Here is photographic evidence of how nasty things are getting inside the Movistar Yamaha pit as the Rossi/Lorenzo title fight approaches its heart-pumping climax.
Above we see Rossi crew members Gary Coleman (left) and Alex Briggs (right) mugging Jorge Lorenzo mechanic Ian Gilpin in the paddock – the Northern Irishman never stood a chance against the Aussie pair.
It’s just as bad in the pits where the two opposing crews giving each other the dead-eye across the garage and plan their next act of sabotage or their piece snippet of misinformation…
No, I can’t keep this up. Let’s forget the tabloid fantasy and cut to reality…
Although everyone knows that Rossi and Lorenzo maintain only the thinnest veneer of civility between themselves, it’s different with the people working for them.
“There are no issues between us at all,” says Gilpin, cutting dead my hopes for a lucrative Sun exclusive. “Obviously both sides of the garage want to win, but it’s a good mix of people, we’re all professionals, we all get on and we have some fun together, so there’s no dramas.”
Gilpin is a recent addition to Lorenzo’s crew. Previously he worked on Ben Spies’ factory Yamahas and before that he was at Suzuki and at Team Roberts, working on Yamaha, Modenas and Proton machinery.
“Of course, there’s always piss-taking and it fires both ways across the garage. After a race we all say well done to each other and start working on the bikes or packing up. When Valentino wins or if Jorge has a crash, like at Misano, OK, we may be a bit pissed off for an hour, but then you get on with it. It’s not the end of world, is it? It’s only bike racing!”
Humour is the vital lubricant in any difficult job. The responsibilities these men face are huge: it’s not just about getting the bike set up right, it’s also keeping the bike safe; although Briggs suggests his first job as a bus mechanic carried a heavier responsibility because he was looking after up to eighty people on each bus.
“Since I’ve been doing this job, humour is the way you deal with the stress of it,” he says. “Even at the most stressful point of the day someone will crack a joke; that’s our release, our way of coping with it. We had a hell of a lot of humour when we were at Ducati. How many times did one of us say there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and someone else would say, no, it’s a f***in’ train! We said that week in, week out, and we still laughed.”
There are, however, particular stresses and strains in any contest within a team. Just like any rider will tell you that the most important man to beat is his team-mate, so it is for the people working on the motorcycles.
Briggs again: “When you lose against a team with the same bike it’s always harder to take than a loss against a team with a different bike, because that gives you an excuse. If we get beaten by a Honda, we can say, oh, that’s because…”
Although Rossi and Lorenzo run different set-ups (in a nutshell, Rossi’s suspension is stiffer because he’s more aggressive with the bike), both crews know what settings each other is running.
“There are no secrets whatsoever,” says Gilpin. “We shoot across from each side of the garage, saying what settings we’re running and they’ll tell us what they’re putting in; it’s all wide open between us.”
That may be hard to believe, but the team’s senior engineers know all settings used by both riders and the information is always pooled.
“Nothing’s ever been hidden, to be honest,” adds Briggs (above in 2008), who started his GP career with Daryl Beattie at Rothmans Honda in 1993 before switching to Mick Doohan’s crew and then Rossi’s at the end of 1999. “The riders sometimes think it’s hidden. Even in the days of Mick and Àlex Crivillé [at HRC, 1994 to 1999], Mick would have a good session and he would say: whatever you do, don’t let the other guys know what we’re running. So you go, ‘righto, righto’. But the Japanese engineers have no favourites, so it makes no difference. Also, as soon as you have a bit of a disaster with your set-up, Mick, or any other rider, would say, ‘what’s Crivillé running?’ So there you go.”
In fact, the dependence on each side of the garage goes further than that.
“If you have some kind of a problem with something, you always tell the other guys,” says Coleman, who worked for Team Roberts from 1993, then joined Rossi’s crew in 2000. “So if a mechanic from one side of the garage finds that it’s better to put a harness around the upside of the bolt rather than the inside of the bolt, because the harness was rubbing against something the old way, then you go and make sure the other guys do the same.”
“It’s too hard a job to make it even harder,” says Briggs. “When you really see there’s no barrier between both crews is when one of the riders has a crash between sessions. When the other guys are finished working on their bike, the first thing they’ll do is go to the other side of the garage and start helping with the crashed bike.”
The mutual support continues all the way to the start of the grid.
“Before the race it’s my job and Ian’s job to hang back in the garage, looking after the second bikes, while all the other guys in the team do their Hollywood act on the grid,” says Coleman. “Sometimes I’ll help Ian change a wheel, other times he’ll help me. Both riders are on grid and we’re still helping each other.”
Indeed on the grid, the support goes even further than that, says Briggs. “If we’re on the start line and one team’s bike won’t start because their starter’s not working, any other team, regardless of what bike they’ve got, will just slide their starter under the rear wheel. I’ve seen it happen lots of times. We shouldn’t be going, ‘ha ha, you didn’t get on the track because we didn’t help you’. All the racing should happen out on the track.”
If all this chumminess leaves you feeling it bit mawkish in advance of Sunday’s penultimate race, let me cheer you with this Phillip Island fact that should remind you just how cruel this sport is, always has been and always will be.
The percentage difference between Rossi’s and Lorenzo’s race time was 0.03 per cent, while the difference in their points score was 35 per cent. It’s a tough game and the only way to win is by finishing ahead of the other guy more than he finishes ahead of you.