SCOOP: Jeremy Burgess talks about his move to Ducati with Rossi

Veteran Australian crew chief finally confirms move and talks about what the future might hold with Rossi and Ducati

Jeremy Burgess, Valentino Rossi

The last piece in the Rossi to Ducati puzzle was finally put in place. Jeremy Burgess, Rossi's crew chief since he joined the premier class in 2000, confirmed at Phillip Island the rampant speculation that he'd make the move.
Burgess and Rossi have been a potent combination. The pair won the first of their MotoGP titles in 2001 aboard the Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500 two-stroke. The following year they won the first ever MotoGP title on the Repsol Honda RC211V, repeating in 2003. In 2004 came the sensational move to Yamaha, where Rossi won his first ever race on the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha YZR-M1 at Welkom, South Africa as a prelude to the championship. The pair repeated in 2005, also aboard a Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha. Then came a two year mini-drought—Nicky Hayden won the title for Repsol Honda in 2006 and Casey Stoner for Ducati Marlboro in 2007—before Rossi and Burgess won again in 2008 and 2009 for Fiat Yamaha. This year has been injury-filled, though Rossi has a shot at finishing second in the championship.
Now the pair take their partnership to Ducati, where the expectations and competition will be high. Jorge Lorenzo will vigorously defend his title. Casey Stoner will be making his debut on the Repsol Honda. And Dani Pedrosa, who was having a breakthrough season in his fifth year of MotoGP before breaking his collarbone in Japan, will be back for another assault on the title.
We caught up with Burgess in the paddock at Phillip Island the day before the beginning of the GP weekend.

Why did you decide to go to Ducati?

“I think, obviously, Valentino (Rossi) going makes a huge difference and us working together as long as we have, it’s gone well. We were very happy to stay where we are, of course, but he elected to choose another direction. But his time frame suits very much probably me more than if I was to stay here and perhaps been asked to help with Ben (Spies) or somebody else at Yamaha. Lin Jarvis asked me to stay, if I would. Obviously, as he said, ‘They came with Valentino, it’s likely they’ll leave with Valentino.’ It’s going to be a great challenge and after 31 years with Japanese companies it’s going to be really good to have the opportunity and to do it together with Valentino will be very special and we’ll only have to wait and see how we’ll go.”

From what you’ve seen of the bike, and what you know about Valentino, is there anything you see that needs to be changed?

“I sort of indicated, ‘don’t anticipate what needs to be changed’ to Valentino. ‘Let’s wait and find out when we run the bike.’ It’s pretty clear, and I pointed out to Valentino, that he won’t be riding a Yamaha anymore, so there’s no point in trying to make it like his Yamaha. It will be a Ducati. He was able to make that type of change from Honda to Yamaha all those years ago. And from my observations of the bike, it’s not far away. Aragon, two on the podium. Early in the year, Nicky (Hayden) constantly about fourth. Casey (Stoner) winning a couple. We’ve got something very, very good to start with. I think a lot better perhaps than when we arrived here in 2004.”

What about all the front end trouble the riders have had all year?

“Are they having front-end trouble? I think usually that’s the first thing to go when you’re riding very fast. It seems you lose the feel of the front. If you don’t have the feeling that you’re losing the front, you have no opportunity to recover it. So, without Valentino riding the bike and setting it the way he likes, where he may gain more feel, or if we do come across some sort of issue in this area, then clearly it has to be resolved. And that’s by having the engineering group on standby being prepared to react immediately to whatever is our biggest problem.”

What does Valentino like in a bike?

“He likes a bike that has grip and that would be front and rear. But you have to maximize the package, but I can see that Casey and Nicky run quite different settings on the bike, just from observations of the geometry on the bike.”

Which would Valentino be closer to?

“Difficult to say, without knowing where the weight is on the bike and how it behaves. But, without question, I don’t anticipate any major dramas. I can watch some of these lesser riders on the Ducatis and you can see that the bikes are, in my opinion, unsuitably set for what they want to try and do with them. I’m not saying anybody’s doing a bad job. I see these things wobbling around. When I think, clearly, if we had that issue with Valentino it’d be fixed in 80 seconds, but some riders don’t like the hardness of the bike, because they don’t get the feel. But then when they’re riding around and it’s too soft they’re not going forward either. So you’ve got to be able to create the feel with the hardness to avoid all that sloppiness. I don’t think there are any issues in the bike that are a big worry to me. I think the bike is just a tool to do your job. You sharpen the tool at the race track, you don’t build it. you should be able to adjust it to what Valentino wants. And until we’ve got a race or two under belts, we won’t really know how close we are or how much better we’ve made it. but if we can make it, as it stands here today, good for Valentino, then it’s probably not a bad bike. Then we just have to wait and see what happens.”

**What about reaction time? Will Ducati be able to react as quickly as Yamaha? **

“It’s about prioritizing things and if I was to put it to you in a way such that with Valentino having a direct link to Filippo (Preziosi). Filippo is then in a position to direct his engineering group. If the engineering group were working on another problem that we had and they’re a week away from completing that, he can pull that first project up and say, ‘no, no, no this has suddenly become more important—get on this first.’ And I think that’s pretty much what we’ve had with (Masao) Furusawa. Rather than going from the bottom up, through the network here of the engineering group through the various different departments and then putting it on the list to get fixed, we’ve had a man there that could basically tell the engineers that they can ‘stop project A because project B has suddenly become more important. And you’ll go back to project A when you’ve project B tidied up or if we don’t have anything coming along.’ And I would like to hope that Filippo will be sort of commanding the ship from right there. I know that Valentino will be picking the phone up fairly regularly, if not every night. And I’m sure that’s what Filippo would like to hear. And you’re dealing with Valentino Rossi. You’re not dealing with somebody you’re not sure of. What I said to Yamaha when I came here, I said, ‘I can’t fix your bike. But if you listen to Valentino Rossi, we’ll go forward. Ignore him at your peril.’ And it’s the same deal here at Ducati. They spent the money to get him. If you don’t want to listen to him, well why did you spend the money?”

One of your concerns was what would happen to your crew, many of whom are younger.

“Everybody is an independent contractor. We’re all sort of mercenaries. You have to weigh up the options. Everybody is of such high quality in their field, there’s no issue with having them stay here at Yamaha if they want to stay here. Again, so many of us came with Valentino and worked together before and Brent (Stephens) and Matteo (Flamigni), who are the two guys who were at Yamaha when we arrived, are now also making the move to Ducati. So at the end of it all everybody had to look at their own situation. I did remind them of what’s actually taking place. It may not be the fit for everybody, but to consider carefully. Just weigh up all the scenarios. Can you in your life afford this? Is this your best move to make? Don’t leap off the rail car without looking. So, everybody seems to be happy. Ducati are very happy to have us on board. And when we finally get to sort of, able to work with the bike, after our current term expires with Yamaha, it’s going to be quite good.”

Is there enough test time to get the bike ready?

“Yep. As I said, the bike’s a lot closer, I believe, than we were seven years ago. OK, times are different. I’m aware of that. the Hondas are going to be very, very strong. And I believe racing is cyclic. I think Yamaha possibly could be in a position it’s getting towards the end of its so-called dominance. It’ll be very strong for a couple of years. Honda I know are going to come back and we’ve seen that with hiring Casey. We’ve seen that with the engineers they’ve taken from us. From the testing point of view, I think we’ll be fine. We don’t have a tire issue, because they’re all the same. Most of the components on the bikes these days are sourced; suspensions and what have you. Experienced, reasonably experienced crew, reasonably experienced rider. The important thing, the main important thing, is Valentino gets his shoulder back to full fitness so that when we come out next year in Qatar we’ve got all guns blazing.”

Would missing the Valencia test have mattered?

“I don’t think it makes a scrap of difference, because two or three things can happen. A, he’s not 100% fit, so is it a fair test? Two, it could be raining for two days after Valencia, anyway. And in most sporting endeavors, and I do still consider motorcycling to be somewhat sporting, if you’re athlete isn’t at full fitness, you can’t expect to win. So you’ve got to be at full fitness first. Then you can have a positive test. You wouldn’t learn anything in the wet anyway, if it’s wet; it could be perfectly dry. At least if he’s fit when we come back in Sepang in the early part of February, we’ll get really good quality testing.”