BSB champion talks winning season and 2016 WorldSBK transition.
Longtime Australian international Josh Brookes has been recognised as one of our top racers globally within the British Superbike Championship and this year he finally managed to bring home the championship once and for all. It was a convincing performance from the 32-year-old on the Milwaukee Yamaha YZF-R1, dominating the second half of the season in a result that will see him transfer to WorldSBK within the same team – on a different brand of bike – for 2016. CycleOnline.com.au caught up with Brookes upon his return home to Australia to speak about his title-winning season and what’s next.
First of all, congratulations on the championship now that you’re home, it was a really good season for you and you’ve now got that number one plate. Goal achieved in terms of British Superbikes…
Yeah, that’s right. It’s a strange emotion to wrap it up really. People are like ‘are you excited or overwhelmed by it all?’ and they sort of want to know how you feel. The best way for me to say it is when you win something that you weren’t expecting, it’s more of a surprise. Like, if you won a raffle or something, you weren’t really expecting it. But when you’ve been working at something for so many years and you believe that you should win it, it’s the years that you don’t win it that make for more questions, rather than the time when you finally do. It’s hard to have that spur of the moment sense of achievement. It’s more of a period of time over the next days or weeks, possibly when you’re on your own in the car thinking of everything – the difficult times, the good moments, and now there’s an achievement to justify it all.
Obviously this year there was a lot of expectation with the new R1 arriving for the season, so was it a case of everything coming together on and off the track that resulted in the championship win?
Definitely. In other years I’ve had the same preparation or thoughts. When you sign a contract for the year ahead, you’ve got good energy and thoughts for going forward, trying to think of the positives, what’s strong about the team and the bike, what’s going to be good and get better. Often you get to the end of the year and think ‘where did it all go wrong?’. The bike didn’t develop far enough, or you crashed at a really important time of the year, didn’t come back from that, or you got an injury. There’s so many reasons why it didn’t go to plan. But at the start, you always have this idea of how it’s going to pan out and really, this year just followed the plan. Like all the other years didn’t, this year finally did. I knew the bike was new, knew that it was going to take some time to develop so it’s worthy of race wins, but like any new bike it takes time to get a good feeling and understanding the best way to ride it. The first four rounds we scored podiums every race, but we still felt like quite a way off winning. It took quite a few improvements with the bike during that period before we actually got to the point where we could win races, but once we made that step and improved the bike enough that I felt like I could push to where I could win, then I felt like we could win every weekend. Once we fixed what I thought was the limiting factor, the worst point, then winning was every weekend from that point onwards.
Your first win came at round six, then between then and the end of the season you won 13 races. Once the Showdown started you racked up win after win apart from your crash in the final race, so the pattern led nicely into that championship-deciding period at the end of the season. It was a dominant end to the year, but were there any extra nerves leading into the Showdown sector of the series?
Nah, I was probably the most relaxed I’ve been because we were in good shape with the bike and the team. This year not only was the bike new, so I felt like the potential for winning was there, but also the structure of mechanics I had within the team changed. Stewart Winton came over and worked with me, then there was another guy, Ian Lord, who actually works for Yamaha Motor Europe and he came across as a representative of Yamaha to join our team. Between Stewart and Ian, they worked perfectly together and really gave me extra confidence that I didn’t have to worry about whether the bike was going to be right like I had in the past. You know, they understood what I needed from the bike, understood me and understood the championship rules, tyres… they had a real good grasp of the perimeters we had to operate within and maximised the potential of that. In other series the rules are different, so that can affect whether a bike can be really good or just okay, and they really understood what we had to work with. They maximised the potential of what we could achieve with what we had. Not only with the electronics with engine braking and stuff like that, but giving the information back to the engine builder so they could improve the power delivery. During the year we didn’t gain a lot of horsepower, but it was more about changing the delivery and how I feel the power, so I could use it better and more efficiently. That wasn’t me speaking to the engine tuner, that was me speaking to my crew and then them understanding suspension, electronics, engine and the building of it – they incorporated all that information and gave it to the right person so everything was built the best way. The suspension worked really well to give me confidence, but not wear out the tyres too aggressively, the power came in a way I wanted it to feel so I could ride faster, and the electronics we use in BSB are mostly about engine braking – there’s no traction control or anything like that – so Ian particularly in that area worked hard to make the bike more stable and so it decelerated better into a corner. I could walk away from a session and know that the improvements they made were going to be in the right direction, whereas times before I’d kind of walk away wondering if the next time I’d be on track if it’d be better, or just a different version of what’s the problem. This time around I’d always come back after every session and the bike was improved, so obviously they knew the bike well and knew me well. They were able to fix the problems, not just by guessing, but by knowing what to offer me to make me feel more confident. So that’s why I had a really relaxed attitude coming into the last races, because I knew the bike was good and that I could ride it well. If there were any problems I knew they had the correct methods to fix it.
Was there any one weekend or particular result that stood out as a highlight for you during the season?
There were a couple of things. One was the double I did at Brands Hatch in the middle of the year, that was my first race win and then I turned it into a double for the weekend, and that was kind of the turning point for the season. From that point on everybody on the grid including Shane Byrne had seen the change in the bike and the way I could ride it, so I think up to that point they were probably looking at me in similar ways they had the years before where yeah, I was a contender and podium finisher, but other riders weren’t really threatened that I was going to dominate at any point. After Brands Hatch I think everybody was kind of like ‘whoa, he’s on the stage now’. It was a really good improvement, not just one thing, but a couple of things merging together. It was a point where the engine delivery was more the way I wanted, Ian’s work with the engine braking had gotten to a really good point, and also the stuff we did with the fuel tank to reposition the centre of mass had worked out really well, plus the shape of the tank was changed so I could sit on the bike more comfortably, over the front. The three things – corner entry, mid-turn and corner exit – was improved, so all areas of cornering were improved and all came together at that one round. We’d been working on the process from the beginning, but it all came together as one at Brands Hatch. That’s why it was such a big change and when people recognised we went from being amongst it to being a dominant force. Round after round after that, it was just reconfirming what we already knew. Another highlight for me was at Silverstone I set the fastest ever superbike lap in qualifying, so because BSB rules are limited compared to World Superbike and our tyres are less performing than WorldSBK spec, for us to match and go quicker than them in the past was kind of a good indication of the hard work we’d been doing. To get the outright superbike lap record was really good and I think it showcased everything well.
Looking to 2016, we haven’t heard anything directly about your future officially, but obviously Yamaha has its WorldSBK team announced without you as part of it. Do you have any updates at this stage or at least details on what you’d like to be doing?
The story was that Milwaukee as a sponsor wanted to do one more year in BSB – that was this year – and then they wanted to go to WorldSBK. I got the impression from my boss Shawn Muir that he was also promised by Yamaha that he would do one more year in BSB this year, then next year he’d get the WorldSBK position. Through money, politics and different people in management’s ideas of what the future should hold, that option for Shawn and the Milwaukee team kind of got pulled away from under us when Yamaha chose to go with Paul Denning’s team. That bit’s already known. Shawn was in a position where he’d done enough in BSB to attract the interest of other brands, so from what I understand he told Yamaha that he’d go with them to WorldSBK or against them in WorldSBK, kind of like an ultimatum. If Yamaha chose to go a different way then that’s fine, but he was still sticking to his plan. Of course, if you had a list of best options, number one would’ve been to stay with Yamaha and go into WorldSBK, but the plan irrespective of what Yamaha chose to do, Shawn and the team were always going to make that step up. When Yamaha chose to do something different he had to choose a different path. At the moment the contract with Shawn doesn’t end with Yamaha until December, so nothing will be printed or announced before that contract has ended. He has confirmed publically, verbally on the TV and stuff like that, that he’s going to WorldSBK and that Milwaukee are on for three years to support that deal. Shawn’s got me a deal incorporated into that, but he just can’t announce the brand that we are going with at this stage.
And I guess regardless of the manufacturer, a strong point for you is that even if it is a different bike, you’re still with your championship-winning team and that helps a lot.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, it would suck a lot for me to go from winning BSB in a team where I’ve just explained how great it works and how it really should work. The problem is, not that my team’s done everything this year more amazing and better than what you’d expect, they’ve really just followed exactly what they should and you’d imagine a team should be capable of doing. But in a lot of other teams and a lot of other years that I’ve experienced, the team have underperformed. You know what I mean? It’s not that they’ve done anything so amazing, it’s just that they’ve achieved exactly what they should and what everyone wants to achieve. In other years I feel like we haven’t, like we’ve underachieved. So having said that, to then move from a team which I consider to work so well, then try with a new team in a new championship, different tracks, would be a big change for me and the team. Often it’s difficult to make that transition and do it successfully, which is why I had to leave WorldSBK years ago – teams folded, the mechanics quit because they weren’t getting paid, and a number of different reasons why things weren’t working out. To make that transition with my same team, same crew, same sponsor, all the real key ingredients are the same. In WorldSBK we will be running the same suspension, Ohlins, same tyre brand of Pirelli as control tyres and there’s a lot of stuff that’s continual. It will feel not so foreign. Really, we’ve just got to get used to settings on different tracks to what we’ve been riding the last couple of years. And then adding another bike into it, which I’ve discussed with the crew, we’re of the opinion that the same principals apply to any bike whether it’s a Yamaha or another brand. You’ve still got to get the balance correct, corner entry right, the feeling of acceleration away with good power delivery, so really everything they’ve done this year with the Yamaha. The fact they had no previous data or information, everything they’ve done has just been a good indication of their experience and judgement. Whatever they’ve done this year they can apply to another motorbike and should be able to achieve a similar outcome. Everyone including myself has high expectations that we should be able to make that step using the same principals to achieve the championship.
Awesome, well we’re definitely excited to see the announcement and where it can head from this point. Thanks a lot for that.
Nah, that’s okay. I’m hoping it builds some excitement in the press once it is formally announced because you can obviously say what’s going to happen or people can predict what’s going to happen, but until things are actually announced I think everybody takes things with a grain of salt. I’m hoping when everything’s clear and out there on the table past the announcement dates, hopefully the energy and interest from people and media combined can build. I’m looking forward to Phillip Island for round one, racing at home and having people able to support the world championship instead of having them try to follow what I do in BSB from long distance for so long.