BSB frontrunner on Yamaha switch and winning weekend at Oulton Park.
Perennial British Superbike Championship (BSB) challenger Josh Brookes has a new lease on his title aspirations after a seamless switch from Suzuki to Yamaha in 2014.
CycleOnline.com.au spoke to Brookes to discuss a successful showing at Oulton Park, the brand switch and how he feels fellow Aussies are faring in the world’s most competitive domestic series.
Before we get into the Oulton Park race weekend, can you bring us up to speed on the switch from Suzuki to Yamaha and tell us the main differences you noted between the GSX-R1000 and YZF-R1 race package?
The main background behind the change was that I did three years at Suzuki, and I couldn’t see any improvement. For three years I got constant podiums and wins, but unless you create change then nothing changes. I didn’t want another season of just podium finishes; I wanted to do something that could win. Comparing with my competition, I’ve seen that the Yamaha was a stronger bike than the Suzuki as a general package, so I changed to Yamaha. I’d been with Honda before and didn’t want to go back there, and there wasn’t an opportunity with PBM [Paul Bird Motorsport] Kawasaki, so I didn’t consider that.
From the get-go, from the first test, I felt quite comfortable and at ease. People had always drubbed up the differences between Yamahas and other bikes, but I’ve ridden Kawasaki, Ducati, Hondas and Suzukis, and this was the only bike I hadn’t ridden. I just put all that to rest. It’s just a motorbike, the throttle is still on the right, the tyres are still black and round – you just get on with it. The bike has loads of mid-range torque, which is really handy to have at the circuits we race on in the BSB, and the general feel of the bike was really nice. I just got to making changes and finding the settings that would make me feel most comfortable.
We went to round one at Brands Hatch and almost led every timesheet throughout the weekend. The weather was dodgy, and the track was contaminated in qualifying and I had a few falls, but I still managed to get pole. While leading the first race I fell off, my own mistake, maybe just me trying too hard too early with the full tank of fuel. I started the second race in 10th and made my way up to second, almost winning it. Normally if you have a few crashes it knocks your confidence a bit, but I could see good reason for my falls at the opening round. Literally standing at the post-qualifying press conference, none of our bikes were there, all the top three had fallen off.
Oulton Park saw that battle between yourself and Shane Byrne from Brands Hatch continue, with both of you spurring each other on to some really quick times in qualifying. Are you happy with your rapid adjustment to what the bike asks of you for that important flying lap in qualifying?
Again at the second round I led most of the sessions for the weekend. That had never happened at Suzuki, I was always at the front, or thereabouts, but never consistently fastest in every session. We were always there in the top three or four, but never dominant. At Oulton Park quite often I was, for most of the session or at the end, I was on P1, which gives you confidence. In qualifying Shane did a phenomenal time, both of us did, in fact. We were both under the lap record. I was over half-a-second under, and then he went nearly a full second under. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good qualifying, it was just that he was better. I was actually quite happy – if he hadn’t been there, and if I had been on pole, I’d have been pleased with that lap. But I guess Shakey stole my thunder a bit with what he was able to do. I didn’t lose any confidence though, it was only the one lap and we had both put on the softer of the tyre, not the tyre we were going to race on.
Race one was an absolute thriller. Can you talk us through the early stages and how the safety car changed things, right through to your late charge for the lead?
The safety car came out on the first lap because there was a big accident at the start, and they had to spend some time cleaning things up. Even though you’re rolling around, and the car’s going as quick as it can, the tyres still do lose their temperature, and you don’t really get that same hyped energy on the restart. Having the green flag waved at you as the signal to go just kind of changes the mood of the race, and I think, in a way, that may have disrupted my race rhythm. It took me a while to get into the zone where I was able to do good, fast laps, and I lost too much ground to Shakey in the middle of the race. Later in the race I got the lap record for the circuit and caught onto the back wheel of Shane, but it was too little too late. I’d made up the big gap I’d lost but trying to pass as well was too much.
You mentioned the laps behind the safety car changed up your rhythm in race one, but race two you controlled from the outset. How determined were you to hang onto that lead and register a win to round out the weekend?
I was able to lead from pole position, almost from start to finish. Shane got past once and I passed him straight back. He put pressure on me the whole race through, which makes it quite difficult to lead with such a short margin. But I kept it together all the way to the finish.
The season’s only a few rounds in and things seem to be going to plan for you. Do you feel that this could be the year that everything aligns for you and you break free of the runner-up tag?
I came really close with Honda, and then also really close with Suzuki. It’s very early days, we’re only just past the second round. There’s a bit of a gap there now with the North West 200 and the Isle of Man TT. And then you’ve got the whole British series configuration with the top six in the Title Fighters. There are so many elements that are so hard to predict. But if you went on paper, to determine if a championship was possible, then yes I do think this is a better possibility. I’d never lost hope in the years before and had ridden all the way to the end of the last round, but so many times it was second or third.
I was pleased with all my best results of the previous years, but I have to think that the Yamaha is going to be the difference that I was lacking. So far the lap times have been better, we went under the lap record in testing, we were equal to the lap record at Brands Hatch Indy, and got the lap record last weekend at Oulton Park. So as a rule of thumb, it’s a pretty good indication that we’re on a good package here that we didn’t have before.
You’re joined in BSB by two Aussies this year. Josh Waters is in his second season, effectively completing a bike and team swap with yourself. Mitchell Carr is a newcomer into the mix, riding with Kawasaki. How do you feel the guys are faring so far?
I’ve got really high expectations of Josh’s ability. I’ve ridden bikes that he’s ridden, for example, the Suzuka 8 Hour for Yoshimura, so I know his calibre of riding is extremely high. But he hasn’t been able to achieve that in BSB, for what reason I don’t know. It could be the tracks, or the environment you have to work in over here. It’s definitely not like Australian Superbikes. If you come over here with the same attitude you have there to succeed, I’d say you’re in with a bit of a shock. You need to adapt to suit the event, the championship, the bike, the circuits – there are so many things. And then you have to try to bring your calibre of riding to the front.
And so far, I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for him. I hopped off the Suzuki because I knew it didn’t have the capabilities to win. I don’t know why he didn’t enjoy riding the Yamaha, it’s not that it isn’t a good package. He didn’t like it and didn’t enjoy riding it. It definitely didn’t show his true potential. I know he can do better than what he’s been able to show so far. But it will be tough. He went to testing and while not off the pace, wasn’t on that pace that the other guys were. Also his teammate, John Hopkins, has come in and he’s struggling there too.
The Suzuki has stayed still and last year it wasn’t good enough to win. This year, if you look at the race time from last year and the time of 18 laps this year at Oulton Park, we were 10 seconds quicker. So that’s half a second a lap. So the Suzuki not only needed to improve to win last year, it also needed to have improved half a second more to be competitive this year. Had I have ridden the exact pace that I rode at the weekend where I won by point-something of a second, that result last year would have put me 10 seconds in the lead. So if you paint that picture on what Josh has got to try to achieve, it makes the chances very shallow of him doing what he expects and I guess the Australian public expects to see him achieve. No disrespect to him, I’m just trying to be realistic in terms of what the statistics show. At the moment, he’s up against it. I don’t envy his position at the moment and wish him all the best.
I don’t know too much about Mitchell’s background. I left Australia in 2005 after winning the title, and I’ve been away a long time. I’ve been separated from what’s going on there. As much as the Australian media doesn’t cover what’s happening in Europe and different championships overseas, over here don’t cover the Australian championships either. I’m disconnected somewhat from what’s going on in Australia. I don’t really know Mitchell’s capabilities, but he’s obviously got high hopes if he has made the move to the UK to try to challenge over here. In some ways I think the British championship is harder than the world championship, in terms of the depth of the field.
You highlighted that gap bridging racing in Australia and the United Kingdom. How do you feel the current situation in Australia with the prevalence of more stock rules is affecting guys, particularly like Josh, who are trying to make a name abroad?
One of the greatest difficulties I found when I went to the UK was the bikes that we raced on in Australia were more Superstock standard. World Superbike or BSB-spec bikes are just so different. For example, Danny Buchan, the English lad on a Kawasaki that won the last Superstock round, won easily and looked like the perfect winner. In the middle of the year before last, he was in British Superbikes, and I don’t think he even showed his name in the top 10 once.
It’s because it takes a completely different riding style, technique and preparation to ride. Because you’re limited to what you can change; you’ve got the control tyre, control suspension, control chassis, control ECU, control brakes, standard swingarm, no link changes, no pivot changes, no headstock changes, no fork offset changes – everyone can potentially hop on the bike and ride it to its fullest. There’s a big number of people that can hop on the same motorbike and run the same pace. But on the Superbike, you need so much more. You need to have great feedback to the team, an understanding of how each piece works mechanically, but most importantly you need a great structure of people around you that can help you to develop the bike into something successful.
So going from Australian Superbikes, it’s a huge task. Unfortunately, it’s a catch 22. The Aussie market doesn’t have the finances to run anything beyond what they’re doing. The first thing they need to do is to piss it off to one championship, and stop diluting the system. I haven’t got the answers but there just isn’t enough people to run two. The other main countries you think of have the one series. There’s no way the tiny little industry in Australia can support two. It’s a bit sad for me to watch from a distance, the demise of the racing.