Josh Brookes tells us about the road to BSB success and what he plans to do next
Josh Brookes wrapped up the British Superbike championship at the last round at Brands Hatch in fine style last month and wasted no time in jetting off 'Down Under’ to enjoy a well-earned break.
This week Josh took some time out to talk to the sundayworld.com, giving his thoughts on his past, present and future plans…and of course that Rossi/Marquez incident.
Josh had a most difficult introduction to the BSB series when he arrived in 2009. And the 32-year-old says it all started long before he even arrived.
At the time, the official Honda Team, HM Plant, was the team to beat and with one incumbent foreign rider (Glen Richards), the announcement of another non-British rider did not go down well with the British public.
“The public perception at the time was, ‘Why do we have another international rider coming into a factory team when there was a lot of young talented British riders trying to make their way?’,” says Josh (32).
This was followed by Josh missing the first round, as Honda were unable to get his visa sorted on time, something that Josh feels some way hard done by.
“The was a perception that the reason that I didn’t get into the country for the first round was something of my own doing where in actual fact it was Honda’s lack of ability to be prepared for what they had invited me into the country for,” explains Josh.
And if things couldn’t get any worse, at the third round at Donington Park, a brake failure on the formation lap caused a serious accident, taking out the popular French rider Sylvain Guintoli, putting paid to Josh’s inaugural season.
The die was cast and the ‘Bad Boy’ Brookes moniker was spawned. Since then, Brookes says it’s been an uphill battle to gain the trust of BSB fans.
“I always had to do a lot of hard work to get the people on my side,” he says. And despite being the same person both on and off the bike, “it took people a long time to warm to me after a bad experience as a starting point”.
Josh feels now that when people reflect on his career as a whole in Britain, they might accept that he “didn’t get a fair run at the start”.
Brooks has some fond memories from his next team; Irish-based Tyco Suzuki, where he spent a very happy three years despite the odd disagreement with team Principal Philip Neill.
“I was super happy with the team and what they wanted to achieve,” Sydney-born Brookes says.
“Tyco wanted to win the British championship as much as I did but the material at the time wasn’t up to winning. In my final year I think I got 23 podiums, while the following year they only managed three between the two riders. So I believe that I got the most out of the bike.”
The rider felt that after three years at Tyco, he could not see that he could progress with the bike and felt he had to leave for a better opportunity. This move, while obvious, was a difficult one for Brookes because “the Team did nothing wrong as people, Philip Neill did nothing wrong as a team owner and there was no animosity what so ever”.
“While I was there, they did their best but the material just wasn’t there. I left on the grounds that I didn’t see the bike improving more, so I didn’t think the team was capable of winning the championship.”
He was unveiled as a Milwaukee Yamaha rider for the 2014 season where he managed a very credible fourth in the championship on an R1 which was also near the end of its development. Brookes now had his eye on a long-term strategy, so when Milwaukee Yamaha landed the new R1 for the 2015 season, this eventually gave Brookes the fighting chance he always needed.
SMR were one of the few domestic teams able to run the new R1 with factory oversight. As expected with a brand new bike just out of the crate, all was not plain sailing at the start of the season and some development work was inevitable.
“At the start of the season, the best I could hope for was to sneak on to the podium for the first four rounds with second or a third”.
Considerable work was done by his team to change the fuel tank to alter the centre of gravity and remap the EBC (electronic braking control), which allowed Brookes to enter corners as he likes and be more competitive on the brakes.
Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne, the reigning champion, did cast some dispersions on Brookes’s performance by maintaining that the Aussie’s bike was the difference but Brookes sees it differently.
“I don’t think I had the best bike, I just think that I had an equal opportunity,” says Brookes, who felt that in previous years he had lesser-spec machinery.
“This year the playing field was equal and I was able to show my true potential,” he says.
It was not until mid season that Brookes felt that all the hard work came to fruition and from Brands on the bike stayed much the same bar a few small tweaks. Except for a couple of wins from Shakey at Oulton Park and an uncharacteristic mistake at the last race, Brookes was unbeatable, winning the championship with something to spare.
At long last, with the BSB championship under his belt, Brookes is keen to move on to the world stage where he feels he belongs. He says he does not want to stop at BSB.
“My main goal is to get World Superbikes and then further.”
He accepts that he will have to sacrifice his successful road racing career to concentrate on his future but explained that despite popular belief, “I had to work real hard on Philip Neill for a couple of years to let me go road racing but nobody took me seriously”. Now, he says, “I have to sideline other interests for the bigger goal”.
He was delighted to hear that BSB was considering returning to Ireland in the future and feels that the away rounds in no way detract from a national series.
“Fans are only looking for an excuse to travel these days,” he says. “It gives teams an opportunity to showcase the diverse ability of a team and riders which would make them more available to go on bigger and better things,”
Brookes is still coy about his own future as Shaun Muir announced that SMR will be going to WSBK but contracts have yet to be signed to decide on what make they will be going with.
It was a shock in the paddock that SMR were not nominated as the official factory Yamaha team in WSBK next season after undertaking so much development work and, most importantly, getting the results.
Brookes was quite philosophical about that decision and did not take it personally.
“Often these decisions are made on a purely financial basis, Yamaha needed a team that would run in a method and a way that they could control and with Shaun (Muir), he had already a team, sponsor and rider in place, so this left very little room for YME (Yamaha Motor Europe) to influence.
Josh wants to stick with Yamaha. “It’s the package we are familiar with. The team has the capability to work on any bike, it’s just wheels and tyres, and the expertise they need is the same for any brand”.
At long last, Josh Brookes should be getting back to the World Superbike paddock, still buoyed up by his championship win, and with the support of a well-oiled team, but the challenge ahead is going to be a big one.
Without factory support and with a team making their debut in the WSBK, Brookes will need to dig deep. With his desire, unquestionable talent and the support of a team hungry for results, Josh Brookes is always one to watch.
We couldn’t let Josh go without asking him his feelings as a rider about THAT incident in Sepang. Josh can’t hide his annoyance with the situation and states that he was initially surprised with Rossi’s pre-race press conference.
He didn’t believe that Marquez would deliberately interfere with another rider because there are “too many contractual obligations for a rider to fulfil to be seen to change their riding tack to be upsetting another rider”.
As the race unfolded, he was shocked that it turned out just as Rossi had predicted, with Marc passing him back but not pulling away as he feels he could. He feels it was “completely uncharacteristic” of Marques to continue to mix it with Rossi and not pursue the lead riders and try to bridge the gap. Eventually he felt it was inevitable that there was going to be a coming together and he is in no way critical of Rossi’s actions, maintaining that they “were not outside the boundaries of legal and within the rules because within the white lines you can ride wherever you want”.
“Marc wasn’t just riding for himself and for his best result but there was a premeditated thought that if he can screw Rossi over, he will, not going out of his way but if the opportunity presents itself he’ll make his life as difficult as he can.
“If you ride up against someone and catch a handlebar that’s the end result and it is very clear to me what happened”.
By Kevin McNulty