Trevor Hedge: G’day Josh, thought we were probably more than overdue for a quick chat, so thanks for your time today. You have been doing some adventure riding again this time while home, a bit of that two-up with your wife, what have been the highlights of some of those travels?
Josh Brookes: “It’s just been local stuff really this time around, but at the start of the last year, just before I left to go back to the UK for last season, we went down to Tassie and did a five-day ride, which was great. The temperature wasn’t ideal though, you’d think march in Australia would be quite warm still, but Tassie can be still quite cold.. I hadn’t been there at all even during all my racing career in Australia, so it was a good experience to see more of the country. I also travelled with a sponsor Milspec, Steve Byrne, and some of his friends. So it was good to catch up with them as it’s important, with the limited time I have here in Australia, to be able to spend some time with people who support my racing.”
You were out at the St. George Summer Series at SMSP the other week, were you tempted to try and organise a bike to ride? Although a spare Panigale R is probably not all that easy to come by, and I guess due to contractual reasons that would be the only bike you would be allowed to race?
Brookes: “That’s all true and correct, I would like to, I mean I just like riding Eastern Creek – I know they call it Sydney Motorsport Park – but I still call it Eastern Creek. It’s just a good track, and to have it under lights as well adds another element. I look forward to the chance to get to ride the circuit again and if it’s at one of the St George races even better. But unless I’m riding a Ducati it’s not politically correct.”
Trev: The 2021 BSB season seemed to be quite a difficult season at times for you, there was some paddock talk that the bikes had a new and more powerful engine for last season that made it really hard to get the power down, is that correct? Or what is the real story about what held you back at times?
Brookes: “Yes to a degree, that’s it, the engine got updated from ‘19 to ‘20 and then updated again in 2021, obviously with every motivation to make things better, as nobody intends to make it worse, that’s not the motive, but the team committed to the latest spec’ engine and purchased them all ready for this season, and as the rounds went on it was becoming more evident to me that there was a problem.
“So when you know that chassis wise it is all exactly the same, and we even swapped swing-arms to check it wasn’t that, plus I had a crash in testing so we put a new chassis in, just to make sure it wasn’t any of these other elements that could be contributing, and all we were left to think was that it was the spec’ of the engine, because everything else seemed more or less the same.
“We were left to wonder, was it our spec’ ECU, the engine has improved but the fact we don’t have the ability to tune it the way other series do. Is that where the element or area of question is? Or is it just purely the engine, for gaining more top power lost its efficiency in corners?
“So, I wouldn’t say it was harder to ride, the bike felt very linear in the power but it just didn’t have any grip, maybe something to do with the harmonics of the engine, it’s getting a bit technical, but it wasn’t that it was difficult, it was that it didn’t perform in regards to grip.
“You know it was harder on the tyre and just didn’t drive off the turn the way I am used to, and at least to match my competitors, so something was lost through the search for more power. But the desire to get more power was achieved, because we topped almost every top speed for all the tracks. But if there was a speed check that was on the exit of the corner, I would have been well down that list. But if it was just middle of a long straight I was always top, or in the top two. But most times top. So that’s more or less what I was dealing with.”
Trev: On the metric of race wins and podiums, you are the second most successful rider in British Superbike history, 54 wins and 147 podiums across four different brands of machinery, Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda. Two titles, four-time runner up. Only six-time BSB champ Shane Byrne has more wins and podiums. You have also been inducted into the BSB Legends. That’s a mighty record indeed, and one you can be justifiably proud of. Amongst all that success, what are a couple of your most memorable moments in BSB?
Brookes: “I mean it’s hard to go past the championships, they are the thing that everybody strives for and for the two that I’ve won, they easily stand out for highlights for me. Probably the next biggest highlight or standout point was 2017 when I just came back from WorldSBK and I rode for an independent team that everybody kind of shunned, and was thought it was a lower quality bike and team than what you would think would get anywhere near the top and I was able to win races and narrowly missed out on the championship by just three points.
“It was a number of weekends where I thought if I hadn’t made that mistake or crashed here that would have easily made those three points I needed up, so that was quite a standout year really. Particularly because it was independent private, family run team, there was no special access to anything, parts, wires, or special treatment for anything. It was all just a private family run team, so to get second was as good as winning in some ways.”
Trev: McAMS Yamaha were fairly dominant in 2021, and we nearly saw another Australian crowned champion with Jason O’Halloran scoring so many wins only to be gazumped at the final juncture by his team-mate under BSB’s Showdown regimen. We are yet to see the official rev limits that are to be imposed for each motorcycle under BSB’s parity regimen for the start of season 2022. What’s your take on how that worked in 2021, and your thoughts about the system used by BSB in regards to trying to equalise the field?
Brookes: “I think it works really well, if the question was ‘what do you think makes the BSB so strong,’ I think it is that parity between the bikes, the spec’ ECU that everybody has to run, the adjustments they make to keep – as you say – parity between teams and bikes, I think that works perfectly.
“Obviously I’ve got a biased opinion, but I don’t think that last year the championship stepped up a notch, I think it was that we lost performance, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the bike, or the rules, or how it’s been policed, or designed. That was our own issue from my point of view, my own or our own area of lack of performance that stopped us from being more competitive.
“I wouldn’t try and reflect that on the design of the championship and I do genuinely think that the parity between bikes is ideal, because at some tracks you get Suzuki winning, at other tracks the Ducati are stronger, and then obviously the Yamahas are good at their strong tracks too. BMW did get good results too… so it doesn’t really favour any bike and doesn’t really hinder any either, so I think it’s a well-rounded design that they’ve got for the bikes spec…”
Trev: The control MoTeC unit employed by BSB, with no ‘traction control’ system allowed. I, and I am sure my readers, would also be interested in your thoughts in regards to that situation. There is still a massive amount of time, and money to pay for that time, invested in getting the best out of the electronic systems available to you in BSB. Do you think the banning of ‘traction control’ per se, could be a false economy somewhat as teams then spend so much time essentially trying to work around those restrictions to try and provide riders with traction?
Brookes: “No, not at all, I don’t feel like and I haven’t heard comments from any other riders or teams to feel that they feel like that either. My opinion is that it does work, it does limit the costs, does mean that independent teams have equal opportunity as factory ones, because even a factory team in BSB is still a private run team, just with a factory banner sort of thing. So I think that the whole way that the ECU is controlled is part of the previous statement, saying how well rounded the series is and how well matched, and I think the ECU is heavily influencing that balance. Without going into every small detail, I think the answer is that it’s a good thing and I don’t think there’s any negatives around it at this point.”
Trev: I still hear anecdotes that might be right or wrong, that some BSB teams still employ full time one, or perhaps even two guys, that just concentrate on electronics smarts. Is that true? Are people still spending that sort of money despite the control ECU? Do you still see from your experience such a massive investment in time even with an ECU that like you say, is quite well controlled?
Brookes: “Every team does have a specific person, there is someone that has that skillset, even though there’s a control ECU, there’s equally a lot of tuning you can do, throttle maps, torque curves, and engine brake control, fueling, stuff like that, it’s still very complex world, when you’re not trained in that area. So I think it is still absolutely necessary to have a data person in each team, and I think it’s a necessary evil, the cost of one person isn’t going to bankrupt a team… if for a BSB team the difference between being able to race competitively or not, or not being able to race at all is over one staff member, I think they are out of their depth – in a lot of ways – because one crash can often do the damage of what some of these staff members are on for a year.
“So I don’t think the costs of the data person is enough to say it’s a negative. But racing is expensive, let’s not get away from the fact that racing motorcycle is an expensive and luxury sort of sport, so it’s just to try and you know, for the lack of a better word, instead of taking the piss and letting it get out of hand – like the money that some teams spend in World Superbike for example – the British Championship has been able to step a long way back from those expenses and that’s due to only needing let’s say one data guy and the ECU package has been affordable from the get go.”
Engine brake controls are something you’d spend a significant amount of time mapping? Can you map corner by corner and have engine brake control corner by corner, with the MoTeC ECU that you use in BSB?
Brookes: “No not corner by corner, there’s a heavy focus on engine brake that’s probably one of the main areas of adjustment during a race weekend, or at least with communication between me and the crew. I don’t know the correct terminology, but it’s a very two dimensional platform. I don’t know if that’s the correct term, but it’s basically you can’t make changes unless you come into the pits and plug in, and changes are made at that point. The engine brake is controlled by rpm vs wheel speed and stuff like that, so it’s fixed figures. It doesn’t change corner by corner, or use GPS or anything fancy like that. It allows it to make adjustments to the bike so that people can set the bike to their personal preference, but it doesn’t make it a laptop championship. It’s still down to the rider, but it’s how well I guess the crew and the rider can communicate what they want to achieve and how to go about achieving that.”
Trev: You’ve still got to do your best with the tools provided… What’s your thoughts about ASBK currently being fairly open in regards to electronics, as now we have some pretty sophisticated electronic packages available on some of the bikes. We have systems on some of the ASBK bikes that are capable of corner by corner engine torque maps, and corner by corner engine braking control maps, by the rules our ASBK bikes are not allowed to use the corner to corner functionality, but M.A. technical staff don’t actually have the tools to plug in to the bikes and see if any of the teams here are using that functionality, so it is effectively unpoliced… What’s your thoughts on that, and what we should be doing back here at home?
Brookes: “I’m only saying it because purely because it works in BSB, I don’t have any other evidence to back up my claim, but purely from my own experience racing in British Superbike, I think that the controlled ECU is a cost effective yet not limiting option, so if you have got skills and feedback that can improve the bike, you have the ability to adjust, it just doesn’t have a price tag which is outside of most team’s reach.
“I wouldn’t be keen to say what I think should happen, but if there was a way for Australia to develop or somehow tailor their championship regulations off of what they can see the BSB are doing, that’s proven to work well, and in my opinion that would be a good thing. Because like you’ve explained, some of the teams have probably gone to a level now which most private riders teams wouldn’t be able to imagine purchasing, let alone having the ability to tune…”
Trev: There is also a worldwide testing ban for all riders on the 2022 Bennetts BSB Official Provisional Entry List in force from January 1 through to March 10, and then from March 11 through to October 13 testing will be restricted to 12 days only at permanent circuits, and those 12 days are inclusive of the official BSB Tests, which pretty much means if you do the official tests you are allowed essentially no extra testing at all during the season, outside of the official ones. What are your thoughts in regards to these testing restrictions?
Brookes: “It’s a double edged sword, me personally on a selfish level I’d like to test more. But the reality of it, cost-wise, circuit availability, cost of staff for those extra days, how the team obviously put their package into the budget, and doing the official tests before the season is sort of what they’ve calculated for.
“Last year it almost made it impossible to do any extra testing anyway, because rather than starting in April and running 12 rounds till October we started in I think June and ran 11 rounds into October, so it was the same amount of rounds nearly, minus one, but had three races per round to make up the difference which heavily increased the amount of races we had, so the reality of trying to add testing into that program as well, probably would have become quite problematic.
“I think this year being that the championship starts in April and is spread out over more space and time, I’m gonna kind of want to do more testing, but that’s the rules, as long as it’s the same for everybody, it’s like the ECU, as long as no one else is getting an advantage, it doesn’t have any burden or disadvantage on anyone.”
Trev: There has been no official announcements from the team you rode for in 2021, Visiontrack Ducati, about their plans for 2022, will you be with them again in BSB this season on a Ducati?
Brookes: “We had an agreement made before the end of season last year, but I think the reason for having no press releases and the like, is that I believe at the moment the team is in the process of trying to bring new people into the racing sponsorship world, so if and when that’s achieved is when announcements will be made. They will try and put as much focus on a new sponsors as possible but for the moment it’s just an agreement that we know we’ve got.”
Trev: I know you are a keen follower of motocross and supercross. Have you been following the progress and success of the Lawrence boys over in America? And who is your tip for the MXGP title this season?
Brookes: “I don’t follow the MXGP a great deal, I once did a bit more because of Cairoli, and Herlings and there’s some old key names that I like to hear of where they are finishing and how they are going. I knew that Cairoli was retiring at the end of last season, so I was kind of paying attention to where he was running as it was his final year. As a general rule though when it’s in front of me I watch it, but I don’t have a religious sort of thing where every time it’s on I sit down to watch it. I have a pretty busy lifestyle.
“You’d have to be a blind and deaf person not to have seen the success of the Lawrence brothers last year, so I mean anyone that’s Australian that’s got any interest in motorbikes would have been excited for Hunter and Jett to watch them do what they are doing. It’s good, I’ve kept an eye on what was happening and it was good to see some Aussie guys going to the top, so I’ll keep focusing on that. Most of my motocross stuff is focused on myself personally, getting out as often as I can and trying to ride as opposed to the sit down and watching other people have the fun…”
Trev: World Superbike was certainly an interesting season in 2021, what thoughts do you have, if any, on the Razgat versus Rea battles and how your old team-mate Scott Redding went? And who is your tip for 2022?
Brookes: “I was a bit disappointed that Scott wasn’t able to do more, we were definitely rivals in 2019 and being in the same team stirred the pot a bit, but for 2020 and last year I kind of wanted Scott to do well. During the season when you race against them, you kind of cursing every time he does well, and then the very following year you’re sort of finding yourself promoting what he is doing. So I was hoping more, for Scott, I don’t know his personal circumstances, with the bike or the team, so I can’t comment on why his performances weren’t stronger.
“Then Jonny and Toprak were exciting to watch, it was good, so for the first time for a long time, I’ve been interested in following what’s been happening in the World Superbikes. I feel guilty as a motorcycle racer and fan of motorbike racing to say that World Superbikes kind of got a bit stale. And I feel that Jonny’s success has contributed to that, not that it’s Jonny’s fault, anyone that would have won repeatedly like he did would start to get the same sort of reaction. Even I think, when there was a period when Valentino seemed to win everything, and then also when Marquez was appearing to just win every weekend, it was sort of almost got a bit ‘eh.’ There wasn’t enough excitement, which motorbikes have always been able to claim being exciting spectator sport. It’s always had that claim to fame so when you see it sort of becoming a bit boring, it’s quite upsetting. It’s known for being such an exciting watch, and it’s sort of become a bit mundane. So any time there’s a strong rivalry at the front it’s good…”
Trev: Some of those braking maneuvers by Toprak were just unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, with the back wheel in the air from about 200 metres back, then carrying all the way nearly to the apex with the back still off the ground and the bike already getting a fair bit of lean angle. It was just ludicrous really, pretty good fun to see though…
Brookes: “Yes as a rider myself, and someone racing, it’s good to see people finding new limits, it kind of motivates yourself to look where you can change and improve, in areas that you can do things different. You know, it’s not a new sport, unlike freestyle motocross, the amount of change you’ve seen in that game in the last 10 years is unreal. Or if you go back 20 years let’s say, the change you’ve seen at the top of the sport is mind blowing. Unfortunately because road racing is such an old sport and been going for such a long period of time, change at the top and things that riders can do is sort of limited, so when you do see someone doing something different it’s encouraging that the limit hasn’t been found. There’s still areas to explore and things you can do that for most people would end up in a crash, but if someone can prove it doesn’t always have to be a crash it can be controlled, it opens your mind up to what else can be achieved. So I think it’s all positive stuff.”
Trev: Your thoughts on MotoGP season 2021 and who would you like to see win in 2022?
Brookes: “It was good, I mean it’s good to see a lot of new names in the championship, but then to see Valentino finish the way he did, felt unjust – like I said earlier I don’t have a lot of evidence to back up my comments but – I don’t feel like he was on a competitive bike last year, so to watch him finish his racing career when he was such a highlight for all of my racing time, it was a bit I guess an anti-climax. I felt disappointed that he didn’t have an opportunity to do better on his final year.
“I think Quartararo was a deserving winner, throughout the year he showed class, and consistency, and it was a deserving championship win for him. I really find looking into next year it’s probably one of the most difficult years for me to say who I think would be the strong, or the pick of the bunch. There’s so many variables with the bikes improving throughout the off-season, the question marks around Marc and how his condition is, there’s so many little elements to each person’s story that makes it very difficult to put a good idea together as to who is going to be the best.”
Trev: Who would you want to win in MotoGP?
Brookes: “I suppose people are going to say it’s because I ride for Ducati, but one of the Ducati guys would be a nice change, I mean obviously being an Australian it would be awesome to see Jack Miller become the champ but in the most respectful way, I just don’t know if he’s got the last couple of per cent that a couple of others have got. I don’t know what that is, I couldn’t say. I don’t know what he’s missing, but it seems like over the course of a year he’s just missing something, maybe something that can be found in himself, or his team or his bike for this new year. But I would love to see him pull it all together and do it.
“Even to see one of the satellite Ducati’s come through, it feels like Ducati have been trying so hard, and the reason I feel like that is because they seem to be the ones pushing the envelope of development, bringing out the wings first, and all these little quirks that the rest of the teams and brands seem to follow. I think that because they’ve been so long on the cutting edge, it would be justified if they could put a championship win under their belt.”
Trev: Thanks for your time today Josh, and all the best for this coming season.
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