Recently-crowned World Supersport (WSS) Champion Cal Crutchlow has praised his season-long 2009 rival Eugene Laverty as being 'the phenomenon of the year', as he revealed that he ran a risk in stepping back to 600cc – but it was clearly a risk that was worth taking.
Crutchlow triumphed five times from 14 starts in WSS, after graduating to the international stage with the Yamaha works outfit off the back of a fine campaign in British Superbikes with HM Plant Honda – but it was his sheer scintillating raw speed that truly caught the eye, lapping at times more than a second out of reach of any
of his rivals.
A staggering ten pole positions attested to his inherent pace, and from Qatar in mid-March to Kyalami two months later, and Donington Park in June to Magny-Cours in October, the 24-year-old was unbeaten in qualifying. Indeed, Crutchlow would never begin off the front row of the grid, and on five occasions he was more than half a second clear of his nearest challenger.
At the Nürburging that margin was a devastating 1.3 seconds, which adds credence to his contention that he could have prevailed by considerably more than the seven points that he ultimately did had it not been for the odd fall and technical issue along the way.
“Yamaha offered me a really good deal and it was really good for me to come from BSB and take a risk in stepping back to 600s,” he told Crash.net Radio
. “To take that risk and do it was a really big thing for me, but I did it. The aim was to win the title; they employed me to win the title, and that's what we went and did. It wasn't easy, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“We only ended up winning the championship by seven points, but sessions-wise and results-wise I think we were a lot more dominant than what that showed on paper. I went into the championship aiming to finish in the top three, and that changed after maybe the second or third race; I wasn't leading the championship then, but I knew it wasn't rocket science to win it.
“People's morale does go down, and I just thought if I could be tactical and consistent and push really hard in a few races and dominate the whole weekend in a couple of places where I was comfortable, I'd do that and keep the momentum going – that's what we did, and we won the championship.”
Crutchlow admitted that playing the percentage game as he had to do in the Portimão finale – riding around conservatively to take fourth place, mindful of not making any mistakes as Laverty sped off into the distance – is not the way he likes to go about doing things, but then the end result as he crossed the finish line to lift the laurels was a better feeling than any of his consummate victories earlier on in the season.
“Portugal definitely wasn't the best race for me,” he candidly confessed. “Watching Eugene go away in the race and not having to chase him at all was the hardest thing for me, because I'm not usually like that. All I needed to do was finish in the top ten, and I finished fourth – which was my worst result of the year, other than the breakdown and the crash. It was stupid riding round in that position when I could have easily been going a second-and-a-half faster a lap with Eugene; we proved that over the weekend, but it was just that I never had to.
“It was a weird feeling just riding round thinking 'I don't even need to push in this race at all, I just need to finish in the top ten'. I was hard-charging over the year and I'm quite an aggressive rider, and in the races where we did dominate I used aggression and pulled away. Riding around in Portugal to finish fourth wasn't the happiest thing I've ever done – but winning the title was.
“It was quite emotional after all the hard work we'd put in over the year. Yamaha hadn't won the title in nine years, and it was the same crew as had won back then. They've been fighting against Honda ever since – except when [Andrew] Pitt won for Kawasaki – so they were desperate to win, and the emotion that we've all been through over the year is a lot.
“Yamaha were open in saying that the package was good in some areas, but that the Honda package was a lot better in others; we had a fast bike top-end going into the corner, but we lost it all mid-corner and coming out of the corner. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other really, but I think we did well coming out on top, and if it hadn't been for the breakdown and the crash we would have won it two races before the end, at least.”
Nonetheless, in clinching the crown, Crutchlow added his name to an illustrious roll call of Yamaha title-winners in 2009, alongside MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi and World Superbike Championship (WSBK) sensation Ben Spies. Whilst he is quick to underline the calibre of the opposition he had to overcome in order to accomplish that, the Coventry-born star hopes equally that his critics will recognise the value of his tremendous achievement.
“It's nice to win a world title against guys that have been in MotoGP before like Pitt and Garry McCoy,” he reflected in conclusion. “You're up against other world champions too like Kenan [Sofuoglu], and Eugene was the phenomenon of the year with the way he was riding against me. He was really good and it wasn't easy at all, but to be on that list of Yamaha winners [is fantastic]. People seem to forget that I am on the list, but I won the championship and I want to continue and just better myself.”TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE