Jeremy Burgess - The King Maker

Valentino Rossi's right-hand man has 14 GP titles to his credit and delights in psychological paddock warfare. Meet Jeremy Burgess

Jerry Burgess gets up at 5am on a race weekend. He heads for the computer, switches it on and combs the data, seeking something that might give Valentino Rossi's Yamaha YZR-M1 a microsecond's advantage on the track. He's 50 years old, but he's  the first of the Gauloises team to have breakfast.

Now, 12 hours and two track sessions later, his rider has qualified on pole. Burgess is looking relaxed and amiable as he strolls into the Yamaha hospitality unit. He glides between tables, chatting and shaking hands as he heads for an office in the motorhome.

Surely it must be a stressful life, trying to defeat Honda's six riders and three teams in the MotoGP world championship?

"Look, I've been in it too long," Burgess says. "I've seen the highs and the lows. I used to be so wound up about it: I've been there when you're so intense that you don't see the big picture. That comes only with experience."

So in a world of yoga, meditation, personal trainers, pilates and workouts, Burgess does none of these. When the day is done, he has a beer and reads a history book. "I've just finished a really good one on the Crusades," he muses.

This year, Burgess and Rossi have troubled Honda by turning the bike that was the joke of 2003 - it scored a single podium position - into the most talked-about machine in '04. The 990cc YZR-M1 with its across-the-frame four is matching, and often out-performing, Honda's exotic V5.

The turn-around hasn't been achieved just by making a better motorcycle. The odd couple - clubber and late-sleeper Rossi is half Burgess' age - are winning because they wield a devastating brand of psychological warfare. No one can destabilise the paddock better than this pair of jokers. "I enjoy that side of racing," Burgess laughs. "I like it more than just setting up the bike and fixing problems."

The pair are pummelling Honda on an almost weekly basis with their armoury of psycho-weapons. Burgess sometimes uses one weapon from his arsenal on Juan Martinez, chief mechanic for Sete Gibernau's rival Honda team, when they walk off the grid before the start of a MotoGP race. Burgess says to him "Hey mate, calm down, it's only a motorcycle race," As Burgess observes later; "He and I get on well, but I love sticking it to him, in a good-humoured way."

At other times, Burgess and Rossi can stun the entire grid. At the final pre-season tests at Barcelona this year, Rossi beat Colin Edwards and Gibernau to pole position and the prize of a £25,000 BMW Z4 sports car. In theory it wasn't possible: he and Burgess had been working on the YZR for only 65 days since they joined Yamaha in January.

Then Burgess and Rossi maintain the heat. They won the first MotoGP of the season in South Africa. Weird, bumpy track, the sages said: Hondas will dominate at the power circuits of Mugello and Barcelona.

But Rossi won at both, despite having a slower bike. He and Burgess relied on a different tool: they always run with what they've got, rather than wasting time and energy wishing for things they don't have.

"We could only tackle the Hondas by maximising our strengths - the Yamaha's handling and turning," Burgess says. "Without that, we knew we wouldn't be close enough. We've also got a rider who says, 'I haven't got an extra 12kph, but I'm not going to let that prevent me from getting the best out of what I have.'" Burgess elaborates: "If you've got 12kph more, you've got to stop from 12kph faster. You have to brake earlier, so when they're on the brakes we're still on the throttle. If we could stay in the draft of a couple of 'em, we hoped to be there in the end. They were difficult races, but Valentino did it."

Qualifying at the Dutch TT at Assen, which has the highest average speed of any MotoGP track, demonstrated the strategy that Burgess deploys in winning pole position. Rain threatened, so Rossi recorded a respectable time early in the hour-long session. Then the crew focussed on optimising settings. With only seconds remaining and the track still dry, they slapped on a qualifying tyre, and Rossi axed a staggering 1.410 seconds from his previous best. He set a new qualifying record at 1m58.758s - a vast 1.145 seconds faster than Gibernau, his closest Honda rival.

But wasn't it a gamble to wait until so late in the session to produce the super-lap? "I was monitoring the times and could see that we never left the front row," Burgess explains. "Meanwhile, we were doing work for the race. Had we slipped off the front row at any stage, he would have been brought in immediately and we would have used the qualifier. But it was a situation that I was aware of."

Very coolly handled. And now that Burgess and Rossi have demonstrated the M1's potential, fellow Yamaha riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri are performing better.

"After Valentino won in South Africa, you couldn't talk to your mate about how bad the bike was," says Burgess. "You had to say, 'Jesus, we'd better go.' This industry is very much about confidence. It's the same bike as last year, with a revised engine. But people are confident now that Valentino is doing it.

"The riders can see that the situation is pretty much like the Honda always was: you get on a Honda and you know that all the bugs are out of the bike. You put the settings in and concentrate on your riding. But you don't try and build the motorcycle."

He and Rossi have had the opposite effect on Honda riders. Until this year, the RCV-211V was regarded as the epitome of motorcycle design in grand prix racing. Now Honda riders talk about how close they can get to the Yamaha, and frequently complain of 'chatter' - the wheels pattering across the road. Hearing this, Burgess wields the psycho-surgeon's knife again. "I'll go and help them if they want!" he laughs. "Handling was not an unsolvable problem when I was there. Maybe they don't know how to fix it? Maybe they're scared to alter the settings that worked well last year?"

Surely he didn't take all his notes with him when he left Honda in 2003 after 21 years with the company? "No, there's enough there," he insists. "But you can't be the boy at school who cheats at exams all year. If you don't how you arrive at the answers, you'll never be able to do it when you have to go out on your own. I smile because I know there's a lot of people at Honda who don't know why we changed this or did that. They just put in the final settings which won the race last year, or whatever."

Burgess' candid talk is legendary. He flays some of the Honda riders: Brazilian Alex Barros recently celebrated his 200th grand prix race, but has won only six of them and crashes frequently. "The final part of the cog seems to be missing," Burgess says.

Colin Edwards won a titanic World Superbike contest against Troy Bayliss in 2002, but has yet to win in MotoGP. "Colin has not stepped up," Burgess says. "Racing week in, week out against a Troy Bayliss is different to banging heads with five or six guys who can beat you, and working out their psychology."

American sensation Nicky Hayden, drafted into MotoGP in 2003 at the age of 22, has also yet to win. "Nicky will be fine in a couple of years," says Burgess. "But Honda is discovering that it's not a one-year learning programme at this level any more."

He and Rossi, meanwhile, deal in reality. Burgess believes that Honda deluded itself in pre-season tests at Phillip Island by claiming that Gibernau had completed a race distance 23 seconds faster than Rossi's winning 2003 time on the same bike.

"They were strutting around like, away we go," he says. "I just said, I know Sete hasn't improved by 23 seconds between October and February - it's just illogical."

Burgess figured that the speed had come from improvements in Michelin's tyres, which now slide less but grip better. But even in his reality world, things don't always go right for Burgess. When that happens he reaches in the toolbox for another resource - perseverance.

The Yamaha team already had a mountain of development work to do on the M1 when Michelin introduced a quicker-steering 16.5-inch front tyre during pre-season tests. But they immediately adopted the new tyre, instead of relying on the existing rubber for an interim period. "We persevered because we knew there was no point in taking on old technology," Burgess says. "You have to keep lifting the bike to the level of the tyres."

Do he and Rossi phone each other much when they're not at the track? "No we don't," Burgess says. "And I never did with Mick Doohan either. In the 10 years that I worked with Mick I think I phoned him... four times? If they want to talk they can. But I was never a great one for being your rider's best mate. If you are, it's hard to have the sort of stand-off that you need to have from time to time."

There are some grim faces in the MotoGP paddock right now, but Burgess claims that the mood in his garage is light. "Mick was pretty intense. Valentino is a lot more tranquilo, as the Italians say. He balances it very well, and that flows down through the people who work around him."

When Burgess reads, he also likes to explore the world of Leonardo Da Vinci, the 15th century scientist, inventor and visionary. "Physics to me is very interesting," he reflects. "As a schoolboy I could understand it and see it. But chemistry was hard to understand - nucleuses and protons and neutrons - because you can't really see them."

Burgess takes that world of the tangible rather than the theoretical into the pit garage: "All the discussions and the decisions that I make with Valentino and the engineers add up to nothing until we put them into practice on the bike. Then Valentino can give us an answer within three minutes, or two laps around the circuit. He can say, 'That's better'.

"So instead of looking for a motorcycle that's five seconds quicker than anything else, you have to look at where you are and what you need to improve. Instead of chopping and changing, get enough information to try and make the right decisions. That way, when you do make the change you make an improvement, rather than confusing everyone when they're under enormous pressure. You don't want mechanics saying, 'Jesus, what's going wrong? We put that in, now we're taking it out.' I've seen it before. Work smarter, not harder. Make changes for a reason. It's the philosophy that keeps us going."

When he wins a race, Rossi picks up his final psycho-tool - his theatre-of-the-absurd antics. You just never know what he's going to do. In South Africa he got off the bike and kissed the front of its fairing through his helmet. After another win "The Doctor" put on a white coat and applied a set of stethoscopes to the Yamaha. He makes rivals' conventional post-race behaviour look ordinary.

Burgess, meanwhile, can start thinking about ripping the top off a beer.

Jerry Burgess Facts

Ten techniques that Burgess and Rossi bring to racing

01 They do tranquil, not tense
02 They go with what they have, instead of lamenting what they have not
03 When the going gets tough, they persevere
04 If they fail, they don't make excuses
05 They inspire, rather than complain
06 They see the long game, the big picture
07 They don't take the job home
08 They relish challenge, rather
than shun it
09 They deal in reality, not wishful thinking
10 They break big problems into small manageable parts

Burgess' Fourteen MotoGP Titles
1985 Freddie Spencer
1987 Wayne Gardner
1994-98 Mick Doohan
2001-05, 2008, 2009 Valentino Rossi

- Burgess was a mechanic with Spencer's team
- He was chief mechanic for the other riders
- All titles won on Hondas
- Titles up to 2001 won with 500cc two-strokes
- 2002-06 titles with 990cc four-strokes
- 2007-onwards titles with 800cc four-strokes