MotoGP » Cal Crutchlow
Having spent two years as the only Brit competing at premier motorcycling level, Cal Crutchlow has been carrying a lot of expectation for a nation that hasn’t seen a British grand prix champion since 1977.
However, as the man who has beaten nearly each of his British rivals at some stage in his career, many feel Crutchlow has the potential to become a strong contender at the very highest level, as evidenced by a strong sophomore MotoGP season in 2012.
An aspiring footballer from a young age, Crutchlow had trials at his local Coventry FC, but made the decision to pursue motorcycling instead having been inspired by his racer father. Learning to ride aged 11, Crutchlow made his race debut in the UK Junior Challenge just a week after receiving his first bike. Success came quickly for Crutchlow and he was crowned champion at the end of 1999.
Graduating to the Aprilia RS 125 Challenge, a support series to the British Superbike Championship, Crutchlow went head-to-head with the likes of future MotoGP champion Casey Stoner and Chaz Davies, scoring a maiden podium in his final race to secure a decent fifth place in the standings.
Earning backing from the ACU Road Race Academy, Crutchlow stayed put for another season and while a mid-season elbow injury threatened his chances, a total of eight wins would see him edge out Paul Veazey for the title.
Graduating to the Junior Superstock Championship with newly formed team Tech2, Crutchlow enjoyed a strong debut season on the GSX-R600. Although a substantial step up from his 125 machine, Crutchlow acquitted himself well to end the year in fourth position, behind Craig Jones, Tom Sykes and James Buckingham.
His performance should have seen him move to the British Supersport Championship in 2003 with Tech2, but financial issues on the part of the team forced Crutchlow to settle for a ride in the one-make Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 Cup.
With the prize of a factory-backed Superbike ride up for grabs, Crutchlow was eager to fast-track his career, but three retirements in the opening five rounds left him playing catch up. By the end of the season Crutchlow was the pace setter, winning four races in total, but with Tommy Hill scoring in each race, he would fall just 11 points short of his rival.
Nonetheless, while Hill headed for Superbikes, Crutchlow was snapped up by Northpoint Honda for the British Supersport Championship. A solid first season ensued, with Crutchlow managing eight top ten finishes to end the year in tenth position. Retained for 2005, Crutchlow suffered a disappointing start to the year, but two wins and three further podiums in the final six races lifted him to a third place finish in the standings.
A third and final attempt in 2006 would see Crutchlow finally secure the title after demolishing the competition, including former Superstock rival Sykes. Crutchlow finished off the podium just once over the course of the season, his six wins seeing him finish ahead by a mammoth 70 points.
His Supersport dominance duly courted the attention of factory-backed teams in the Superbike category, Crutchlow opting to sign with Rizla Suzuki alongside Chris Walker in BSB.
Determined to revive Suzuki’s glory days in the category (it had won just one race over the last two seasons), Crutchlow’s rookie campaign started off badly with a series of retirements, while a best finish of seventh was to prove the meagre highlight from the opening half of the year.
Steadily, however, Crutchlow began to reel in his team-mate and by the end of the season he was regularly out pacing the more experienced Walker. A pole position at Croft did plenty for his confidence and he was rewarded with a vital podium finish in the final race of the season.
Ending the season ninth overall, Crutchlow had done enough to secure a dream role with reigning double champions HM Plant Honda for 2008 alongside Leon Haslam. While it was Haslam who was tipped to lift a long-awaited title, it was Crutchlow who emerged out of the blocks fastest, claiming a debut victory in only his second race with the team at Thruxton.
Another win followed soon after at Brands Hatch, although a retirement at Oulton Park had put him on the back foot in his quest to challenge early front runner Shane Byrne on the Airwaves Ducati. However, while Crutchlow was a regular podium visitor through the year, he would not top the rostrum again at any point.
Indeed, with Haslam finding his feet with the Honda mid-season, Crutchlow faded slightly as the year wore on, although two podiums in the final four rounds helped him secure a positive third overall.
Additionally, Crutchlow took to the World Superbike stage for the first time as a wild-card at Donington Park and Portimao, Cal impressing on home ground in particular to finish second behind Troy Bayliss.
Much like his wild-card counterparts Haslam and Sykes, as well as BSB title winner Byrne, Crutchlow was targeted for a move to the world scene on a full-time basis. However, while he was linked with Yamaha for Superbikes, he lost out on the ride to Sykes, despite finishing ahead of him in BSB.
Nonetheless, Crutchlow chose to mirror the method of former rival Jonathan Rea by reverting back to Supersports, albeit internationally. Signing with Yamaha, although it was initially perceived as a backward step, it would prove to be a shrewd move for Crutchlow.
Immediately competitive on the R6, despite it being considered slightly inferior to the dominant Hondas, Crutchlow became embroiled in a thrilling exchange with Eugene Laverty throughout the season. Although two costly retirements towards the end of the year allowed Laverty back into the equation heading to the final round, Crutchlow’s five race wins made him the comfortable winner.
Ending a run of six titles for Honda, although it was assumed Crutchlow had won a ticket to Superbikes, the Japanese manufacturer still had to work hard to retain him after he expressed a public interest in joining the inaugural Moto2 series with the Gresini team.
Despite Gresini’s efforts though, Crutchlow was confirmed as part of an all-new and all-British Yamaha line-up alongside James Toseland. Charged with defending Yamaha’s Superbike crown, Crutchlow began the season fairly well, particularly in qualifying as he notched an impressive total of six pole position.
However, such a tally highlighted some less impressive race performances, Crutchlow making it onto the podium just three times during the opening half of the year.
Nonetheless, Crutchlow broke through during the second-half, claiming an excellent double victory at Silverstone, plus a third success at the season ending Magny-Cours event, to end the year in fifth position overall.
The results were enough to convince Yamaha that Crutchlow had a promising future and duly promoted him to its satellite MotoGP effort at Tech 3. Racing alongside Colin Edwards, Crutchlow had a tough task to emulate predecessor Ben Spies and was duly never able to replicate the American’s superb feats on the bike the previous year.
However, Crutchlow was a strong mid-field contender, even if an injury sustained on home soil at Silverstone did set him back during the middle of the season. Bursts of speed saw Crutchlow make the top ten on six occasions, including an excellent ride to fourth position at the season-ending Valencia Grand Prix, the best finish by a British rider since 2002.
Set to begin the second-half of his two year deal with Tech 3, Crutchlow heads into 2012 looking to put the lessons learnt in 2011 to good use. However, with ex-factory Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso coming on board and countryman Bradley Smith poised to step up to MotoGP with Tech 3 in 2013, Crutchlow knew he had to deliver in 2012.
With a year’s experience under his belt, Crutchlow came out fighting from the start, proving particularly quick in qualifying, while a flurry of top five finishes in the opening races raised his profile further.
However, while Crutchlow was often a match for Dovizioso in terms of pace, the pair were split by the Briton’s tendency to make errors, particularly during the latter stages of the year. Ironically, Crutchlow’s poor end to the season (DNFs in 5 of the final 8 races) would coincide with his first MotoGP podiums at Brno and Phillip Island.
Though it wasn’t enough to lift him higher than seventh overall, Crutchlow’s 2013 quandary was solved when Dovizioso secured the available Ducati ride (instead of Crutchlow), meaning the Briton remained for a third season with Tech 3, albeit now as team leader.
Crutchlow affirmed his reputation as a potential MotoGP race winner by finishing 2013 as the top non-factory rider for Tech 3 Yamaha. Often amongst the ‘aliens’, at least during the first-half of the season, four podiums in five races - including career-best second places at Le Mans and Sachsenring, as well as a debut pole position at Assen - had Crutchlow comfortably out-scoring factory Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi for a time.
Though he would struggle to maintain that level in the latter half of the year, Crutchlow did enough to secure a career best fifth in the world championship and a factory ride for 2014, albeit with Ducati rather than Yamaha - where he will rejoin Dovizioso.