Mullumbimby man has worked for MotoGP champions
MOTORSPORT is a turbulent sport to be involved in. It is not uncommon for those in the industry to say there are far more disappointments than there are highs.
When history is made it’s easy to forget that it’s not an individual achievement but rather the collective effort of an entire team.
One man who has been at the centre, albeit on the sidelines, of some of MotoGP’s greatest moments is Mullumbimby resident Alex Briggs.
Mr Briggs is now retiring after decades working with some of the best.
From Mick Doohan to Valentino Rossi, he has been making history with his bare hands.
The mechanic to the MotoGP legends is deserving of his own legacy in racing, such has been his role in shaping some of the sport’s most impressive dynasties.
So how does someone go from working on buses in Canberra to some of the fastest machines on the planet.
“Once I found out I was better at fixing motorcycles than I was riding them, then it was easy,” Briggs said.
Briggs sold his motorbikes and set off for Sydney with just a van and a futon to get in on the ground floor at Yamaha. It represented a substantial risk and an even greater pay cut.
After cutting his teeth Briggs decided it was time to pursue a career in Europe. But it was not without some early drama.
“I got a message to call Jerry Burgess (then chief mechanic for Mick Doohan)”, Briggs recalls.
The problem was Briggs had already “shaken hands” on the Europe deal.
It took just a 30-second phone conversation with Burgess to change his mind and set off on a path that would lead him to the pinnacle of the sport.
Briggs has surrounded himself with some of the biggest names in the sport in Doohan and Rossi. It’s no coincidence that they are also two of the biggest personalities to have hit the track.
Australia legend Doohan was known for his fiery nature, a primal trait Briggs quickly became accustomed to.
“He was aggressive like a boxer before a fight, he would get geared up for a race,” he said.
“That would come across often as anger when things weren’t right and he’d let you know.”
In comparison, Rossi offered a “completely different” dynamic, so much so in fact that Briggs joked to Doohan, “Mate, after working for you, he is a dream.”
Not that working for Doohan wasn’t a dream in its own way, though. As Briggs points out, “he just wanted to win everything … he just liked being first.”
Briggs, who refers to Rossi as ‘The Rider’ says the nickname originated when he first started in MotoGP and took after the Japanese in not saying the rider’s names, Doohan included.
However, with Rossi the moniker took on another meaning, he is the rider, not just Valentino Rossi.
“I call him ‘The Rider’ more than ‘Valentino’, that’s just what I call him.”
For Briggs though, his role in Rossi’s journey appears to be concluding, with the 41-year-old signing with Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing and denied the option to bring his team, including Briggs, across with him.
“Now when you leave a circuit, looking around at everything, it’s sad but good. I have spent so many years looking at these hills, looking at the tracks, I’ve enjoyed it.”
Those years and years equate to decades, almost three to be precise, and while much of that time has seen Briggs celebrating victories, it’s hasn’t always a been a smooth ride.
This past year has been one to forget for both Briggs and Rossi. The Italian has been chasing his 200th career podium since the Andalucía Grand Prix in July.
“He is actually riding quite well this year, really well … things were never going to be the same as what they were at the beginning.”
It’s not surprising Briggs looks back to those early years with fondness. After all, they were among the most defining in his career.
So, what’s next for the Aussie? A well-deserved year off in Australia to be with family, which includes wife and comedian Ellen Briggs, along with running his online store or even mending his friends’ golf clubs. (Not Rossi’s, the legend believes the sport is “too slow.”)
As for what comes after that, Briggs admits he “doesn’t know what the future holds.”
After almost three decades in the sport, Briggs knows more than anyone that racing is a “very fickle industry sometimes.”
But will the itch to get back see the iconic mechanic back in the paddock?
Much like it was at the beginning, he doesn’t know what the future may hold.
“When I first started my mum asked me what I was going to do next year and I said I don’t know, they are one-year contracts, I don’t know what I’m going to do and that was 28 years ago.”
Originally published as: ‘I can sack you anytime I want’: The Aussie mechanic behind two MotoGP legends