Having started his competitive career in the dusty fields around Conroe, Texas at the age of three, Colin Edwards never imagined his racing career would cross five decades.
Edwards announced he was calling time on a glittering career in April, after twelve years of racing in MotoGP, prior to which he had shot to stardom with two World Superbike titles.
2014 proved to be one of his most difficult years as the Texan struggled to adapt to Forward's 'Open' Yamaha M1. He was unable to match team-mate Aleix Espargaro's impressive times in preseason and, despite a ninth place at the opening round in Qatar, Edwards hasn't broken the top ten since.
It led to the Texan being replaced by Alex de Angelis after the Indianapolis event at the start of August. His plans for the remainder of 2014 have been shrouded in uncertainty since then, with wild-cards supposedly planned for Silverstone and Valencia.
Although not competing at Silverstone, Edwards was present for the popular Riders for Health auction on the Thursday before the race.
Speaking exclusively to Crash.net about his current situation, he said, “I guess it was no secret that I wasn't and I'm not getting along with the bike. The sponsors have their say. Obviously I have a contract but at the same time it has to be a mutual agreement. I'm not disappointed in it at all. Money makes the world go round and there was a different plan in place.”
Reports that he was to compete at Silverstone as a wild-card may have been unfounded but there remains a possibility that he will race again in 2014.
“[It's] not confirmed. [There will be] possibly a wild-card at the last race at Valencia but I'm not sure about that.”
With the announcement that Michelin will replace Bridgestone as the sole tyre supplier for the MotoGP class as of 2016, speculation has been rife that Edwards would take up a testing role for the French firm.
The Texan worked closely with Michelin through his years in World Superbike and MotoGP, racking up as many as 12,000 miles while tyre testing in 2002. But he denied a future role has been discussed further. “I haven't talked to Michelin directly since the initial contact.”
However the Texan has something planned for the close season, with current rumours suggesting he will take up a testing role with Yamaha.
“I think my plans just changed [laughs]. The plan was to go home, relax a bit and do a few little bits here and there. As it looks I might be more busy than I think but that's a good thing. But there is something else already in place. I guess I just got to figure that out.”
But the end of the year will offer some respite from the recent demands of world championship racing. “Next month I'm going to Colorado. I'm going to bring the bikes up there to ride in the mountains and go play so that's just going to be a cruise around, no racing involved.”
Edwards' retirement comes at the beginning of a somewhat transitional phase for the class. 2016 will see the introduction of a new 'control' ECU in a bid to control costs and the level of rider aids. The Texan, however, doesn't believe the measures will have any effect on the final results.
“Moving in a good direction? Sure, right now. Obviously we're in a situation where we're developing a bike around a tyre. We used to develop a tyre around a package so no it's reversed and going to Michelin. I think everyone is going to see that you're going to have to reinvent their package once more to make the Michelin tyres work. It's going to be some hard work for a while to get things moving in the right direction. But Yamaha and Honda are still going to be there. It doesn't matter.”
The UK has been a happy stomping ground for Edwards in the past. After winning the first World Superbike race at Brands Hatch in 1998, he won in the UK nine further times and confirmed his first World Superbike title there at the close of 2000. Throw in four MotoGP podiums at Donington Park and Silverstone and you could say the Texan raised his game when racing on these shores.
When pressed to choose a stand out moment he said, “I've got a lot. I think I won at Donington, '99. Me and my team-mate [Aaron Slight] came together at the Melbourne Loop. He ended up crashing and I went on to win. Then I won the double at Brands Hatch.
“It's always been fun but as far as a stand out memory I think it was '09 at Donington when I finished second. That was a race where I started on dry tryes and it pretty much rained and sprinkled the whole race. It was a fine mix of trying to keep heat in your tyres and not push too much. We survived it while everyone was going down like flies. I remember at the end of the first lap I was sixteenth or seventeenth and came through the pack to finish second. That was a good memory, just a crazy race - one of those races that you just don't forget.”
After that splendid effort Edwards posted perhaps his most heroic ride in MotoGP at a soaking wet Silverstone two years later. Recovering from a snapped collarbone sustained just nine days before at Montmeló, Edwards called on all his experience to bring his Tech-3 Yamaha home third in what would be his last podium in the class.
It's a memory that still stands out.
“When I rode in 2011 I wasn't on pain killers. The day before I was, for sure! But no, that was a race I remember very well. I went through turn one, two, three, that little short shoot, and then went in to the left hander before they go onto the big front straight. I hit a big puddle of water and thought it would have crashed me right there. After that I gained a little bit of confidence and I just started pushing. I always seem to go good in the rain here so it just kind of worked.”
Edwards shot to prominence in the UK not long after he started competing in World Superbikes in 1995. Back then he was known for regularly engaging in verbal sparring with crowd favourite Carl Fogarty. Though it wasn't long until his frank, forthright manner started winning him droves of fans.
“It was always fun in those days. I was young and he [Fogarty] was the champion at the time. He used to jack around with us - me, Slight, and Russell. We had to give him a bit of stick back!
“It's always been fun and I think I gained a lot of fans in the UK at that time by just speaking my mind. I guess you stick up for yourself in a way. Racing in the UK has always been fun and throughout my career fans have always understood my humour. I guess it's straightforward, I try not to sugar coat anything.”
Asked to look back on his 20 years racing in the world championships, Edwards maintains that epic duel with Troy Bayliss at Imola remains the highpoint.
“At Imola in 2002 I've never had a weekend like that. We went into that last race, one point between me and Bayliss. The air was so thick and it was just good to be a part of. It was definitely a memory that I'll remember forever.”
It goes without saying that the Australian was the fiercest rival Edwards came up against. “When I was at the top of my game and he was at the top of his game definitely [Troy] Bayliss. He was just a lion and you could sit back and he would destroy you. You had to become a lion yourself so I would say he was definitely my favourite rival ever.”
There were difficult moments that went along with the highs though. His dramatic fall on oil at the incompetently run German round of the 1999 World Superbike series crushed what momentum he had in the title fight. A race win in MotoGP also came agonisingly close on several occasions, notably at Assen in 2006. But the dark day at Sepang in 2011, when Edwards was involved in a freak crash that would cost Marco Simoncelli his life, was an undoubted low.
“The Simoncelli crash was not just a low point for me or Valentino but I think for everybody. We had a rising start coming up and everybody loved Marco. I think that was definitely just a low point for everybody. Accidents are accidents but at the same time it just seems unfair.”
But Edwards is clear that in a career, which brought two world titles, 31 World Superbike race wins and 12 MotoGP podiums, he doesn't harbour any regrets.
“Obviously I came to grand prix late, which is kind of a good thing in a way because I didn't have to ride the 500s. When I came to grand prix we already had electronics in place. I wouldn't do anything different looking back in my whole career.”
Asked how he would like the racing community to remember him once he hangs up his boots, Edwards was typically modest in his answer.
“I don't know. I mean they remember me by who I am; however they want. I'm a straight talker. I try not to feed too much bullshit and just be myself. I think that's just who I am.”