Features 17 Jan 2023

Conversation: Josh Brookes

Double BSB champion on racing at SMSP and campaign ahead.

Two-time British Superbike (BSB) champion Josh Brookes made a popular return home for the off-season to compete with Livson Racing in the St George Summer Night Series. Switching to a BMW with FHO Racing for this year in BSB, the opportunity to race at Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP) provided the Australian with a chance to become further accustomed to the M 1000 RR, and also compete with success against some of our best domestic talent. Winning three out of four night series rounds so far, CycleOnline had a Conversation with Brookes to discuss racing at SMSP and his motivations regarding the upcoming BSB season.

Image: Russell Colvin.

It was great to see you on track at the St George Summer Night Series races at Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP). Can you just talk us through how it was to be racing back here in Australia during your off-season, and also how important it was for you to get the track time here on the BMW ahead of making the switch for BSB in 2023? 

I’ve been racing British Superbikes for 15 years, so I am pretty familiar with the process. Regularly, there’s enough pre-season testing, and usually, over the years I haven’t really pursued too much riding at home. I’ve usually spent it more as an off-season than trying to find track time, just using the pre-season tests and stuff to get up to speed. I can’t make excuses and go I would have won had I got more track time, I don’t think it got to that point. Seeing that St George was my first racing club with road racing, and Sydney Motorsport Park is the nearest track after Oran Park was removed, I always sort of reminisce the old days of racing at Eastern Creek. From time to time, I would get a track day there every couple of years, so the idea of racing during my off-season was actually quite appealing. I haven’t done any racing at Eastern Creek since 2005, so the whole concept was sort of dreamt up, that after the… Mick O’Brien actually got in touch with me after the first rounds they had in the night series a year or two ago, and he said would you be interested to ride? That sort of sparked the idea, and then I said of course I would be interested, but getting a bike and stuff like that here is not the easiest task.

This year, I had a little bit more time to plan things, I actually spoke to Nathan Spiteri after he had announced that he was retiring, and there was talk that he was possibly going to keep racing but with someone else on his bikes. I just sort of reached out to him and said look, what is your situation, and he said we are in the process of finding a rider who can ride in a team for this season, and at that time speaking to him that didn’t have anyone secured, so the bikes were sort of sat there and ready to go. It was sort of like the ideal scenario, I was looking to get on a bike and do some riding in the off-season, Mick O’Brien had suggested that the St George club would like me to be a part of their series, and Nathan had the bike, the equipment, the mechanics and everything to accommodate the idea. So it all sort of just fell into place and now is now sort of thing.

Speaking of those St George Summer Night Series rounds, you were able to win three and were right there battling with Josh Waters on Saturday night. Having raced in BSB achieving success over there, how was it coming back here to the level in Australia? Was it something that was surprising to you or was it more or less where you expected it to be? 

I’ve always spoke highly of the Australian championship, racing overseas all of these years people often ask what the Australian championship is like, is it competitive? Of course, you have to explain to people that there isn’t a lot of money in the sport in Australia, Australia doesn’t have a huge following as it does for example in the UK. A lot of it is family teams and privately run teams, but I’ve never not expressed the level that Australia does have to offer. From when I raced in Australia until now, it has always had competitive, top-level riders right the way through. What I have tried to explain to people is that it only takes two riders to set a standard. If there are 15 people going slow, the two at the front are dictating what the limit is. It only takes two riders to create that, and Australia has always had more than two top-level riders to set the standard.

I was always expecting the level to be what it is. I am good friends with Wayne Maxwell so I have got a fairly good understanding and I have spoken to him regularly, and understand the spec of his bike. I believe it is one of the best on the track, if not the best on the track, so to be able to rival Josh [Waters] and in fact beat him is actually quite rewarding, because I know the spec of the bike and Josh’s capabilities are one of the best here. It wasn’t a surprise, but also rewarding to be able to battle and win.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Looking ahead to your upcoming BSB season, obviously, last year was one of the more challenging campaigns that you have had in the championship, but then you made the switch from MCE Ducati to FHO Racing BMW. Can you explain your motivations behind that move? Was it sort of a refreshed approach for you to put yourself in a position to be able to attack the championship?

It’s hard without giving a long, drawn-out explanation of what the process was for me and what I’ve experienced, which would get quite boring. Just to kind of cut to the point, I still think the Ducati is probably the best motorcycle on the grid, but unfortunately, after the season that I won the championship, the development of the bike in my opinion was done in the wrong direction. They were so fixated on more horsepower, when we are at 230hp already. I don’t know if more is always the best. If you are in a smaller category like Supersport, or you know something with the smaller bikes, I think ultimately power is necessary. But in Superbike now especially, this is where it becomes particular with the British Superbike spec ECU and rules, most of the time we are trying to dull the power down to make it tractable. 230hp is more than enough to win races, and most of the time we are finding ways to sort of calm it down, and find ways to use the power more efficiently as opposed to looking for purely more of it. I haven’t got any spec sheets to prove my accusations so to speak, but my feeling is the direction and the development of the bike was to find more horsepower, wherein it just seemed to make it harder and harder to ride and less efficient to do the lap times.

Whilst I am in disagreement with the direction of the bike development and also not getting the results that are necessary to stay in the limelight, so to speak, it was necessary to make a change. The team had made it clear that they wanted to keep going in the same direction that they had been going, which already felt like the wrong direction for me. As you can see already, it just doesn’t seem like a motivation to carry on, when you already don’t agree with the direction. So in any case, Faye [Ho] who is running the BMW team in British Superbikes had been in touch and expressed her interest in me joining her team. I think that she has got a huge amount of motivation and desire to be competitive and to win. It seems like everything she said, her and the team personnel alike, everything they said sort of makes sense and feels comfortable to me in the direction that they want to go, so that seemed like a logical step for me to go and join that team.

Thanks for that insight. Looking at the broad scope of your season overseas, when it is that you head back to resume testing? Once the BSB season is complete, would you look at competing in Tailem Bend with Livson Racing to conclude the 2023 Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship? 

Yeah, that is something that we discussed at the last Summer Night Series round. Nathan said ‘look, now that we have a friendship established, this racing environment that we have established now, would coming back at the end of the year be something you are interested in?’ Prior to this, like I said at the start of our conversation, I didn’t really have any close connections with people running teams to be able to put myself in the rider lineup for the racing at The Bend. It is not that I didn’t want to, and that I didn’t endorse what was happening, just physically, financially, practically and logistically, it wasn’t an option for me to jump onboard a bike, there wasn’t anything available. So yeah, now that we have created this racing friendship, it could easily be extended to the end of the year, and possibly join in on The Bend race should the dates not clash and everything works out for that plan. As to when I head back, I head back at the end of February with the expectation to be on track in Spain the first week of March. That is the team’s schedule, to be back on track and do pre-season testing on the first week of March.