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 Australian Alex Briggs.
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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 told foxsports.com.au.
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.
“Just like that?”, Briggs recalls asking Burgess. The reply was blunt: “‘Don’t worry. I can sack you anytime I want.’”
It’s now 28 seasons later and Briggs has never been sacked, a credit to a man as driven as the riders themselves.
“I don’t think you hang around too long (if you’re not). Either you are just not cut out to do it, you might lose your job, or the athlete basically kicks you out.
“Over time I think the people that end up surrounding champions are there for a reason. He (the rider) would like you to be here, the team would like you to be here, or you perform your job.”
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.”
Indeed, that moniker may well be the most apt – based solely on popularity, Rossi would have a claim to being the greatest to ever do it.
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.
“I am starting to reflect on it all,” Briggs admits.
“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.
Disappointments of course go hand-in-hand with the sport, one of the more significant being when Doohan injured himself in Jerez, signalling the end of the legend’s career.
“I guess for as many highs there have been a lot of disappointments,” Briggs reflected, before referencing Doohan’s injury along with Rossi’s 2006 world championship loss.
“I was there when Mick injured himself in Jerez, and that was the end of his career there, and that was pretty harsh … but if I had to say one it would be that race in Valencia. I forget what year it was, but Nicky (Hayden) won the championship that year.”
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.
“This year it’s terrible, but the reality is we have been in positions that we have actually done better than we have in other years it just hasn’t worked out,” he said.
“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.
His favourite came in his first season and race win with Yamaha, a bike he says wasn’t perfect but “got better and better and better.”
For Briggs, it was all about being part of something that Yamaha hadn’t “done for a while.” Watching Valentino achieve “such a great goal and being involved with the evolution of the bike was just fantastic.”
As technology advances so does the mechanics behind the motorcycle, and Briggs has seen and worked on them all admitting that the Hondas were “really nice to work on,” while the Ducati’s were “the hardest.”
“I still really enjoyed the time there from a mechanic’s point of view learning new things and learning I guess in some cases what not to do.
“At this level everything is surprising. It’s difficult when you go back, and you fix your lawnmower then you realise how wonderful the bikes that you’re working on are.”
Thursdays before a GP are his favourite day and that has not changed for him, there are no nerves just yet – that comes when the work begins.
“Thursday you work on the bikes with basically your friends, the radio playing. You can go and get any spare part you want from the truck without having to wait, without anyone telling you how much it costs, not like in a normal dealership.”
By Friday the mechanic admits he still “gets nervous in every single session to some degree.” But he finds the 15 minutes before lights out as “almost a happy time, it’s the eye of the storm.
“Once we are on the grid and the bike is sitting there, I feel a lot better, everything is a lot calmer.”
During the race, you will find Briggs near the pit box helping a teammate with the pit board, keeping an eye on what is going on and handing over the names of the people passing the rider or that the rider himself is passing among other things.
“I really enjoy it, I enjoy that time, we laugh a lot while we are doing it. We also watch the race in a different way and barrack for our rider at the same time, so I enjoy it, it is probably the least stressful I am in a race.”
After a race, if you are one of the lucky three, the prosecco showers are flowing presumably late into the night but Briggs debunks that myth confessing the parties are “few and far between.”
In fact, Briggs admits that by the time he has finished packing up, you “sleep in your clothes, you’re that tired.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been some raucous moments. One need only look back to 1994 following Doohan’s first world championship win in Bruno, Czech Republic.
With celebrations beginning in the tent, “usually a blue tarpaulin we would hang and put a couple of stickers up”, the team moved to a hotel before settling on a disco-tech nightclub.
Briggs recalls the group was initially refused entry by “guys with machine guns guarding the door.” Walking in, the group was confronted by poles placed throughout the venue with women hoisted up to dance.
That’s when things took a turn.
“I don’t know why, but at some stage, I climbed up the pole and started to dance away.”
It didn’t go unnoticed. Bouncers approached Briggs who had now also caught the attention of the team. Shortly thereafter the Aussie watched as two of his colleagues crash tackled the bouncer, “we then scattered and carried on…that was a bit wild.”
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.”