Despite having been named prior to the start of the 2009 World Supersport Championship campaign by Ronald ten Kate as his team's toughest challenger, Cal Crutchlow has instead suggested that the greatest threat to the defending champions is in actual fact themselves...
Crutchlow has graduated to the international stage following a successful 2008 season in the British Superbike Championship with HM Plant Honda that yielded a brace of victories, ten further rostrum finishes and third place in the final riders' standings.
That clearly caught the eye of Yamaha, who snapped up the Coventry-born ace to compete for its factory squad in WSS this year, and in his first two outings – at Phillip Island in Australia and Losail in Qatar respectively – Crutchlow repaid the Japanese manufacturer's faith in him by leading on his debut Down Under and setting pole position and battling it out for victory in the Arab emirate, before ultimately being forced to settle for third place and the bottom step of the podium.
“I think it was possible to win in Australia,” he told Crash.net Radio
, “but we made a couple of mistakes and had a couple of false neutrals. I was 2.1 seconds down with five laps to go, and I was just two tenths off going into the hairpin on the last lap when we hit a false neutral, which was something to do with the gearbox, so when I said at the time that it was possible to win there, it was definitely possible to win. When you close up a gap of that size, you're doing well.
“In Qatar, on the Saturday in the cooler conditions I did a race run, and every single one of the 17 laps I did was under the lap record. My gear lever fell off unfortunately so I had to come in, but I went back out again on the same tyre and was still doing lap record pace. The next day in the race, I never broke into the 2m02s bracket, because of the heat. Our bike is so pernickety over 45 degrees track temperature. If we had been running in a cooler race with a 40-degree track temperature, I think it would have been possible to win the race by five seconds.
“I don't like making excuses at all
, though, and Eugene [Laverty – race-winner] rode fantastically all weekend and deserved to win. I just want to win too. I'm not saying that I should have won the race; I'm saying that I could have won the race. It was just difficult for us in the conditions. There was no other Yamaha close behind me, so that just showed what a good job we're doing.”
Indeed it did, and to back up Crutchlow's assertion, the next highest-placed of the six Yamaha riders in the field in Qatar was eight spots lower at the chequered flag – a far from shabby performance at a circuit he had never so much as clapped eyes upon before. The 23-year-old is able to draw, at least, upon the experience of team-mate Fabien Foret, a man with no fewer than 82 WSS starts under his belt from nine seasons in the series – and the 2002 champion.
“He's a great guy and we work closely together,” Cal revealed. “We've got different set-ups, which isn't easy, but we normally say the same comments about the stuff we test, which is good. He's a world champion, so to have him as a team-mate is good for pushing me along. It's good for him as well; he's 36-years-old now, so for me to come in as young blood and a rider who is willing to take risks keeps him motivated.
“I feel like we've worked hard and could have got better results, but I've raced at two tracks that I'd never previously raced at in my life – which hasn't been easy at all – and we've had two decent finishes. Phillip Island I'd had a test at which helped, but it's different in a race situation. Fair enough, I'd tested there, but I hadn't raced there. Some of the lads I'm racing against have been racing there for the last seven years, and Eugene for the last two years, so it's not been easy in a race situation, but we're getting to grips with it.