The curse of the home Grand Prix


Cal Crutchlow will be sore in body and mind this week. For him, Sunday’s Hertz British GP at Silverstone was the ‘it Hertz’ British GP.

He’s now getting his fractured and dislocated left ankle looked at by surgeons and nursing a headache, not only from that crunching 100mph crash, but from the anguish of knowing that he messed up at his home race for the second year running. Last year he ruled himself out by crashing in qualifying for precisely the same reason – the left side of the tyre wasn’t up to temperature.

If it’s any comfort – and it probably isn’t – British riders have had a horrible time in their home race ever since the event moved to the mainland way back in 1977. In the 36 British GPs since then, not one home-grown hero has managed to win the premier-class.

It was rather different when Britain’s round of the World Championship took place on the Isle of Man – between 1949 and 1976 Britons like Mike Hailwood, Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Bob McIntyre and Mick Grant won more than half of the Senior TTs that counted towards the 500 World Championship.

Even Barry Sheene at the height of his powers failed to pop the winner’s champagne at Silverstone. In August 1977 he arrived there already having wrapped up his second straight 500cc world title, but the weekend was a disaster. Plagued by head gasket problems, he retired from the race in a cloud of steam and a storm of curses, riding his spluttering RG500 into the back of his pit so hard that he buckled the forks against the wall.

There was still a good chance a Brit might win that race. In fact as riders started the last lap it was a British one-two: Sheene’s team-mate Steve Parrish ahead of Suzuki privateer John Williams. But Parrish fell at Copse and Williams went down two corners later at Becketts, both probably caught out by the drizzle that had been falling on and off throughout the race.

Two years later Sheene should’ve won, but he lost out to King Kenny Roberts by three hundredths of a second after getting baulked by a backmarker on the final lap. In 1982 Sheene may have known it was his last real chance to win his home race – he’d just taken delivery of a Yamaha OW61, same spec as Roberts’ latest bike, and was going like a rocket in pre-event practice. The session ended badly: Sheene collided with a fallen motorcycle through the 150mph Abbey Curve, smashing both legs and breaking an arm.

Hard to believe, but since Sheene’s fighting second place in 1979, British riders have scored just three podiums at their home race: Ron Haslam was third at Silverstone in 1984, Niall Mackenzie was third at Donington Park in 1993 and Jeremy McWilliams was third at Donington in 2000.

It’s been a long wait, so could it be the weight of expectation on Crutchlow’s shoulders that really hurts? The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha appears better than most at shrugging off the pressure, but perhaps it’s not as easy as it looks from the outside. There was so much hype and hope for him at Silverstone that maybe it all got too much.

Fans and the media can end up killing their heroes with kindness – they desperately wanted Crutchlow to have a shot at the podium and many of them wanted to tell him in person. On Friday afternoon it took him an hour and a quarter to wade his way through the well-wishers from the pits to his motorhome. A nice reception but very distracting on the biggest weekend of his year.

On Sunday Crutchlow was the hero of the day. He passed a fitness test that he described as “f**king murder”, only just made it out for morning warm-up and then rode from last place on the grid to sixth, past Valentino Rossi and many others. It was a Lazarus-like performance that indicated enormous inner-strength. But he would much rather have been a hero on the podium.

Let’s just hope that when Crutchlow gets to Silverstone next year he doesn’t believe in such things as home race curses.

To listen to our audio podcast with Cal, please click here.

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