Cal Crutchlow equalled his best ever MotoGP result by charging from 15th to 2nd in Sunday's wet-dry German Grand Prix.
The LCR Honda rider had been confident of his pace in the dry, only to be left 13th on the grid in qualifying.
Race day rain transformed the track conditions, but the Englishman was second in morning warm-up and - after some tricky early laps on the hard Michelin wet front tyre - began his march towards the front on lap 4 of 30.
“Obviously my first thought is it's great to have a podium, but now your second thought is I'm disappointed I didn't win. Marc got lucky again!” joked Crutchlow, whose last podium was over a year ago in Argentina.
“I believe we were the fourth fastest guy over the race weekend - I just qualified terribly. Then I had to take it easy at the start of the race because of the [hard] front tyre. I actually nearly crashed on the warm-up lap. I honestly couldn't get any heat into the tyre at all.
“I knew there was a few other guys with the hard tyre, including Jack [Miller], and when he started going mad in the first laps I thought it's either going to end terribly or I'm going to catch him later. And I caught him later. But it was really difficult to manage.”
Crutchlow reached Miller and the leading group at the midway stage of the 30 laps, by which time a clear dry line was developing. While eventual winner Marquez dived into the pits soon after, the top four - Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Crutchlow and Hector Barbera - waited until lap 23, when they all pulled in at once.
“You always have that question mark, what if I'd have pitted earlier?” Crutchlow admitted. “It's easy to say after. But I thought nobody [outside of the lead group] had pitted, and that if we all stayed out I'd win the race because I could have passed Vale and Dovi.
“So I never looked at my pit board, because I was just concentrating on the guys in front of me who were leading the race. Then when I saw Dovi and Vale come in, I swung in with them."
Like the other Honda teams, LCR fitted Crutchlow's bike with slicks front and rear. The rest of the field returned with at least one intermediate tyre. “The team did a great job with the tyre choice when I finally pitted. I have to thank them a lot,” he said.
“At first I lost five seconds to Dovi because he had the intermediate, but then we got quicker and quicker.”
Having rebuilt his speed, Crutchlow ultimately sealed the runner-up spot by overtaking Dovizioso and then Scott Redding. The pass on Redding was a late-braking move into turn one, at the start of the last lap.
“I actually locked the front brake,” Crutchlow revealed. “I put my leg out again because I thought I was going on the floor, to be honest. But it probably looked like I tried to kick him off or something!
“I was just thinking 'I'm not going to stop', or 'I'm going to end in turn 11'. But I obviously was able to push a little bit more in the braking zone and I was also willing to take a few more risks.”
The rostrum was a welcome reward for both Crutchlow and LCR, who began the season with points in just one of the opening five rounds.
“It's been a long time coming,” Crutchlow said. “It's been a difficult year so far. We know our bike's been quite difficult to ride, but Honda are putting in a great, great effort and in the last races I feel more comfortable on the bike and the bike's coming better. Obviously the second half of the year I think we'll be able to hopefully back up this result a few other times.”
Crutchlow was without the support of wife Lucy this weekend, due to the imminent birth of their first child.
“I left home as late as possible just in case the baby came early,” Crutchlow said. “It's only the second time in nine years she's not been here and she works as hard for me as I work to try and win in Moto Grand Prix.
“It's been a tough weekend without her here, but we're definitely excited to have our first baby and it's coming soon; after this race and before Austria.”
Crutchlow now heads to this week's Austria test before returning home. The Austrian race will be on August 12-14.
By Peter McLaren