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Grid Talk – Chris Jones | Columns | Gassit Garage

Chris Jones is the suspension technician at DesmoSport Ducati here in Oz, but more than that he’s European Superstock 1000 rider Mike Jones’ old man

Your son Mike is racing for a factory team in Europe and you’re a suspension guru for a top team in Australia. How did it start?

Well, I did a trade as a fitter and turner in the 70s, then I went out on oil rigs where you had to be hands-on and able to fix things.
I had the skills and the mindset to find a solution. Later on, I ended up building drilling rigs and got a job in the hydraulics section. Years later, with Mike and his brother on bikes, well, every dad fixes everything the best that he can.

Mike won a prize in 2009 to ride for Motologic. What I noticed with Wayne Maxwell and Glenn Allerton, when they came in all they were working on was suspension. There would be forks out, changing bits and pieces, shocks apart. It just seemed that every tenth gained on the track was due to suspension, not necessarily a faster motor.

I was fortunate enough the next year that Stewy Winton became available and I approached him to help out with Mike as a suspension tech. The good thing was, whenever he pulled anything apart he took a lot of time to explain to me what he was doing and why. Because I had a good understanding of hydraulics, I could understand it fairly quickly.

What happened to take you to that next level?

Back in the Superstock days you had to run a standard rear shock. You could buy a YZF-R6 rear shock for $60 off eBay, so we’d build up different shocks with different characteristics, swap them out on a test day and Mike would tell me which one worked the best.

One of Mike’s strongest points is he’s able to give clear feedback. I could change compression by two clicks and he would go out, do a few laps and tell me exactly what the difference was. There was a lot of trial and error, but that’s how it started.

Plus, if you want a really good suspension tuner, it can be expensive. It was basically money we didn’t have, so I learnt to help Mike myself.

As a dad with a son racing OS, do you think there’s a decent pathway for young Aussie riders to build a career overseas?

It’s tempting to move as soon as somebody rings and says, ‘If you can come up with a certain amount of dollars, I’ll get you a ride overseas’. In my opinion, half the time they’re not ready. But off they go, boom, and then they blow all this money.

MA is doing a great job with ASBK, but I think there needs to be some focus on how we can provide long-term fully paid opportunities for riders here. If we had the crowds – a goal to bump it up to 10,000 people, for example – it would be a huge injection of cash just from the gate. Then a rider could make a name for himself here without needing to shoot off so early overseas.

Another thing, and what people don’t realise, is that often you have the opportunity of a better bike here in Australia than in Europe. When a rider comes back from overseas and things haven’t worked out, they might say, ‘The team couldn’t set the bike up to suit me’. The reality is, the communication is difficult and the skill to provide a competitive bike just may not be there. And the longer it takes to get results, confidence starts to go and it’s a downward spiral.

Mike’s ability to give feedback… is that something you can develop?

From when Mike was with Motologic, the team asked him to understand where the problem is – the corner, the exit, on the brakes – and relay that information back. He didn’t need to work out any solutions; describing the feeling and where it happens is all that’s important. And faith in your crew.

How different is working with your son to working with contracted riders?

Sometimes, when it is your son it’s a bit harder to make that decision and you stress about it. I find if I’m working with somebody else I can be a lot clearer in my thoughts at that level. It’s not that you don’t have the same worry for a contracted rider, it’s just that I don’t get as emotionally attached. I can keep it clearer as a job, and I use that
to our advantage.

At the end of the day, every time your own kid is on track it’s always in the back of your mind they might step off. When you watch a bike powerslide off Turn 12 at Phillip Island and they’re on it up on the ripple strip, the head shakes, then boom, down the straight … your heart is in your mouth the whole race and sometimes I think, ‘Holy shit, I’m glad that’s over!’   

  Interview MATT O’CONNELL