Jeremy Burgess interview

Jeremy Burgess is Valentino Rossi's crew chief at Fiat Yamaha. Nobody knows more about what it takes to win a Grand Prix

On the outside looking in, this looks like a glamorous job. Is it?
I think any job where you enjoy it must be pretty glamorous. I guess I see Valentino Rossi for two hours, three days a week, but I wouldn't use the world 'glamorous.' It's an exciting job.

What's the longest you've gone without sleep to get a racebike turned around?

That was Randy Mamola's RG at Paul Ricard in 1980. We were developing the new Full Floater suspension system, changing the chassis and at the same time we had serious issues with crankshaft bearings. We got a total of four hours sleep over the three days!

So how did you get to being a crew chief?
I used to race. I worked on all of my own race bikes and I enjoyed that side of it very much. I spent many hours tinkering in the shed at night dreaming about going faster. I think it helped me a lot to get a job at Suzuki in 1980. Suzuki knew me from when I raced in Australia and I had an RG500, and mine was always fast and ran all weekend at race meetings.

Did your racing help when you started working on other people's bikes?
Obviously there is a difference between then and now, but when I was at the limit, I was at the limit. You knew where it was and knew that it was a very uncomfortable place to be. You needed to be somewhere a little bit away from that, but still fast and safe. It helps you understand the margin that the rider wants in the security of his bike.

How satisfying was the Yamaha title in 2004?
Really, really satisfying. To be able to do that and to back it up the following year was certainly something I don't think any of us will ever forget.

What's the key to the Rossi/Burgess success?

Experience, understanding what each other wants and the quality to work through problems methodically.

How long did it take for you to get to that point?
From the first test we had at Spain at the end of '99 I could see the only limiting factor would be us as a team. Valentino had come from a winning team on an Italian bike with Italian mechanics, and had left that to go a Japanese team with Australian mechanics. So he was making a big step and stepping out of his comfort zone. I told everybody that if it didn't work, it was because we buggered it up. And we're still here together eight years later, so I guess somewhere in there we hit on the right note.

Do you and Valentino ever disagree?
Our disagreements aren't as black and white as they were with Mick Doohan.  Valentino is very receptive to my suggestions, whereas with Mick you'd have to do it his way first and then you could try your way if his didn't work. For example, Valentino's understanding of a particular tyre may be a little bit different from mine. If we had a tyre we knew would go the distance but was uncomfortable for him to ride with and he had something that he felt was better, we'd have to talk about managing the risk.

What are the similarities and differences between Doohan and Rossi?
Mick was a very intense person. Valentino is in many ways as well, but on the outside Rossi has a sort of a calmness in his presence which Mick seemed not to have. Mick was very tough on his rivals, and that's where Valentino seems to be more relaxed. But times have changed. You look at Doohan today and you wouldn't know him as the same person.

How are Honda and Yamaha different?

The engineering group at Honda all come from a winning culture, they are young engineers who have been through great success. However, many of them don't really understand how they got there, they just keep coming into this team that has been winning. And somewhere along the line, they didn't listen. We left at the end of 2003, having won the last race for them, and since then they've only just managed to win six races in three years. They went a whole season without winning a race, didn't understand how they got in that situation and they'll probably never get in that situation again. They were of the belief that the bike does all the work, and our rider was the one who was prepared to see if that was true or not. Yamaha people are country people and easy to get on with, Honda people are more like city folk.

How has the job changed since you started?
Now there's some organisation in the scheduling! You have 10am practice and a 2pm practice on two days and a race at 3:00pm. But go back 20 years, you might have had your first practice at 2pm and your second one at 5! It was chaotic and with independent promoters doing things in different ways, it was very difficult on the teams and the machinery wasn't as reliable then, so you were forever pulling things apart. Working 16 hour days, just to get through.

Who would your ultimate guests be if you were throwing a dinner party?

I'd invite Ian Chappell, the captain of the Australian cricket team. His method of working is pretty much the same as mine and he's a bit sharp on the language too. I'd like to meet Robert de Niro and Robert Redford, I'd have those guys on the table. But I'd also like to sit down and have a chat with bloody Adolf Hitler, to try and understand what he was about. As you can see, there's not heaps of women in there.