CAL’S GOOD BUT IS HE BETTER THAN BAZZA?
With two premier class victories under his belt, Cal Crutchlow is already the best British GP rider since Barry Sheene... FACT!
Cal Crutchlow has been the dominant British presence in the premier class of bike racing since he inherited the mantle – and a Tech 3 Yamaha – from James Toseland in 2011, already securing a podium record that makes him the best Brit since Barry Sheene nearly four decades ago.
And while that is something to relish for the Coventry native, it was 2016 when Cal showed exactly what he’s capable of, overcoming a difficult-to-ride Honda RC213V to take a tactical victory in the wet at Brno and then to back it up with a stunning dry win at Phillip Island.
With two wins in a season – an impressive feat in itself for a satellite rider (the last person to do that was Marco Melandri back in 2005), he’s now firmly in the history books as the best British racer of his generation and potentially even one of Britain’s best ever racers considering who he beat on his way to those two wonderful wins.
But the LCR Honda rider is quick to downplay his success, saying that records and history aren’t what motivates him to go racing. Of course, that might change once he retires and reflects on his glittering career. But for now he insists: “I’m not in Motogp to look at numbers and say ‘I won this amount of races or had this amount of points or podiums.’ I never look at statistics. I just try my best on the day and that’s it.
“If I feel at the end of the day that I have the best result I could get and my team has done their best then I’m happy. If that’s an eighth place then so be it. But if I feel I, or the team, could have improved then I might be more disappointed. I don’t care too much for the end-of-season stats.
“At the end of the day I’m not Barry Sheene and I’m nowhere near his stature and stuff like that; I’ve won two Motogp races! What I will say is that everyone goes on about the ‘British Battle’ all the time and there is no battle as far as I’m concerned.
“It is always hyped up, but I will say I would have been very pissed off if I hadn’t been the first to get the win because I feel like I deserve it a lot more. I’ve never had a lucky podium or something given to me. I don’t want to take anything away from those guys because I enjoy sharing the track with them and I’m good friends with Bradley. It is not a dig. It is about feeling like you deserve something.”
Part of that, though, might have come from a very different set of priorities for Crutchlow this season, as he and wife Lucy became parents to daughter Willow just ahead of his Brno win – something he admits put racing motorbikes and winning races into focus.
“I’m lucky to have had Lucy with me for so many years. I always have my feet on the ground. I don’t drive a Ferrari – even though I could – and having a kid settles you down even more. I won in Australia and on the last lap I was honestly thinking ‘f**k, those two are not here’ because they were travelling to Malaysia to see me and were on the plane as I won the race. I’d won, but I was disappointed they weren’t there. Your mindset changes.
“If it was just Lucy and me there then I would have been much more ecstatic than I was. The first thing you think is ‘I hope they landed OK.’ The win was the win and once I knew they were OK then I kind of enjoyed things a bit more - well, I went straight to the airport to get the plane to
Malaysia. Things and your priorities in life change. Winning the race in Brno… I think doing that three years ago would have felt a lot different to now. The feeling was nothing compared to when Willow was born. We know we are lucky.
“I believe that a lot of the guys here don’t have kids firstly because they cannot hold down a serious girlfriend as they think a relationship affects their life. I think those guys also believe a kid would affect their career. I was with Lucy and I was selfish, but she was willing to put up with it. What I don’t understand is that some have 50 or 60 million Euros in the bank, so why be so worried about winning again? Motorcycle racers are selfish, me included.”
And while Crutchlow might have turned around a disastrous start to the season, crashing out of the majority of the first half of the year as he tried in vain to tame an RC213V that was missing its advanced electronic controls, he still believes that his actual performance never changed.
“At the start of the year I honestly believe I was riding better than I was at the end. It was just that nothing went my way. I had to jump off the bike in the race at Qatar when I would have been fifth or sixth. In Argentina I crashed on a wet patch, like six others. In Austin I crashed pushing too hard. In Jerez I had a rear tyre that should not have been on the grid. I had no points basically. Was it four points? I don’t even know… but I wasn’t riding bad.
“My pace was good at that time and for whatever reason it wasn’t converting into results. Only my team and Honda knew the situation. Everyone else was saying ‘blah, blah, blah, you’ll retire at the end of the year, you’re done…’
“Everybody was saying it. It’s like Lorenzo. He was also done in the middle of the year and look at him in Valencia. This is just part of sport and you need to be able to take it on the chin and come back stronger. The only race this year were I felt I performed terribly was Mugello [round six, after three DNFS, a 16th and an 11th in the preceding races]. I rode around because Lucio came to me before and said ‘you have to finish.’”
But while the always self-confident 31-year-old might have maintained his own belief in himself during a rocky start to the season, he found some of the back-stabbing criticism hard to take – even if the feeling inside the paddock was different.
‘At the start of the year I honestly believe I was riding better than I was at the end’ ‘My pace was good at that time and for whatever reason it wasn’t converting into results’
“Even at the time of the poor results I was still in line for the factory ride if Pedrosa was not going to stay because HRC know my potential on the bike. There is nobody else – apart from Marc and Dani – that has the same potential on this bike. They want to promote younger riders and the guys coming up like Bastianini, but put them on my bike and you’ll see how hard it is.
“It is not the same as jumping on the Yamaha and I think Zarco and Folger will do alright. I’d love to pick up the likes of Pol and Bradley put them on this bike and see where they’d finish because I know about the package they had at Tech 3; I rode it. Dani is good because he has been there so many years and he understands it. Marc is just a freak; he doesn’t really understand it that much, he’s just fast. I don’t think there is anybody else who can do a better job than me on the Honda.
“I think the media understand situations and racing a little bit whereas fans are completely different. It’s like football; they’ll support you if you’re winning but if you’re losing they don’t give a s**t. I’m not talking about everybody because they are many great fans out there and who will be loyal no matter how many times you crash or have bad results: they’ll always be your fan.
“But then you have the people who say ‘he’s useless, finished, blah, blah’ and then you win and they want a selfie and a hug. You have to be able to accept that. People will either like me or they don’t but I tell the truth…and that’s the truth. Unless it comes from my close-knit group of people – my wife, Christian, Bob, my old manager, my friend Jake, my team – when they say I am not doing something right or I’m upsetting people then at the end of the day what others say or think does not affect my life one bit.”
Now that he’s tasted success in Motogp, you wouldn’t expect any less of such an ultra-motivated person as Crutchlow than to go out and try even harder for more wins. But, with no huge change in his strategy going into the 2016 season, it may be a case of wait and see what’s possible once the new championship kicks off again.
“I won a race – two – which is more than four or five other factory riders this year. I had an objective this season and I always keep my goals, as such, close to my chest because they are personal. Everyone aims to win the championship but the reality is that it’s going be difficult for me.
“I aim to win a race every year but I said to myself ‘this year I really want to have one’ and I got one in the wet and another in the dry. I don’t think I am better this season than any other. Even in the Ducati year I was riding strong – but I was not riding a good bike. I should have won when I was at Tech 3 but I had to wait a bit longer.
“I feel that I can stop right now and be happy. Will I? I don’t know. If I wake up and decide I don’t want to do it any more then I won’t.”
Cal’s wet wether win at Brno was the first eliteclass GP win for a Brit since Sheene’s in 1981
Just look at Cal’s eyes to see the focus required to ride a Motogp bike
A tricky Popmaster question leaves Cal bamboozled
Willow’s arrival has given Cal a new set of priorities in life and helped his focus
“What the hell has happened to that cat’s tail?” Cal is still adjusting to Manx life
A close-fought battle saw Cal take the WSS title from Eugene Laverty
Motogp success attracts even more race admirers
Cal took six podiums with Tech 3 Yamaha
After some WSB success on the R1, Cal made the move to Motogp in 2011