Team Musical Chairs: Rossi's' Crew Go To Ducati, Spies' WSBK Team Reunited
If Valentino Rossi's move to Ducati was one of the worst-kept secrets in the MotoGP paddock, whether Rossi's crew chief Jeremy Burgess would follow him is undoubtedly the best-kept secret. Burgess, together with entire Australian crew that has surrounded Rossi since he entered the premier class in 2000, has maintained a sphinx-like silence about the question, handily dodging the question whenever it was put to them.
For a long time, this was not a pose. While Rossi had decided to switch to Ducati as early as mid-June, Burgess was still completely undecided at Brno two months later. Such was Burgess and crew's indecision that Yamaha gave them a deadline, to allow the team to start making plans to replace them should they decide to leave. That deadline came and went at Misano, but still no word seeped out from Burgess and crew about whether they were off to Ducati along with their rider.
Even at the 13th round of the year at Aragon, individual members of Rossi's crew avoided answering any inquiries about their future. But while the Australian side of the garage remained silent on the matter, the rest of the Yamaha team felt no such obligation. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MCN's Matthew Birt that Burgess and crew would be following Rossi to Ducati, which Birt promptly posted on his Twitter page.
Inquiries with other members of the Yamaha organization confirmed the news: various sources inside Yamaha confirmed that Rossi's entire crew would be heading off to Ducati along with the Italian rider, leaving a virtually empty garage behind.
With Ben Spies moving into that garage at the end of the year, that garage will be filled by people that the Texan will be bringing along with him. Spies' crew chief Tom Houseworth will be joining Spies at the factory Yamaha team for 2011, along with his mechanic Gregg Wood. Houseworth will be sharing the role of crew chief with another, more experienced MotoGP hand, though Yamaha have not yet confirmed who that will be.
Spies brought Houseworth and Wood with him to MotoGP from World Superbikes, and more of his former WSBK crew are likely to follow. Current WSBK team manager Massimo Meregalli will be moving into the MotoGP team to manage Spies' side of the factory Yamaha garage, where he will also be reunited with his former colleague Wilco Zeelenberg, currently fulfilling the same role for Jorge Lorenzo. Other members of the team could also follow Meregalli into MotoGP.
The departure of Burgess and co. to Ducati, along with their rider, is part of a growing trend in MotoGP, one they started themselves back in 2004 when Rossi left Honda to join Yamaha. Increasingly, riders take their own engineering staff with them when the switch from team to team, along with an ever-growing entourage. As the bikes become more complex, the importance of communication between rider and crew grows also, and being able to understand and interpret rider feedback is now such an essential part of setting up a racing motorcycle that even the smallest of misunderstandings between rider and crew chief can make it difficult to compete.