Monday, August 16

JEREMY BURGESS: WITHER NOW?

By MICHAEL ESDAILE

WITH the announcement that seven times World MotoGP Champion Valentino Rossi has signed for Ducati, the question now on motorcycle grand prix fans minds is: will his long-serving crew chief Jeremy Burgess join him?

There are those who believe Burgess will follow Rossi to the Ducati team, pointing to a remark Burgess made several years ago in an interview. When he was asked how long he would remain in MotoGP, Burgess reportedly stated: "for as long as Valentino wants to race."

That would make it seem Burgess joining Ducati to head Rossi's crew is a forgone conclusion. But it is doubtful that when Burgess made that statement that he ever envisaged Rossi going to Ducati.

And word in Italy is that Burgess will not be part of the Rossi-Ducati team. The Italians have never allowed a non-Italian in such a high profile position, let alone a crew chief with a team of foreign mechanics. Burgess is Australian, as are the other key players in Rossi's Yamaha GP team.

Would JB stay at Yamaha?

That seems unlikely as Jorge Lorenzo has forged a close and successful relationship with fellow Spaniard Ramon Forcada and Texan Ben Spies, who will move up to the factory Yamaha team in 2011, has a close and successful working relationship with fellow American Tom Houseworth.

Burgess flies back and forth to his Adelaide home during breaks in the GP season and after 30 years in grand prix racing, with all the travel that involves, it is not inconceivable that he may make the decision to quit the GP scene at the end of the 2010 season.

However, there is another option: rejoin Honda.

When Burgess left Honda Racing Corporation at the end of the 2003 season, it was only after considerable persausion from Valentino Rossi. Burgess, a very loyal Honda employee, had initially indicated he wanted to stay with HRC, a company he joined in 1983, and work with Nicky Hayden.

It says a lot about Rossi's persausiveness that Burgess eventually decided to leave Honda to go to Yamaha, a move that saw the duo take the championship in their very first year with the new team, and a further three more world championships since then. In fact, Rossi has not won a premier class world championship without Burgess as his crew chief.

With apparently no place for Burgess at Ducati, and a new vice-president at HRC in the form of Shuhei Nakamoto who has adopted a radical (for Honda) policy of hiring the best people for the job, regardless of nationality, perhaps the veteran Aussie may be tempted back to his old employer - to work with Casey Stoner.

Under Nakamoto's direction, HRC signed Yamaha electronics technicians Andrea Zugna and Cristian Battaglia to work on the new electronics package fitted to the 2010 Honda RC212V and also tempted former Ducati man Livio Suppo away from the Bologna factory, to act as commercial director and team manager for the factory Repsol Honda team.

Now Honda has signed 2007 MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner to a two-year deal with the factory team, as teammate to current Repsol rider Dani Pedrosa.

Burgess was keen on Stoner as a prospect for Yamaha before the young Aussie was signed by Ducati at the end of 2006. It is clear Stoner needs someone of Burgess' vast experience in his corner. The 2009 and 2010 Ducati V4s have proved a real handful and neither Stoner nor his team-mate Nicky Hayden appear to have had any success in sorting that.

Stoner definitely needs someone like Burgess to help him make the Honda a regular challenger to the current ruling force of Jorge Lorenzo and the Yamaha YZR-M1 in 2011.

But the man himself is saying very little about his future intentions, no doubt quietly enjoying reading the speculation from various journalists around the world.