Getting hurt is a given in motorcycle racing. Injuries can be important, to say the least, but usually more important is how a rider comes back from them – no one has ever made it all the way to the top without getting badly bashed about (see our Ian Hutchinson interview on page 120).
Last year Cal Crutchlow became the first Briton in 35 years to win a premier-class motorcycle GP. He also topped the MotoGP crash statistics, with 26 tumbles.
“Cal is a gritty little boxer type – get stuck in and have a go,” says Ian Newton, who mentored Crutchlow during his first two seasons of racing. “Back then Cal was what he is now: quite cocky and a determined little git. His big thing was always his determination – he would crash his brains out but the accidents didn’t seem to knock him at all.
Very, very few guys can do that.”
Most riders reach a certain level of suffering where they can’t help but close the throttle a few degrees. Crutchlow does the opposite.
“I don’t like crashing,” he says. “But I do like getting up and going faster straight away – it’s like you’re sticking your middle finger up at whoever, even at your bike.”
Consider qualifying at Sepang last October. Crutchlow was off the pace with less than four minutes to go, then slid off and damaged his LCR Honda. He managed to remount, but it seemed certain he would have to start 12th.
“You should’ve seen the state of the bike, but there was no time to fix it,” he says. “The right handlebar was touching the fuel tank and the front brake was locking on the straights, so every time the front came down after a wheelie the tyre locked and I was nearly on the floor. But I went and put it on the second row. I quite like that, the element of thinking:
‘I bet no other f**ker would do that!’”
Crutchlow gets a lot of criticism for crashing so often. Mostly he deals with it very well.
“People ask all the time, ‘Why did you crash?’ That’s the way it is. You can’t get up in the morning and say, ‘Today I’m not going to crash.’ It doesn’t work like that. I don’t know what these people want, but I’ve made a great career out of racing: I’ve scored two MotoGP wins, I’ve won races in every championship and I’ve won titles. Some guys don’t crash – maybe they’re more talented than I am.”
When Crutchlow was younger he didn’t take criticism so well. “When I was doing British Superbikes I crashed a lot. Some bloke came up and said, ‘You’ll never make it, blah, blah.’ I was at a trackday later and the same guy was there, so I went out, clipped his handlebar and down he went. I cleaned him up.”
Victories at last year’s Czech and Australian GPs proved Crutchlow can get the better of anyone, even multiple champions. In Australia he was catching leader Marc Márquez when the Spaniard crashed. After that he resisted serious pressure from Valentino Rossi to win his first GP in the dry, two months after a brave rain-tyre choice worked for him at Brno.
Now the 31-year-old goes into his seventh MotoGP season motivated to improve on seventh overall. “I want to do better results-wise, but what I really want to do is do better points-wise. Maybe I went well last season because I wasn’t in the championship fight. When you’re riding for a title you’re more reserved. Maybe I threw caution to the wind.”
The good news is that Crutchlow’s new-found speed has won him better support from HRC (the Honda Racing Corporation). “My bike isn’t a factory bike but it’s close enough. If there’s an electronics update, I’ll get it at the next race; HRC is good like that. But it’s because of results – if you have good speed they get behind you.”
Most importantly, HRC gave him a factory chassis last summer, which he will probably use again this year. “The frame allows me to use a bit more corner speed, which suits the Michelins, and be more consistent. Me, Marc and Dani [Pedrosa, Márquez’s Repsol Honda team-mate] are now getting results with three different factory chassis – the differences are tiny, so it’s just personal preference.”
Despite HRC backing, Crutchlow’s LCR squad still operates as an independent team. And he knows that hardware isn’t the only difference between his crew and Repsol Honda.
“What really makes the difference between my team and a works team are their resources and staff. If you’re a factory rider you’re faster because of every element, and that’s why I get a lot more satisfaction if I beat them.”
Crutchlow has been a factory rider once, when he rode for Ducati in 2014. But his tell-it-like-it-is attitude didn’t go down too
well with management.“I always like to tell the truth. I’m not going to be a robot and lie… unless I’ve been told to! Then again, the factory guys are paid a lot to do all the corporate-robot crap.”
Crutchlow is probably too old to be offered a factory ride when there are so many fast youngsters coming through the ranks, but that suits him just fine: he enjoys the underdog role, it’s perfect for a gritty little boxer type.