When a combination of wanderlust and lots of encouragment from his then-boss Graeme Crosby caused Adrian Gorst to leave New Zealand for England, he quickly made a name for himself spinning the wrenches for Neil Robinson, Terry Rymer, and other riders competing in the British Superbike Championships. Gorst came to the attention of Peter Doyle, who asked him to tune for Robbie Phillis on the factory Kawasaki WSC team. The next year, Gorst began a long-term association with Aaron Slight, and the pair missed out on the #1 plate more times than Adrian cares to remember.
"Slighty was good, but we became stale together," commented Gorst. "It wasn't working, and we started second-guessing each other. After five years, it was time to move on, and I've been working with Colin ever since. Colin is the best guy I've ever worked with. He has his little moments, but he's big enough to admit his mistakes and takes it as constructive criticism when he gets something wrong."
While tuning for some of the best riders in the world, Gorst has seen it all - from watching riders up-close as only a handful of people ever get to do, to incurring the full wrath of Carl Fogarty (as mentioned in the world champion's biography). "I don't think he (Fogarty) ever liked me because I was working with the opposition," Gorst said. "He bailed from Honda pretty quickly, but I admire him for taking the challenge. Aaron always had to beat Foggy. It was always about beating the team-mate. Colin just likes beating everybody."
After 17 years of travelling, you would think that Gorst would despise having to leave his wife and two children at home, but the passion of winning and competing keeps him going.
"It's a lifestyle. It doesn't get me down, really. I'd like to live in New Zealand and spend more time with my family, but this is what I do. It's difficult, but you can't do this job living in New Zealand. I could leave my family there, but I would only see them a minimal amount of time. I'm still away a lot, but at least with them based in England, I get to see them every couple of weeks. I would look at other opportunities but I love racing, and if I go back to New Zealand, what do I do then? We're here to win. It's the only reason to be here, and I think it's the only reason to live away from home and live in England where the lifestyle obviously isn't like in the Southern Hemisphere. I could not live in England and just be there to make up the numbers, I've got to be there and give 100%. I'm not actually on the bike, but there is still a great feeling seeing it cross the finish line first.
And, as for this year's Honda, Gorst says "We're working well with the SP-2, gaining information for the chassis, and we seem to be going forward all the time."
Colin Edwards seems much more enthusiastic and confident about the new bike than he did about the second-generation RC51. Edwards says, "It's a wiggle-worm, you know. It's looking for traction. It's trying every last ounce to find out what's there, whereas last year's bike was like riding a plank of wood. So stiff; so solid. It wasn't looking for anything. It would just spin, spin everywhere. You had to go more and more and more until it chucked you on your head. The SP-2 is good, it's really good. I'm happy with it.
"The new bike," continues Edwards, "the way I explain it is, it's clawing for traction. Last year's bike was just slipping and sliding everywhere. This year's bike is looking. It's digging, wanting traction."
Other than all-new suspension components, the rest of the running gear is essentially the same, including the Nissin six-piston conventionally mounted calipers. New engine and chassis specs have the bike about eight pounds overweight - which is similar to last year.
No matter how well-prepared the rider and the machine are, a paradox of racing is that the major difference between winner and first loser is often the choice of tire. The battle for this year's title chase ensures that Gorst and his crew will be analyzing every piece of data to ensure that Michelin is able to supply the best set of tires. Statistically, most tracks favor either Dunlop or Michelin, but now there is another player with Pirelli coming into the class. Gorst is quick to point out that the Dunlop-shod boys should have an advantage at Brands Hatch, Silverstone, and Sugo.
But, while Haga and Bostrom will be using Dunlops, Castrol Honda's climb back to the top will be also determined by two other adversaries: Bayliss and Xaus who will both also be on Michelins.
"I think Michelin made some improvements in the latter half of last season," Gorst says. "In the beginning, though, I think we fell a little bit behind Dunlop; they were working a bit harder than we were. You've got to look at the fact that the first two guys in the championship last year were on Michelins. We got our butts kicked at a couple of racetracks, and those tracks were where Dunlop dominates. For instance, Brands Hatch where everyone runs Dunlop for the British home series, so Dunlop gets a lot of information, and Sugo where they also run Dunlops for the All-Japan series and also have a lot of information.
"Silverstone never hosting a WSC race throws up more problems, even though a test is scheduled for the week leading up to the race. As a Michelin guy told me, if they don't do the laps through the year, you don't even know what tires to bring. It's hard when you haven't got somebody running there throughout the year to keep the development going. You only do development at the track when you go to the track.
"So if you only go there once a year, you fall behind. Donington is traditionally a Dunlop track, but this year at Silverstone we'll go there, and Michelin certainly won't have any information for Silverstone. There's a test two days before the meeting, so basically you have to make your stuff before you go there. What you go to test with you're basically going to have for the race. But, of course, Dunlop will have some information because they have run on the short circuit or the national circuit in the British championship at Silverstone, but we won't have any information and it is also on the full circuit.
"We will have a look at the track with a "guesstimation" to start with like we always do. If you haven't been there, you have a look at it. I've already got Silverstone information that I've been working on it trying to figure out gear ratios and things like that. I've already made a gearbox plan as a starting point, which we normally do. You look at the information from places, but until we actually go there, we won't know."
Gorst believes that he and his crew will have a good year and be right in there battling for the title, but this year, the garage will seem a little smaller with just one rider.
|Adrian Gorst Bio|
Born: Auckland, New Zealand
Current Position: Chief Mechanic
Years of Experience: 17
Riders Adrian Has Tuned For:
Graeme Crosby: 1982
Neil Robinson (Skoal Bandit Suzuki): 1986 to 1988
Terry Rymer (Loctite Yamaha): 1989 to 1991
Rob Phillis (Team Moving Kawasaki): 1992
Aaron Slight (Kawasaki and Honda): 1993 to 1997
Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda): 1998 to Present
"We really don't know if we've closed the gap yet. You can only go by what everyone is doing in testing, and I think you're seeing a fairly good indication of what everyone's doing. If somebody hasn't done it out there (during testing), they're probably not going to do it.
"We won't really know until we get to the first race, but looking at testing, it's like it's always been: the guy who beats the best rider who happens to be riding a Ducati will win the championship. It's always been the bike to beat."
Gorst isn't too perturbed by being a one-rider team in 2002 after fielding two jockeys since the beginning of the Castrol Honda team. "It doesn't make any difference in the way I work. My job is to get the best out of the machine for Colin, so it won't make any difference if we've got another teammate or not. The only thing a teammate does is keep you honest. Hopefully, your teammate pushes you, and sometimes maybe he finds things that you don't find to help you move forward. It obviously enables you to test more tires; you can split the preliminary tire load between you.
"Having one rider puts the entire workload on us, but in a lot of ways, we had that full workload last year even with Tady (Okada) in the team. Tady, to me, wasn't performing up to his full capabilities last year. At Phillip Island and at the Eight Hours last year, he rode unbelievably. I've chief-engineered for him at the Eight Hours a couple of times, and the guy is really good, but I was disappointed with how he rode in Europe last year."
When asked about the departure of Troy Corser from the series, Gorst doesn't, for even a moment, let sentimentality get the best of him. "Corser's gone, so what? Haga's back. Corser's gone for a reason. People survive by doing the business. This is racing. If you don't do the business, you're not here, and that goes for mechanics as well as riders.
Even though this year looks pretty promising for Gorst and company, we all know that the new world order of MotoGP will have an effect on the World Superbike Championship. Gorst believes there is still a strong future for the class.
"World Superbikes will adapt and change. The Grand Prix four-stroke prototype will never be a national championship class and you still need a premier class for a national championship class. People aren't going to be content to ride a 600 on street tires and things like that. To me, the future of Superbikes, the rules may change a little bit, the capacity or something like that, but there is a future for Superbike because Grand Prix - a lot of it - is still about buying a ride. There are more good riders than there are good bikes, and if you were a good rider, would you have the self-esteem to take a shit ride in Grand Prix just to be there and have no chance of winning?
"Obviously, the riders who will take any ride haven't got the same winning attitude as maybe I have and some of the WSC riders have. You want to win, and if you haven't got the equipment capable of winning, why go there? If you can get a factory bike in Superbike, and you're only going to get something that's not competitive in Grand Prix, why bother going there? "
Wherever he is, rest assured, Adrian Gorst will be giving 100% to the team.