The Rules: Be a four-time world title-winning race mechanic
27 March 2013 18:00
Anyone who followed Carl Fogarty’s World Superbike career will know the name Slick Bass.
As Ducati’s chief mechanic, it was Slick’s spannering that helped Foggy win a record four titles in the Nineties.
Anthony Bass, nicknamed Slick for his speed, and possibly the odd oil spillage, has also worked alongside Joey Dunlop, Steve Hislop and Ron Haslam in a 30-year-career.
Now running Slick Performance on the Isle of Man, and supporting TT star Dan Kneen, he remains to many one of the most charismatic and highly-regarded mechanics in bike racing.
But the 47-year-old says being a top race mechanic is not a big deal as long as you love the work. And you’ve read his rules.
1. QUESTION EVERYTHING
Never assume anything is as it should be. Establish what’s correct yourself. You’ll get a mint, factory bike, but it could be set up for a particular racer and not good to anyone else. No one else could ride Freddie Spencer’s NSR500. Every rider is different. John Kocinski wanted the bike to be on its nose and would brake and turn late into corners. It’s the complete opposite to Foggy, who brakes slightly early and runs a very fast corner speed. With Foggy, we’d run the softest fork springs with the highest oil level. Other engineers would say: “You’ll crash on that.” I’d say: “We’ve won four titles with that.” Always trust what you believe, not what others tell you, and don’t dismiss anything you haven’t tested.
You need to develop a connection with the rider, to understand them. Don’t necessarily believe what they tell you. Foggy used to say he had no grip. The problem wasn’t grip, it was that he had no stability on the brakes. He’d out-brake himself, run too deep into the corner, then have to really lean and open the throttle too early. Then the end result was no grip. I would talk him back to the beginning of the corner. A proper team has complete and utter understanding between the rider and mechanic. I’ve had Ducati telling me not to tell Carl that something has been changed on the bike, but I’d always tell him. You have to be friends with the racer. If you don’t really get on then you don’t have that communication. Carl and I would go out for a drink and have a chuckle. I still see him as a mate but I’ve got fat now and I don’t think he likes hanging around with fat lads.
3. STAY FOCUSSED
I tend to do things at about a million miles an hour. That's how I got the nickname Slick. In the beginning it was because I’d lubricate everything, and they called my oil slick. But after a while the oil bit got forgotten and I was just called Slick, because I was very fast. It’s important to be able to do three or four things at once, to multi-task. But you also have to be able to stay focussed on the goal. When things go wrong, as they will, you’ve got to stay calm and work out the easiest way to do the lap time. Your job is getting your rider across the line before anyone else’s. It’s that simple.
4. GET DIRTY
Most chief engineers nowadays don't change engines themselves. A lot of them haven't even been a spanner. That's the new world. A lot of electronics have come in now. Personally, I don't think you can properly understand a motorcycle without being able to take it apart and put it back together, look at the way the forks work inside and so on. You've got to have a feel for everything. That's why when these new electronics go on bikes they can be completely wrong.
5. WORK IN STAGES
I always go over things in my head after I've done the job, and do things in sections. If you're going down a ski slope and you look all the way to the bottom it can be scary. But if just look from point A to B, and then B to C, it becomes easy. So you break things up in a way that you can deal with, and each time you finish one section, you tidy up and tighten all the bolts before going to the next. Also, work out which jobs are most important and which you can do very quickly at the end, after the tyre warmers are back on.
6. LEARN A LANGUAGE
I didn't realise it at school but language is so important if you're going to travel. It took me two-and-a-half years of working in Italy to become fluent. I also learned a little Japanese but it's not such a pre-requisite. In Japan, they all wanted to speak English. Occasionally I'd pick a phone up and say “Moshi moshi” and someone would be off in Japanese. Then they'd go “Oh” and put the phone down again.
7. LEARN THE POLITICS
I was sacked by Castrol Honda in 1996, by team manager Neil Tuxworth. He's sacked me twice in my career. There's nothing wrong with him. He just runs the ship the way he wants to. I didn't fit in. I wasn't happy there from day one because it was so different to the way the Italians run their show. Ducati saw that I could get Carl across the line first and that was my job. At Honda they were worried about so many other things and I found that difficult to deal with. You have to fit in with the crew and I guess I was disruptive and he was right to get rid of me. He just told me I was out.
Later in my career, after three years back at Ducati, Troy Corser offered me a job with Aprilia. So I asked Davide Tardozzi, Ducati’s team manager, if I had a job the next year. He said: “You’ve definitely got a job.” They waited until they knew the opportunity of moving had closed and then in the New Year they told me I didn’t have a job after all. I phoned Aprilia but the job had gone.
Ducati thought I was capable of helping Troy move forward, and didn’t want me to take any information away. That’s how it seemed to me anyway.
8. FORESEE THE FUTURE
Think ahead, anticipate the problems and get things in place to fix them before they arise. If the weather looks changeable, make sure you know what settings you’re going to use in the wet. We’d have everything ready for a crash, so that if there was one, we could change footrests, front ends, anything that needs doing in five or 10 minutes. If there’s an hour practice, you want that hour. You don’t want to be waiting for a bike to be ready.
It’s not the time you make, it’s the time you don’t lose that counts. I used to love working with two bikes. By the time the rider came in off one, I'd have the other ready to test a different setting.
Talk over everything. Before each session, talk about what you've learnt, what the problems are and what you need to test.
9. TAKE NOTES
Have a good notes system. Keep it very simple. Record lap times, weather conditions and temperatures, the oil used, the ignition map, the springs, compounds, pressures, all the settings. Then, when you return to a track the next year, you already know what to test next. Ducati didn’t even have a note system when I first went there. Honda took over my note system when I left.
10. LOVE IT
You’ll spend a lot of time away from home. Family life, girlfriends, anything like that is virtually impossible. It’s a single man’s job. One of the things I wanted from life was a family and it’s the one thing I ended up without. You’re travelling around the world and putting your life on hold for a job. But it’s not a problem, and neither is the pressure, if you really love the job. If you’re doing it because you want to wear a jacket and be important and get paid lots of money, as a lot of lads are, you’re there for the wrong reasons. The money was good. I was getting paid just below GP wages. But I would have done it for nothing, in the beginning anyway. I was just really excited to be working with millions of pounds-worth of kit.
Get inside the Ducati Factory and learn about the underlying design and technology of Italy's most famous motorcycles. Watch 'DUCATI: A STORY OF PASSION' over at MCN-TV.