Having had two years away from the Island, Josh Brookes returned to Snaefell Mountain Course, achieving his best finish to date with 6th in both the Lightweight TT and the Senior TT, for Kawasaki and Norton respectively. Besides the results, the Australian sensation spoke to me about his experience whilst over on the Isle of Man, particularly with how he adapted to riding such a vast range of machinery. He also talks about how mental and physical strength can be pushed to the limit when track time is limited.
How would you sum up your Isle of Man TT experience?
It was a frustrating couple of weeks. The weather wasn’t very kind. I kept thinking that the top guys such as Hutchy and Dunlop wouldn’t be too bothered because they’ll use their experience and they’ll only need 6-8 laps. After that, they’re in their rhythm, they’re in the groove, they know the track and the bike is sweet. However, I think they were spending a lot of time trying to set their bikes up the way they wanted them so they probably wanted more laps too.
In any case, for me, I wasn’t really looking to make a lot of changes to the bike because I was happy with the way it was working. I just needed laps for myself and get calm within the circuit. Having two years away meant that it was very difficult to remember how deep you went into each corner at what speed to make it through, not necessarily which corner was up next. It’s very difficult to explain to people who haven’t ridden the bike or the circuit. Even if you have done either of them, it is still very hard to grasp exactly what it is that you lose. Lots of people think that you’ve forgotten the track so you go slower.
However, although you might know the corners coming up and the sequence, the problem is that you’re trying to remember from the last time. You may get into a corner at 150 km/h but when you arrive and brake a little bit too late, that’s because you thought you could get to a certain point that you were at last time. You have to ride slower and then build up to it; obviously, it’s a long way round and a lot of corners so it takes a long time to remember the whole circuit and the succession of approaches and exits. It’s a little bit like a new CD. You won’t know what song is coming up next but once you’ve listened to CD over and over again, you anticipate the song coming on and sing word for word when the song does come on.
As the week goes on and you get more practices, you know what’s next and feel relaxed and kind of prepared for what is coming next. Having so few laps in practice determined my success I think. Considering all that, I had a really good race and to come 6th in the Senior TT with the bike and the first time I’ve ridden it and after all the problems regarding the weather, it was a great finish. I’m pleased and proud with everything I’ve done.
It’s not just knowledge either, you do adjust too. Your body acclimatises to the experience. At the Sulby Straight, you know that on a Superbike, you can go flat out right to the end on any bike. However, it takes about eight laps before you dare do it. Even though you know it can be done, things are going passed your head at that speed and your self-preservation kicks in. Even if the bike isn’t much better and you’re not much better, it makes it easier to ride at that speed than what it did before.
Was returning to the TT harder than when you first went?
It was harder when I first went, for sure. Don’t get me wrong this year was still hard and I was surprised. It did give me a lot more respect about what I was able to achieve in the first year. The first year wasn’t actually a very good year either. The first day was wet. The second day, my teammate was killed. The third day was wet. We was quite late into the week getting any form of practice then as well, which emphasises even more the success of this year and of my debut year. Even then, I set my fastest lap during the race, which at the time was the newcomers lap record. I didn’t realise at the time what I had done. So, coming back this year was almost like being newcomer all over again. When I was building the feeling up again, I thought ‘wow’, because I must have been going through the same feelings I went through as a newcomer because it’s very difficult to learn. It wasn’t as hard as learning it for the first time but it wasn’t an awful lot different.
In the 2013 Superstock race, I pitted with a chain issue which forced me to retire. In the Senior TT, there was a fault with the electronics and I didn’t carry on. The only full race I got was after three days of practice and a condensed load of laps. I didn’t recognise it was such an achievement until now, having had two years off, where I can really appreciate that year because it was my first time. Coming back this year felt like I was re-living that same process. I felt completely at ease with my knowledge and feeling of the track by the Senior TT.
It must have been hard to adapt to so many different bikes around one of the most difficult circuits in the world?
No, not really. The Honda that I raced wasn’t too bad. I had rode the CBR 600cc bike to third in the World Supersport championship behind Andrew Pitt and Jonny Rea, with a win at Donington Park that year and because the bike is relatively similar to how it was then, it wasn’t too difficult. What realistically should’ve been three new models hasn’t worked out. I hopped on a bike that felt like my own.
Also, the difference between a Supersport, Superstock and Superbike, as varied as they are, isn’t too much. Therefore, it isn’t too hard to adapt. It feels different but it is something that riders have to be able to do. To be a good rider, you have to have a certain amount of adaptability. I found it more difficult with the lightweight. The speed, the weight and the gears were so different. It was also a bike that I’d never ridden before – I only had two laps to qualify it and then raced it. I think I rode the bike well. Again though, the start of the race was slow because I just needed more time with the bike. It’s the kind of bike where you need to use every single inch of road to really make it work. It’s not physically difficult to ride because the engine in the bike is lighter.
One thing many people don’t understand about motorcycle racing in general is weight. The weight of a 1000cc bike on scales may be the same as a 600cc, however, the gyroscopic weight is massively different. Therefore, as a rider you have to adapt and try and control that gyroscopic weight so then, a 600cc feels really easy to ride. However, the 650cc is on weight, heavier but the gyroscopic weight makes it easier to ride than a 600cc bike because it had a two cylinder crank, so it’s narrower and feels so much better to ride.
These elements of the bike make it feel easier to ride but you have to take more risks, because to make it work. It was a bit of a rock and a hard place really. As I was learning the bike and willing to push the limits with the track, I got quicker but unfortunately, you need to go from the first lap. As soon as you get the tap on the shoulder, the quick guys are off and that’s when experience, skills and track knowledge comes into play. I feel I’ve always been stereotyped as a risk taker but actually, I think that’s inaccurate. I feel more reserved and calculated than most other people; my riding style in earlier years may have promoted the idea from a spectator point of view as, “Wow! He’s on the edge!”, whereas I’d look at that and think that’s how that bike needed to be ridden at the time. A bit like Marc Marquez with the Honda. I feel like I only take risks when I’ve calculated them and I believe that it is that approach that keeps me safe on the roads.
Did the difficult weather make it more physically and mentally demanding?
The problem was that when I did get laps, it was all on one day. Instead of doing five laps, having a night to sleep it off and coming back the next day to talk about it and let it all sink in and digest the information before having another go, I was like “missed yesterday, missed the day before, missing tomorrow” and suddenly, I had 9 laps in one day. After that, my head was absolutely fried. I needed the laps, yes, but I didn’t dare do another one! I was physically fatigued, my mental ’data’ was completely maxed out. There’s no more room for information. Even if I did another lap, I wouldn’t have gained anything. This year, the TT was a fight against time.
Does skill alone win you a TT or do you need a lot of experience?
My riding skill is as good as everyone above me and my learning skills is pretty strong – being fastest newcomer in 2013 proves that. Riding different bikes means that I can also adapt and that has been a consistent trend throughout my career. At the end of the day, it does come down to experience. That’s what I needed more of.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko