My recent interview with Roland Sands, published here yesterday, got me thinking about one of my first high-profile interviews. 15 years ago I had the opportunity to chat with Jeremy Burgess, Mick Doohan and Michelin’s Nicolas Goubert. It was during a Grand Prix race weekend thus while the interview was formally arranged, it was a fairly quick-fire affair.
There was little of interest from the lips of Doohan or Goubert, Burgess however was a little more forthcoming. At this time, 2002, Burgess was crew chief to Valentino Rossi at Honda, and had been with HRC for 20 years.
Burgess started at Honda in 1983 after his first couple of years on the world scene working with Heron Suzuki and Randy Mamola. At Honda, Burgess started out with Ron Haslam, then Freddie Spencer, with whom he enjoyed his first taste of Grand Prix Championship success in 1985.
Burgess had then gone on to crew chief for Wayne Gardner in 1986 through to 1988, which of course included Gardner’s 1987 500cc GP Championship win. Burgess then worked with Mick Doohan from 1989 right through to when the five-time World Champ hung up his leathers after his accident in 1999.
The South Australian also considered calling it quits at that time. However, an opportunity to work with a young up and coming star that had just taken the 250cc World Title arrived. Valentino Rossi had been offered a Honda contract for 2000 and told Honda that the only way he would sign is if he could have Burgess as his crew chief.
Burgess remained with Rossi throughout his time at Honda and made the switch with him to Yamaha and then Ducati. Burgess was crew chief for Rossi for all of his seven World Championship victories. Rossi sacked Burgess at the end of season 2013 as he looked to try and regain championship winning form.
Rossi replaced Burgess with Italian Silvano Galbusera from Yamaha’s World Superbike Team. During his time with Burgess, Rossi scored 80 of his 89 premier class race wins, and all seven of his 500/MotoGP Championships.
Jeremy Burgess Interview – 2002 Australian Grand Prix
Jeremy Burgess on the differences between Rossi and Doohan (Who had recently retired after injury in 1999)
“Mick absolutely loved the winning, Valentino really loves the racing, but of course he also loves the winning. Both champions of course, and both very skilled at what they do.
“Rossi was educated and raised on the smaller GP machines, he learned how to get the best out of a 125 engine, and then a 250 engine. This is much different from Mick Doohan who came from wrestling big superbikes, an average type of motorcycle in those days and not a purpose built race machine. Then we he came to 500 and brought the same approach with him, he refined it of course.”
Burgess on how the level of competition in recent years
This was 2002 so talking late 90s to then
“The competition is very high now, especially compared to say 15 years ago when there was really only two works bikes, one for Lawson and one for Gardner. It was really only a Yamaha versus Honda thing.
“Then Mick came along and there were a couple more riders on Hondas, in the end there were five or six on the same machine as Mick. And now with Valentino there is going to be even more riders on the same sort of machine. So in my opinion the competition has got a little tougher each year.”
Burgess on Honda and the new (at the time) four-stroke competition
“Honda is supplying more bikes to improve the competition and make better racing, not to just be the dominant manufacturer, but unfortunately that will go hand in hand with it, or I should say, could go hand in hand with it.
Burgess on Rossi possibly moving to four wheels
There were plenty of Rossi to F1 stories going around at the time and Rossi tested with Ferrari in 2004 and was reportedly close to a deal in 2006
“If you talk to him (Rossi) he does have rally as a hobby but it certainly is not his job. I don’t believe any switch to four wheels being in Valentino’s immediate plans. He would have to lose a lot of interest in what he is doing before he would make a career change. As long as he enjoys motorcycle racing he will be here. But really, riders are like light bulbs, if they start to flicker you screw one out, and put another one in.”
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