Author: Oli Rushby Pics: Impact Images Posted: 22 Oct 2015
After seven years of trying, Josh Brookes was finally crowned British Superbike Champion at the weekend after a dominant second half to the season saw him take 13 wins in the last 16 races.
The Aussie finished off the podium just twice and had just one DNF, which happened once he’d already been crowned champion at the final round.
Having moved to British Superbikes in 2009 for financial reasons, Brookes’ has tried for the title with Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha’s old R1 before his successful season aboard the ground-breaking 2015 YZF-R1 that has taken an number of significant victories across the globe this year, not least Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro’s Suzuka 8 hr win.
Brookes had done enough to be crowned champion on Saturday afternoon at Brands Hatch, marking the first time a championship had been over before the final race since the introduction of the showdown in 2010.
“It’s not sunk in yet because it’s been such a long time coming,” said Brookes speaking to Bike Social at Brands. “Not because I didn’t believe I could do it before, I’ve come second twice, once on a Honda and once on the Suzuki and when I’ve not been runner-up I’ve been close. It’s almost been disappointing year by year to see it slip away and that might be from the start of the season, from mid-year or from the last three races.
“When you sign up for a team at the beginning of the year you have all the best intentions it’s gonna go well. You think of all the ways it can happen and so do the guys in the team. There’s a plan there from the beginning and sometimes it goes the way you want it to go and then sometimes, for whatever reason, it goes the wrong way. Whether that’s because the bike isn’t good enough so you try harder and crash or the team realises the bike isn’t fast enough so they try and tune it and then it blows up. There are so many ways a season can spiral out of control and this year things have gone exactly to plan.”
What makes Brookes’ form all the more impressive was that when the Milwaukee Yamaha team received their 2015 YZF-R1s they were practically standard, out of the crate bikes.
“We got the bikes new and it was a little underdeveloped as it’s a new model,” Brookes explained. “We worked through the steps, had a good pre-season test and got a load of data. We went to the first few rounds, which weren’t amazing but we got on the podium and then things started to come together.”
Having competed on bikes that were under par for the last few seasons, Brookes had developed a riding style that would see him almost over-ride the bike to get past its limitations. With an under developed bike at the start of the season, he found himself in a similar position with the new R1 but knowing it would come good eventually, he had to be patient.
“I did have to change my approach. At the start of the year I was certainly trying hard and I was riding over and above what we were capable of at that point. I still wasn’t able to get the results I needed. I was trying as hard as I could but the reality was the bike just wasn’t there. I continued to have the faith that it would get better in time and the key was not to crash and get hurt in that development process. In the first couple of races the bike was probably further away than people realised but it was that ability to ignore the problems and focus on the positives of the bike that was able to give me the podiums and a start to the year we could built from. If it had been a bunch of tenth places it would have been depressing and when the bike got better you’d still be hooked up what you didn’t achieve early on. Being on the podium from the first round and each round after that was definitely a good foundation to build what became a race winning package.”
That race winning package arrived at Round 6 and the first visit to the Brands Hatch GP circuit, where Brookes dominated proceedings with a commanding double win. The Aussie went on to win six races in a row, which played a significant role in his winning of the 2015 title. But what clicked at Brands Hatch?
“It was a combination of three particular things,” Brookes explained. “At Snetterton in testing we were really fast and that was due to an engine improvement we’d got. Things were improving all the time but at that test we found big advantages with the fuel tank, which we’d adjusted, changed shape and relocated the majority of the weight to make it lower which helped with mid-corner handling and feel in cornering.
“Initially the engine was a little too strong in the mid-range, didn’t have much torque down low and sort of tailed off up top so it was a bit of a handful to ride. Whereas towards the middle of the season we’d built up of bottom end torque and found the power to push it up a little in the top end so that made the bike a lot easier to ride.
“Finally, the Yamaha has a ride-by-wire throttle system so when you close the throttle, rather than it going completely shut the ECU sort of controls the butterfly and carburation side of things and we got better and better at making the maps that run those strategies and we just had to fine tune it from Brands Hatch onwards. This was a really big step to make at that point of the year.
“These things came together at Brands, a good engine delivery, a refined fuel tank and the ECU set up for engine braking which helps corner entry. I was making ground in corner entry, I had good confidence in the middle of the turn and it was pulling away from the turns with good acceleration because of the engine. Those three areas helped us massively. You only have to find small tenths but over a full lap, with multiple corners it’s clear to see the advance was made then. It wasn’t those items alone; it was all three coming together that made the bike a race winning package.”
Despite having a British title under his belt, Brookes’ plans for 2016 haven’t been announced yet, although it looks likely he’ll move to World Superbikes with the Milwaukee Yamaha team.
“I 100% want to go to World Championship. I was there in 2008 and for financial reasons I had to choose BSB because I’ve got to pay for the lifestyle I want to live! At the time I was forced to come to BSB and it was going to be a year or two before I tried to find a way back into World Championships once I’d found some stability.
“That is what has happened but unfortunately my first season was a bit scattered with misfortune and other things that happened and that sort of delayed my progress quite a lot. The plan was to establish myself with the stability of quality teams that BSB has in order to build my reputation and hopefully drive up my value so I could go to World Championship with a paid ride rather than having to find someone that’s going to pay for you to go in.
“That’s what I’d like to see happen, whether it happens or not I don’t know. I’ve definitely got a good feeling with Shaun Muir and the SMR team so I think my ticket is to stay with them. If they go to World Superbike then that’s the perfect chance for me. Alternatively, I’ll have to start again with another team but we’re limited now with our options. The third option is to stay with Shaun in BSB. There are probably a few irons in the fire, I think the gossip and rumours will start to come out a bit more but since we had a job to do at Brands I’ve kept away from it all.”