Extended Josh Brookes Interview
Been enjoying your time at home JB?
“Yes and no. The time I have at home normally feels like a rush, end of race season and then coming home for the off-season, it is kind of like trying to live 12 months of my Australian life but squeeze it into three months. It really does go quite quick, so when we had to come back due to all this shutdown it has been like and extended off-season. So I have been able to take a breath, and think okay I have more time at home than I normally get, and have an open ended date. In one way that was quite nice, while on the other hand it was quite upsetting, as I didn’t realise how much I looked forward to going away until I guess someone takes it away from you. It has been a double edged sword, I have enjoyed the time at home but I really miss racing my bike.”
You have always been tinkering with various mechanical things, working on your van or other cars and motorcycles. Finish any projects in particular while you have been at home in the shed?
“I am always tinkering, it is just my lifestyle, I enjoy being on the tools. With having so many mechanical things like cars, jet skis, motorcycles and mountain bikes and road bicycles, if you didn’t have a good toolbox and the ability to work on the things myself it would actually become quite an inconvenience. I quite enjoy the mechanical side of it and I am quite lucky that I do as there is so much stuff to work on, motorbikes in general and the things I play about on do need a lot of maintenance and upkeep. It kind of goes hand in hand, always been one to go for the toolbox, I can’t sit still. As an example I went away last weekend on the farm with a bunch of guys for sort of a weeked off. The paddock basher, a Suzuki Vitara, it blew a water hose. And I was straight in under the bonnet getting the broken hose off, and finding a bit of hose in an old shed out the back about the same size just to make do, finding some hose clamps to get it fitted back, you know I kind of just got stuck in to doing that. While other people might be better at collecting firewood or whatever, the mechanical side is always the thing I find myself not only good at, but sort of what I enjoy doing, trying to fix stuff and get yourself out of trouble.”
Ducati don’t make dirt-bikes, so what dirt-squirters you been playing on of late? You had some old two-strokes you restored didn’t you?
“I have been collecting old motocross bikes for years, a long time, I think it must have been around 2003 I think, hard to go back that far, I bought a 1986 CR250, that was the first of the old motocross bikes I started collecting. I don’t restore them to a level like a show and shine, I don’t buy fancy sticker kits that make them look tacky, but like to keep everything a bit more standard. I like to restore them to good rideable level , not show bikes, more everyday riders. I don’t ride them all as it is just not practical to ride old bikes all the time as you just wreck them, there is new bikes to ride as well, but I really enjoy having them and tinkering with the older stuff. I have a bit of a collection, I have a few 1980s and 90s bikes. Recently I have been working on a 1995 and 1997 CR125 Honda. The 95 I will keep, and the 97 I will most likely sell at some point as it is not something I have really got a connection with, but the ’95 is more reminiscent of when I was racing motocross myself, so the 95 I will keep.”
Get on the motocross track much in the UK?
“I try to get out as often as possible, but the weather interferes a fair bit in the UK, but as often as possible, predominantly during the week, or if not on a race week then the weekend as well to make it a couple of times a week on off race weeks.”
Where is home base in the UK these days and what is that area like? Who are the main guys you knock about with while in the UK?
“I am a bit of a solo person, I’m very comfortable in my own company, I don’t actually… And it is really hard to be friends with people you have got to bash bars with on a race weekend, so I don’t particularly associate or hang out with many of the guys from the paddock, but I have got out enduro riding with Tommy Bridewell before and motocross riding, so there are exceptions, Tommy would be the one I probably speak to the most, we are very competitive rivals on track, but we have a mutual respect for each other and so if there is anyone that I do talk to much it would be Tommy. Where I live is called Bedfordshire, about an hour north of London, that is where Amy (girlfriend) is from, a place called Biggleswade, Amy grew up there so that is her family area, so that has become my base after being with Amy for so long. We rely on her family a lot, for example I fly out tomorrow to go to England, her dad will come and pick us up from the airport and drop us etc. It’s really convenient to have that family network there, he looks after our house while I am away, he would go and do something on the car if need be while we weren’t there, so it is really nice to have that family network that I normally wouldn’t have, as an Australian over there.”
When was the last time you got on that delectable Ducati V4 R? How have you been keeping your hand in during the plague restrictions?
“The last ride on the Ducati.. There was of course the last race of last year in October, then of course the big for the normal off-season, before I went back over late in February, for three days testing at a circuit called Monteblanco, followed by another two days at Jerez. It went really well, after all the testing we ended up quickest by half-a-second, so it was all looking perfect for the beginning of the season. Then we have gone into this forced break. As for keeping my hand in, fortunately we are here on five acres, not enough for a proper MX track, but enough that if you feel frustrated or fed up you can get a bike out and do a few jumps to blow off some steam and get some riding in, just to get that need filled. It’s quite good with mini bikes too as they are not too noisy so you can play about on them and have some fun without offending anyone. Also been doing some work, as there is no racing, sponsors are not getting a return they would normally get, so they are not making payments to the team, so the team are forced to follow suit, it is just a natural progression down the chain, so at the moment my contract is on standby until we start racing. I have got savings, but I don’t want to go backwards, don’t feel sorry for me I am not living hand to mouth, but I don’t want to go backwards either, it doesn’t feel right to be at home and living off savings so I have been out doing some work. General farm bike servicing and things like fork seals etc. and a few days here and there basically in a diesel mechanic role working on heavy machinery, on bobcats, rollers and excavators etc. knocking out seized pins, doing all the hydraulic/air/oil/fuel filters, greasing and general service work that needs doing just to keep my hand in at work and draw an income while we are on standby. I have also taken up cycling again, was big into it years ago, but drifted away from it, but with all these extra days and extra hours down-time and no motocross tracks open the cycling has taken a big presence back in my training regime.”
Tell us what is unique about the Ducati and how it compares to other Superbikes you have recently competed on or ridden?
“It might comes as a surprise, but the bike doesn’t have any real stand-out points, where it out-performs others by a great margin, but what it does…for racing purposes though it really ticks all the boxes and does everything really well, the handling of the bike is good, it’s quite stable, braking and turning is competitive, it is good on the tyre over race distance, the engine performance is not out-shone by any of the other bikes. Like I say it doesn’t do any one or two single things that really make it stand out from the crowd in one area, but it doesn’t have any negatives, all its facets are positive, so for racing it is a really strong package. If there was an area that I felt it was missing, then it was sort of in the transition kind of between leaving the brakes and going back to the throttle, just that sort of right in the middle turning point of the corner where you are at maximum lean, I felt like something was missing, couldn’t quite put my figure on it, I just had this feeling….Even when we were winning races and on the podium all the time, then it is difficult to complain and get people to listen when you have just won a race and then say ‘look the bike isn’t right’, as that normally means we need to go testing, we need to spend money, but if you already winning that makes it sort of hard to push that agenda, as they are going to say ‘well we are already winning so we don’t want to go spend more money than we already are’, but yes I still always had this sensation that there was something missing, something that could be better, and when we went pre-season testing this year we found something in the forks, and I think that might be cured now, and that hopefully it will translate to all the other circuits, and improve that vague feeling in the middle of the turn. At this level when you are winning or almost always on the podium, you only need to find that one-tenth per lap and by the end of the race that adds up to a couple of seconds, and fortunately in those pre-season tests we made some changes to the fork internal settings that gave me a lot more confidence and fixed this sort of vague feeling that I had mid-turn, for me that was something I always kind of had my finger on last year, saying look we are missing something missing here. I’m hoping that what we found in those tests will translate into all the circuits, and I am quite confident it will because the bike works consistently in all other areas and we have improved this sort of vague feeling I had in the middle of the turn, for me that’s actually a really big step, so to find such a significant improvement in that problem area that I had was great. I almost felt a little upset that we hadn’t had the chance to find that last year, if I had made that step last year it could have been an even better season, but having said that it would also then translate into your team-mates bike if it is something that the team feel is helpful, so it may not have turned out to be a long term advantage anyway. At least for me and my peace of mind I have got the bike working in a better range than even what we had last year.”
Just how hard is it in BSB with all that horsepower these days but with no significant traction control systems? As mandated in BSB with the control ECU that effectively gives you less rider aids than most standard commuter bikes these days, let alone the high-spec kit that comes on the Ducati!
“Anyone that understand the British Superbike rules knows that a really positive point to the series is the control ECU. It gets rid of all those fancy parameters that are actually quite complex in tuning and often a team would have to spend a minimum say $100,000 employee salary for someone of the correct standard to really maximise the potential of all those tuning parameters. So to rule all those little things and gadgets and tuning areas out really creates a level playing field… Look for a person in my position, in what is half considered a factory team, I could probably benefit from all the fancy stuff on the bike as I have got that infrastructure and support around me, but what it does it means we have a much more spectacular series of racing overall, because private teams can be competitive. That means the championship is healthy, racing is interesting to watch, so in the long term it actually does benefit me as I can continue to race and continue to be paid to race, and be a professional motorcycle rider off the back of the success of the series. Having got that little bit out there… when you don’t have something you don’t miss it to to speak, all the guys I am racing against are professional riders that have been in racing for many years, maybe for an inexperienced rider or a young kid transitioning in to Superbike it is probably a bit of a daunting challenge, but for anyone that has ridden as long as I have, or somewhere near that, you don’t get to that level without some good skills and ability to ride a bike. It doesn’t feel dangerous not to have those fancy gadgets, basically when you don’t have it you don’t miss it. If you went racing with all those extras I think you might in some way get complacement, as you have some sort of assistance and you would get used to it and then you might start to rely on it, then if someone was to take it off you would really notice it. But for us it feels quite natural without all the aids, it still feels natural. When I first started riding Superbikes in 2001 we were miles away, years away from any kind of rider aids, it just feels like a natural progression from where I started, the bikes have gotten more powerful, but the chassis have improved, the aerodynamics have improved, the tyres have improved, in BSB the brakes are also improved so there are lots of areas where the bikes are matching the improvements to the power in other areas, so it doesn’t feel like such a daunting task when you have been in it as long as I have.”
Would you consider yourself the favourite for the title this year?
“Yeah I would. Only because of, not because I think so much of myself, but the reality is that for the last ten years of racing in BSB, every year I have been a title contender, and after finishing second, for the number of times that I have including last year, so it would only make sense that I have got every opportunity to go ahead and win again this year. It would be foolish for my mental preparation to talk myself down.”
Third most winningest BSB rider in history…. I guess you have been there a while now but still, that is really something, does that feel amazing to you…?
“Yeah, look sure there are certainly people that have been in it as long as me or longer, I guess I haven’t won as many championships as some other riders have, but I don’t know if there is anyone that has come second as many times as I have, often it takes nearly as many wins or good results in a series as it does to win it, so for coming second as many times as I have I am not surprised that I have clocked up the statistics… You know I am proud of all the things that I have done, I don’t know how many people in Australia really get a full understanding of the competitive nature of British Superbike, and how well I have done over the years, but I certainly know and am personally very proud of everything that I have done.”
You went pretty close last year but was shaded by Redding in the final points tally, those technical DNFs in the first part of the year cost you dearly. How did you get on with Redding and how do you rate him as a rider? For him to come out of MotoGP, with all their electronic aids, and then to jump on the BSB Superbike that has virtually no help from the electronics, and different tyres, that must have been some transition?
“Yeah I think it was impressive, I think people should be respectful of what he has achieved. From my perspective, he is coming from MotoGP, he has had the best equipment, the best mechanics, the best rivals, the most superior riders to share the track with, and he is still young, and if he couldn’t…he came into a team that really gave him all the support he could expect. If he couldn’t do it then it would almost be disappointing for him, that is my perspective on it, don’t get me wrong it definitely justifies credit where it is due, but being the devils advocate, if he couldn’t do it then what was wrong, why couldn’t he, there doesn’t seem to have been a reason why he shouldn’t have been able to do what he did. It might not be easy for the general public to understand what I mean, but in some ways having a strong team-mate like myself also helped in his favour, I don’t want to come across as trying to talk myself up, it could have been anybody not just me, but if he didn’t have a fast team-mate the progression of the bike, being a new model, it would not have progressed as it did. It worked in his favour, so whilst he was learning the track and getting grounded at each round I was getting on with the job, I wasn’t learning the track or having to ease my way into it, I was at the coal-face so to speak chipping away, getting the ground-work done so that by Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session, when he was up to speed and had his head in the place that most other riders were from Friday practice, the bike had already progressed to a position where he could then carry it on, does that make sense…? By me being fast and competitive not only helped him, but also perhaps hindered me because it gave him a platform to go on with. I hope that doesn’t sound like sour grapes, because it is not meant to, I am just trying to explain factually what went on. Scott is obviously a class rider, a fierce rival, he quickly recognised the threat I was to him and his potential to win the championship, so that brought up a divide very quickly between us as we had to race each other every weekend, and it is difficult to be friends racing at that level.”
Will Redding now have any sort of advantage going into WorldSBK after that experience in BSB, or might it work against him? He has plenty of smart people to program all those systems for him within that factory Ducati Team.
“He has got a good network around him, I don’t think you could call coming from BSB an advantage against the guys he will be racing against, in what he is bringing, or what he has come from. But most definitely it is probably the best platform to build that next step from, I think without that year in BSB he might have found it more difficult to transition quickly into WorldSBK, so yes definitely favourable situation for him to have had a season in BSB after MotoGP before heading to WorldSBK. That is the best perspective I can give.”
Who is your tip for the MotoGP crown this year? You a Rossi fan-boy or do you think Marquez is the second coming of Christ?
“I really like Rossi (Josh used to carry Joshifumi stickers on his bikes for a while when racing in Australia), when I was a kid coming up Rossi was doing all the things you dreamed of being able to do. Out of the two he is my preferred, I am a bigger fan of Rossi. I absolutely admire what Marquez has done and does, it is commendable.. I thought maybe Marquez might have been suffering a bit more with that shoulder injury than he let on. I don’t know the ins and outs, but from where I was anyway it looked like he was suffering more than he was letting on. This breathing period allowing him to recover properly has perhaps felt like something from god for him, as it is has given him that time to try and get back to strength and full fitness, and if you were a betting man you would have to go with Marc, he is too much of a proven package to bet against. But…the outsider… the person though I am kind of watching with interest..Quartararo is doing really impressive things sure, but the one I am even more interested to watch is Alex Rin. I still sort of look at Rins as new to MotoGP, so I think now with another year under his belt I think he could really come good. I am not across at what level of equipment he is on compared to the other bikes with the Suzuki, I don’t understand that side of the package he is riding on so it is difficult to say.. But yeah the stand-outs for me are Rossi as a fan, Marquez as the prominent winner but the next person I would like to keep an eye on is Rins, for some reason he strikes me as a quiet achiever. I think he could bring some real shock potential to the series.”
If you could throw a leg over one of the MotoGP bikes, which one would you be most keen to ride? Have you ever got to ride one…?
“It is a real difficult one… I think the most likely opportunity would obviously be riding a Ducati, and I would love to. I think as a first time MotoGP rider the Yamaha would probably be a more rider friendly bike, but then right back from the Mick Doohan, Criville, Okada, Gibernau days, to ride a Repsol Honda is kind of like that bucket list. I can’t really answer it in one straight sentence, but logically the Yamaha would probably be the most rider friendly bike, but the Ducati would be more likely that I would get the opportunity because I ride for Ducati currently, but the Honda is the stand-out bucket list because of the old 500 days going back to my times as a kid watching Mick Doohan win Grand Prix after Grand Prix.”
You have previously competed at the Isle of Man and also in World Endurance at events like Suzuka. Have you had any discussions with Ducati on the likelihood of competing in either of those disciplines? With the advent of the V4 there was some talk that Ducati was going to have a tilt at World Endurance along with a return to the Isle of Man…
“Yes well they did have an entry into the Isle of Man with Michael Dunlop… But for whatever reason I don’t know, my team didn’t want me to race the Isle of Man. The actual response I got in person was that, I can’t remember the exact words, but along the lines of they don’t want to see something bad happen to me so they would rather I did not race it. Obviously my team will be there and they had that entry in and they were going to go ahead with that commitment with Michael Dunlop, but it wasn’t to be for me… The other more corporate response I got was that we want you to focus on British Superbikes as that is our number one priority, so we don’t want it to be a distraction. Personally, I don’t think it would be a distraction but you know I am just an employee of the circus and I don’t get to call the shots and just ride with the opportunities I am given. Then in Endurance I have heard similar rumours, not anything official but have heard the same rumours you have about them being interested in doing some endurance racing, and that Suzuka would likely be one of the ones they would start out with as it is the highest profile, but again these are just rumours and I don’t know how much focus the factory has towards it, but if the opportunity came I would be very keen and love to do it again but at the moment that option has certainly not been given to me.”
You were a teenager when I first started covering your rise through the ranks in racing, right back to even before that day you flipped that 125 over the hill at Wanneroo! (yeah thanks for bringing that up Trev)… You recently turned 37, how many years do you think you have you got left in you at the top level do you think? You certainly look as fit as ever, and I know that drive to win that defines who you are still burns very intensely…
“I will race as long as my body allows me to. I certainly don’t feel any different than I did when I was probably 20-or 21… Any time I look ahead….obviously I am closer to the end rather than the start, so when I look forward or for examples there are two determing factors, they either stop being fast, or they get injured, inevitably, I am a realist and don’t try to sugar-coat stuff, the reality is one of those things are going to happen, I am going to stop being competitive and then be fed up and not want to do it any more, or I will get injured, and not to sound negative or focus on the negatives, but that is the reality, you know everyone around you either gets slow or gets hurt. Could be three years, could be five years, I don’t know. Troy Bayliss and Kevin Curtain were good examples, if you still have the desire and you are still fast I think you can competitively keep racing. I think the important thing is that as we get older we don’t fall off as much, you’ve got more experience so you don’t tend to fall into the traps so easily, so I am hoping… I couldn’t put an answer on it… But I hope I have got a good few years still.”
What’s your favourite moment of your life in racing so far?
“Winning the World Supersport as a wildcard in 2004 with my Australian team on my Australian bike. Everything about it was great, I was a young kid, I had a good network of people around me, it was like a family racing environment, I went into the World Championship, you know always looked at it as the destination to get to, and I didn’t just have a go, I went and won the race! And against really competitive World Supersport racers, it wasn’t as if there was some freak weather, tyre attrition or some other outside influence or stroke of luck that was a factor, it was just me and the competitors that I was racing against and I won it fair and square. It still feels like a fairytale even now as I think about it, and go through the emotions, it was awesome… There are loads of things that stand out but if I had to pick one then that’s it, it was awesome.”
Best crew chief you ever worked with?
“That is not very fair… Ummm.. Oh god, that’s not fair, I have to pick one don’t I… Ummm… In recent times it would be Stew (Stewart Winton).. but I think overall to answer your question it was Garry House. He is just a legend, he has worked with so many people for so many years, and just such a super nice person and a wealth of knowledge, and you would recognise that yourself I am sure. I am pretty sure Stew would recognise that too and not be offended by me naming Gaz as the best guy I have worked with.”
Best team you ever worked with?
“Best team…It will come as a surprise, it was the team I had in 2015, the BSB championship winning year. It was the same group of people the following year but some personnel had changed…. I think in any business environment where you are working with a number of people or employees, it only takes one person to come in and completely change the dynamics and it really has a big effect, so you think, within reason, almost the same people I had the year before, and yet the following year 2016 it was like the wheels fell off the cart. It is almost as though the best crew of people I worked with was in 2015, and in contrast it felt almost like the worst group of people in 2016 just because the environmental dynamics had changed with the staff line-up, that might be hard to understand but it is what it is so I just have to say it, that’s how it was.”
I know you have been following my ‘Twisted ASBK Interview’ series, let’s take the same angle and upset a few people.
Who is the dirtiest rider you least trust when racing against?
“I think it was because of the dynamics of the team, but it was Shannon Johnson. And it has got to be commendable in some ways, but his desire to win was more important than anyone’s health is how it felt at the time. It is not a dig at Shannon, I message him from time to time and it is water under the bridge, that was a long time ago, but yeah he was certainly a standout.”
Who would you most like to punch in the BSB paddock?
“This has come up a few times, (questions girlfriend Amy who comments that he has no real strong hatred towards)… No real hatreds and like I said earlier I don’t involve myself with people I race against too much as I have to be competitive against them. I would have said Peter Hickman maybe (Josh asks Amy), and I can’t even think why, there is nothing specific that sticks out, but maybe there is some background to it…There has got to be someone that is a standout surely….Can we come back to that one… (We come back to it later and he tells me ‘Scott, because he beat me to the title.'”
Who would you least like to be punched by in the BSB paddock?
“Maybe Scott perhaps, he has long arms for good reach, and does train with boxing so I imagine he has probably got a good technique.”
If you were stuck on a deserted island, which BSB rider would you choose to be stuck with?
“Tommy Bridewell, he is the only one I am kind of buddies with off track… He is actually quite funny, can’t imagine he would be very helpful with anything though, but he is quite funny to be around...”
Who is the king of swiping right during BSB race weekends?
Who is the biggest princess in the BSB paddock?
“Danny Buchan. Because he is always quick to dish out insults…. We are kind of friends, so I don’t mean that in a nasty way, but yeah Danny Buchan as he is always quick to dish out a criticism on what I have said post race or something, so yeah he is a bit of a princess...”
What is the worst track BSB visits?
Which corner on the BSB calendar is your favourite?
“Probably, Hawthorns, the right-hander at the end of the straight at Brands. It is an odd favourite, it is quite scary, but I think maybe that is why I like it, as when you get through it safely and well you get a sense of reward.”
Which corner would you liked to see nuked from orbit?
“Britten’s Chicane at Oulton Park. It is just like a road block, it doesn’t fit the circuit. It got added years ago for safety, but it just doesn’t fit the flow of the track, so I find every lap when I get there it just doesnt feel natural to try and stop and turn in such a nadgery way on these bikes. And over history I have been quite poor for a really right hairpin or chicane, would be weak places like that are always the reoccurring sectors where I suffer.”
If you could overtake one rider, on one corner, who would it be, and where, and how?
“Tom Bridewell, because we are friends and I like stirring him up… And he would take getting beaten more personally than anyone else I know. Nobody likes getting beat, but I think it is to do with me, if I beat him it really gets under his skin, so yep Tom at the last corner of Brands Hatch on the last lap, so it would be the most insulting way to pass him if that makes sense. Not because I don’t like him, but because I like him, means I would like to do it even more, you know what I mean, as you like to wind your friends up…”
Which animal would you most liken yourself to?
“Possum. Because I have got one living up in the garage that comes down most nights and I feed it.”
You need to borrow tools. Who would you ask first? Who would you never ask?
“My race team as they have a full stock. I would never ask my dad, because they all would be busted or damaged from him not using them correctly, and they would all be cheap rubbish be bought from a discount store somewhere.”
If you weren’t racing, what would you be in jail for?
“I would have to imagine it would be for speed, not the drug, but if I didn’t get the racing out of my system on the track, then I would probably end up getting done for something speed related on the road. And we all know how severe they are about that these days around here.”
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
“I think it has been used a few times, but ‘Life behind bars’.”
How would you describe yourself in three words?
“Not a word as such, but I would say I am OCD. So perhaps three letters rather than three words. I am OCD, I am stubborn, I think I am funny but I am probably not that funny, but I would say I am honest, too honest sometimes.”
If you won a million dollars on Lotto what would be the first thing you would buy?
If you could keep one of your race bikes from throughout your career which one would it be? And why?
“Probably this years bike, as it is the most expensive one I have ridden.”
What is your plan for life after racing?
“Ummm.. Just wing it…”