‘If it hurts, I want it to hurt more’
Cal Crutchlow is one of Britain’s greatest MotoGP riders of all time. He tells us why he likes racing to hurt and why he has changed his mind about retiring at the end of this year
E CONDUCT THIS INTERVIEW AT CRUTCHLOW’S OFFICE INSIDE THE LCR Honda garage in Sepang pit-lane. It sounds glamourous, but really it isn’t. The tiny space feels more like a police interrogation cell than a MotoGP star’s paddock sanctuary. Paint peels from the walls and, apart from a rickety table and chair, the only furniture is a manky old sofa, like you might find in a crack den. The weather is typically tropical, 34 degrees Celsius outside, so Crutchlow is sprawled across the sofa wearing nothing more than underpants and some recently acquired tattoos.
The 2020 season — if it ever happens — will be Crutchlow’s 10th in the premier-class of motorcycle racing. The man from Coventry hasn’t won a MotoGP world championship but he is the only Briton to have won a premierclass grand prix in the past 40 years. And the only Britons who have won more GPs than the 34-year-old are Mike Hailwood, Geoff Duke, Barry Sheene, and Phil Read. That’s some seriously exalted company.
Crutchlow has made it this far throughgrim determination, a fearsome ability to shrug off pain, and a blind refusal to admit defeat. He’s not the kind of bloke with whom you’d want to have a fight.
‘I like to suffer,’ he says. ‘I have a hardness about me that if it hurts, I want it to hurt more, which is the worst possible mentality you can have as a motorcycle racer, but it works for me.’
Crutchlow won the World Supersport title in 2009, riding a
Yamaha R6, which got him a ride in the factory’s World
Superbike team the following year, astride an R1. That season he won three races and had several teams chasing his signature for 2011: both BMW and Honda offered £800,000 (Rs 7.2 crore). No doubt he could have enjoyed a very lucrative career in WSB for as long as he wanted.
But, no, that was the easy road and Crutchlow was more interested in taking the rocky road. Tech 3 owner Herve Poncharal offered him £300,000 (Rs 2.7 crore) to ride a Yamaha YZR-M1 in the 2011 MotoGP championship and he signed on the dotted line.
‘I wanted to get to the top, not just get to the top championship and cruise around, I wanted to be the best in the world. I’m not the best in the world, but you have to have the belief and the desire to be the best or it’s pointless doing it.’
Crutchlow has tried hard to be the best, probably too hard. Since 2011, he has won three MotoGP races, climbed the podium a further 15 times, and had nearly 200 crashes.
‘I sit there and think I could’ve finished on the podium another 10 times if I hadn’t crashed out of half of them. I give it my all, no matter what happens, which means more to me than anything. But that’s also been my downfall. Even if I don’t feel good with the bike in the race, I’ll keep pushing and pushing and pushing. That’s just me and that’s why I haven’t finished half the races I should’ve finished.’
Crutchlow has always had a cockiness about him, but it’s race-face cockiness, not normal-life cockiness. Even when he decided to turn take the hard road into MotoGP, he thought he had what it took to make it. Soon he wasn’t so sure.
‘I went to watch the Valencia race at the end of 2010, before I started testing with Tech 3 a few days later. I was looking at the chaps riding around at the back — at the time it was people like [Hiroshi] Aoyama — and I thought these guys are rubbish! Me being me and having that killer instinct I said I can’t wait to getout there with them. Then, on the first day of testing, I didn’t even see which way Aoyama went. I thought this is a lot harder than racing a production bike on Pirellis.’
The first half of his rookie MotoGP season was such a disaster — slow crashing — that he wanted to get out and return to the relative safety of WSB. Finally, things came to a head at the US GP in July.
‘Honestly, it was a really difficult time, then I had a massive fight with Herve at Laguna. I wanted to go back to Superbikes. As a racer, you have doubts in your mind and I said to myself I just can’t do this. Herve came into my motorhome and said something like you’re being beaten by [Karel] Abraham! So, I said, well, go and sign Abraham! And then we had the argument. I remember him half leaving the motorhome and me half pushing him out. We didn’t speak for a while after that, but ever since then I and Herve have been great, great friends.’
The turning point for Crutchlow was MotoGP’s change in technical regulations, from 800-cc engines to 1,000s in 2012.
‘When the 1,000s came, they were fantastic for me, because I could play with the bike a lot more. The 800s were so robotic, completely different from what I’d ridden before. The superbike moved around a lot, I used the throttle a lot more, I played with the brakes, and, although the electronics were good, they weren’t the be all and end all. The 800s were like twist-and-go bikes and I couldn’t get my head around them.
‘I immediately went a lot better with the 1,000s. I went well in pre-season tests, got a fourth at the first race in Qatar, another fourth at the second race at Jerez, and my first podiums at Brno and Phillip Island.’
Next the factories came knocking. Crutchlow signed with Ducati in 2014 — his first multi-million-pound payday — but soon realised he had no long-term future there. ‘I
knew the following year I wouldn’t be in the factory team, because Ducati told me they’d already signed [Andrea] Dovizioso and [Andrea Iannone].’ So, he got out of there (with a big, fat payoff) and joined LCR Honda, where he’s been ever since.
That gamble he took in 2011 has paid off handsomely, with a year at Ducati and then multiple contracts with LCR and HRC.
‘I could’ve done five or six years in WSB at a million a year, but I make that and more in one year in MotoGP. But back then I wasn’t looking at MotoGP in monetary terms at all. I just wanted to be at the top; I didn’t care about anything else. At that point in my career, I wasn’t bothered about taking a salary cut because me and Lucy [now Mrs Crutchlow] lived day by day, happy as anything. If we could pay the bills, have food, and be comfortable, we were happy, so I took the chance and jumped across because I wanted to be at the top, I wanted a chance to be there. As things have gone on, I’ve got bigger and better stuff, but I don’t blow my money. I’m not a Ferrari or Lamborghini chap.’
I ask Crutchlow to list the reasons for his success, splitting them four ways among skill, grit, bravery, and bloodymindedness.
‘My talent is probably 10 per cent and the rest is dogged determination; trying to get it done, trying to prove a point to myself that I can do it.’
Crutchlow has had the fortune and the misfortune to have spent the last six seasons riding the same motorcycle as MotoGP king Marc Marquez, arguably the greatest rider of all time. That’s why he is the best man in the world to assess the skills of the eight-time world champion.
‘People have no idea how special Marc is — he’s a freak of nature. He’s this freak that can get these results, week after week, while riding a bike that’s notoriously the hardest thing to ride. Marc is 100 per cent talent. But he’s a bit like me — he’s got that dogged determination to grit his teeth and get on with it.’
Marquez is another who tastes a lot of asphalt. Last year the Spaniard fell off his RC213V 14 times, against Crutchlow’s 12. Both men understand that pain is part of bike racing. But everyone has their limit. Last year Crutchlow thought he had reached his, due to ongoing problems with the right ankle that he had mangled at Phillip Island in October 2018. At the end of last season, he admitted he would probably retire once his current contract expired at the end of 2020.
‘I crashed out of the final race of last year at Valencia and I said to Lucy in the motorhome: I’m done with this;I cannot bear this pain anymore. I’m going to have an op and get the metalwork out of the ankle. Then we spoke to the surgeons — the problem is this nerve that runs over one of the plates, but they can’t take out that plate on its own, they have to take all the metal out. Even then they can’t guarantee that the nerve will be good for at least a year. It will be better because there’ll be less pressure on the nerve, but it may not settle down for a year or more, so I’d end up in the same boat. So, I started winter testing and the pain was horrendous.
‘Now the ankle is all right because I didn’t ride motorcycles in the winter, so I wasn’t getting any inflammation. I rode my bicycle a lot, but it’s not the same, because you’re not bending your leg and your foot all over the place.’
Which brings us to a little exclusive: Crutchlow has cancelled his plans to retire at the end of this season and may change teams for 2021.
‘Where I’m at I still think I’ve got a lot to give — I’m still fast and still competitive and I’ve still got the desire. But at some point, everyone has to stop, even Valentino [Rossi].
‘My main concern and priority are my family.’ Hence the brand-new tattoos on Crutchlow’s hands —“L” for Lucy and
“W” for Willow, their three-year-old daughter, plus some ink to remind him where his wedding ring goes.
‘I want to see my daughter go to school and I want to do things with her, week in week out. That doesn’t mean I can’t race a motorbike, but I’ve had a good career that I’ve enjoyed and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, so I could stop now and do what I want for the rest of my life.’
And what might that be?
‘I’ve always had a desire to get fat, instead of being a slave to the racing diet. So, I’ll have a year doing that and then I’ll probably look at myself in the mirror and be disgusted!’
Most likely he will ride his bicycle — when he’s not racing, he regularly pedals 65 miles (105 km) a day — and watch his eight-figure business investments swell in his bank account.
‘I could live on that for the rest of my life, but I’m not a chap to sit around at home all
day. What I really want to do is manage [Ducati MotoGP rider] Jack Miller. We get on really well and I think he’s got that killer instinct to win the world title. And I’d say his talent on a motorcycle is better than anyone’s. When he gets it right, he’ll be incredible.’
Our interview ends, Crutchlow pulls himself off the gungy sofa and hobbles to the other side room where he climbs into his warrior’s armour: helmet, leathers, gloves, boots, and chest and back protectors. His eyes change, from chatty bloke from Coventry to axe-wielding maniac. I say my thanks and leave… 2019: 2018: 2017: 2016: 2015: 2014: 2013: 2012: 2011: 2010: 2009: 2008: 2007: 2006: 2005: 2004: 2003: 2002: 2001: 1999:
Race three of the virtual GP was an action-packed affair at Jerez. Here is what happened
WE WERE BACK FOR the madness of the Virtual MotoGP and this time we were at Jerez in Spain for the third round. This week we had Danilo Petrucci of Ducati Team, Miguel Oliveira and teammate Iker Lecouna of the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 team, Tito Rabat on the Reale Avintia Racing bike, Team Ecstar Suzuki rider Alex Rins with his new hairdo, Petronas Yamaha SRT phenomenon Fabio Quartararo, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales, the Marquez brothers, Marc and Alex, on the Repsol Honda Team bikes, Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia on the Pramac Ducati, and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s test rider and first-timer, Lorenzo Savadori.
The race started and at corner one we saw a number of crashes followed by a number of different riders taking the lead. In the end, it was Pecco in the lead with Alex Marquez and Iker Lecouna following behind. Alex made a move but could not hold it and fell, giving Iker second and brother Marc third. Marc, however, had his hands full with the marauding Frenchman, Fabio, who eventually took the defending world champion. Fabio began to put pressure on Iker which did not really pay off as Iker took a closer look at the pretty grass along with the Frenchman.
Marc was now in second due to the madness by Fabio, but soon found himself leading a Marquez sandwich with a blistering Viñales in the middle. A little scuffle saw the Marquez brothers switch positions with Alex now in second and Marc in fourth and Viñales still in between. Soon, however, Alex made a mistake and was found huddled within the tyre wall, giving the brilliant Viñales second position. Viñales was all business, setting the fastest lap of the race and eyes set on the race leader, Pecco.
The heavens started to sing their Maverick tune as we saw Pecco visit the side-line on his backside, giving Viñales the lead. Meanwhile, in fourth place, Marc slowed down to allow Danilo Petrucci to catch up and have a little fun. Petrucci saw red and took his own brand of red into the inside of the Repsol Honda making his move. Unfortunately, the gamble did not pay off and Danilo sun-bathed by the side of the track. However, none compared to the Frenchman, Quartararo, who seemed to be travelling the track at warp speed. With every fast lap, Quartararo also made frequent trips to check the fencing of the racetrack.
In the end, it finished with Maverick Viñales taking the victory with Alex Marquez second, and Pecco Bagnaia taking the final position on the podium. Jerez was a fun time and we cannot wait for more.
We cover the madness that went down in Mugello for the fourth round of the MotoGP Virtual #StayAtHome race
NEXT UP, THE BOYS headed to Mugello for another round of the amazing MotoGP Virtual GP with another new name joining the action. Mugello sees the Repsol Honda Team brothers, Marc and Alex Marquez, Tito Rabat on the Reale Avintia Racing bike, Joan Mir of Team Ecstar Suzuki, Ducati Team’s test rider Michele Pirro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s test rider Lorenzo Savadori, Petronas Yamaha SRT star Fabio Quartararo, LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami, Pramac Racing’s Francesco Bagnaia, Maverick Viñales on the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP bike, and a first-timer, Maverick’s teammate, Valentino Rossi.
The scene is set for the fourth race of the year. Will we continue to see the youngsters run away or will the golden oldies step up their game? The action
Report: started once again as soon as the racers reached the first corner with a big crash that saw race winners, Viñales and Bagnaia, eating dirt along with the Japanese rider, Nakagami. The mayhem ended with Fabio Quartararo running away from the group, opening up a huge lead. The young Frenchman was followed by Marc Marquez, his brother, Alex, and the veteran Valentino Rossi, though Alex quickly made his move into second. Then Rossi had a moment with the Honda of Marc and found himself in the grass, re-starting down the order in eighth place. Moments later, the same fate was shared by Fabio upfront who lost the front, giving Alex Marquez the lead.
However, “The Doctor” was not going to let go that easily and, within a couple of laps, made his way back to fourth and attempted to catch the elder Marquez. At the front, the second Honda was trying his best to stay in front of the rampaging Petronas Yamaha SRT motorcycle of Fabio Quartararo. In the end, the madness of the exciting duel took its toll and both Alex and Fabio were picking themselves up from the side of the track. We now had Marc Marquez in the lead with Alex on his tail. Fabio followed the two brothers; however, the old legend was hot on his heels for that final position on the podium.
Fabio was riding at a blistering pace and finally caught up with the Hondas ahead. The commentators were on the edge of their seats and digital fans cheered on their heroes. This was an exciting time. The glee, however, proved short-lived as Fabio once again attended pottery class rather than racing the digital monsters. This allowed Rossi to take third, where he finished his first Virtual GP. The race went down to the last corner where Alex Marquez made a move on his brother, Marc, to take a much-deserved victory with Marc coming in second. This made Alex the first double winner at this year’s #StayAtHome Virtual MotoGP race.