in AMA.

Crash.net:
I guess what you're experiencing now is the hard part of your career with the best part being out on track on a competitive ride?

Josh Brookes:
It is, there are so many extremes. A guy told me a long time ago 'I've done well and I've had a lot of severe injuries but if you want to feel that wonderful feeling of success you've got to take the equal lows.

'If you want to stay in the middle where it doesn't hurt too much, that's great, find a regular job and have a regular life but for me that feels mediocre. The feeling of pain and hurt will be limited but you won't feel the incredible highs that are available.' And I've got to say what he said then rings true for my career.

People sometimes question what I'm doing and I say that I can work the rest of my life but I can only race a motorbike for a short window of time so while I'm in that window I just want to race as much and hard as I can and if it pays for a retirement, fantastic but if not I'll have to retreat and finish my life as a worker.

Crash.net:
Given your high profile as a racer, don't you think you're being a bit negative?

Josh Brookes:
I think that people sometimes see me as being a little crazy or on the edge because of some problems I've had in the past on track but I actually feel that I'm a realist, I don't like to gloss things up or sugar coat them - I'm very straight.

I've just got to say it how I see it because I just haven't got a good enough memory to remember my lies.

Crash.net:
Thanks for talking to us Josh, it's been informative and interesting as usual.

Josh Brookes:
No problem.

 

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