MotoGP is no different than any other global sport: It relies on superstars to sustain and build its popularity.
Valentino Rossi has been the supernova of the premier class for more than a decade, easily the most popular and charismatic two-wheeled road racer on Earth since his 500cc debut in 2000. But if you're looking for the legend with the most longevity and a resume to match or exceed Rossi's, then focus on the guy standing or sitting next to The Doctor with the wavy, salt-and-pepper hair and professorial glasses, crew chief Jeremy Burgess.
The list of elite riders with whom Burgess has worked and guided since arriving in Europe from his native Australia in 1980 is astonishing. Mamola. Spencer. Gardner. Doohan. Rossi. Four legendary champions and one of the best riders never to win the premier class world title.
Burgess is a prototypical Aussie. He'll speak his mind, sometimes even when he's not asked. He once said the success of a team is 80 percent rider and 20 percent bike, something the Japanese factories didn't like to hear due to their belief the machine makes the rider, not vice-versa.
Despite his 80/20 theory, no one questions that Burgess is the best crew chief in MotoGP and has been for quite some time, probably after his Grand Prix apprenticeships with Americans "Little George" Vukmanovich and Erv Kanemoto. Burgess' work with Rossi when both moved from the dominant Honda to Yamaha in 2004 cemented his status as a tuning god, as Rossi steamrolled to the World Championship in 2004 with nine victories on a bike that was winless in 2003.
There's another defining characteristic about Burgess' career besides his mechanical genius. The man knows how to work with people, how to adapt to the fickle personalities and egos of the tightly-wound men who ride the lightning on a 200-mph missile for a living. He's tuned for riders of nearly every riding style and personality.
Freddie Spencer was a picture of precision. Wayne Gardner was all aggression. But Gardner needed pep talks from Burgess to boost his confidence, while the imperious Mick Doohan thought he owned the racetrack the minute he walked in on a race weekend. Gardner had European racing experience before he started working with Burgess in 1986; Doohan never had raced a 500cc Grand Prix bike before hooking up with JB in 1989.
And then came Rossi. He told Honda in 1999 that he would ride for the manufacturer as a 500cc rookie in 2000 only if Burgess was his engineer. Doohan had just retired due to injuries in 1999, so Burgess aligned with Rossi - whose tidy riding precision is reminiscent of Spencer - and went on to win seven premier class world championships.
|Despite his 80/20 theory, no one questions that Burgess is the best crew chief in MotoGP and has been for quite some time, probably after his Grand Prix apprenticeships with Americans "Little George" Vukmanovich and Erv Kanemoto. |
Burgess and Rossi face a daunting task to coax the recalcitrant - and winless - Ducati GP11 from 2011 into a race- and title-winning bike this season.
But if there's anyone in MotoGP who can pull it off, it's Jeremy Burgess. He knows how to use the parts. And most importantly, he knows how to pull the best from every rider.