Is Cal Crutchlow the perpetual underdog? That was the opinion voiced by the panel of experts on BT Sport after our hero had blown the stars to the weeds in Australia last weekend. It was his second MotoGP victory of the year, the first being in the rain at Brno.
It is 35 years since a British rider won a Grand Prix, then the 500cc class, and that was Barry Sheene. Even longer since a Brit won two races in one year and never have we won once at Philip Island, one of the world’s great circuits.
Many, many years ago a boys’ magazine called The Wizard had an unlikely hero. He was a runner from the back streets of a Northern town, somewhere like Barnsley, and his name was Alf Tupper. He couldn’t afford proper running shoes, his diet was fish and chips and yet, always arriving late on the starting line, he would outrun the posh boys. He was nick-named the ‘Tough of the Track’.
I won’t insult Crutchlow or his lovely dad Dec by suggesting they were in any way similar but that old piece of fiction, which transfixed young lads when Geoff Duke was on the front page of Boys Annual, often occurs when I see Crutchlow battling his way through the field. Can there be anybody more determined to make his mark. Can there be anybody receiving less credit for his achievements. We should feel ashamed of ourselves.
Thirty year old Crutchlow has been winning races for 16 years, finishing second to Tommy Hill in the 2003 Yamaha R6 Cup and winning the 2006 British Supersport Championship. On his way to the World Supersport title in 2009 he competed with, and beat, the best. After a season with James Toseland in World Superbikes, MotoGP beckoned and he joined Tech 3 in 2011, winning Rookie of the
Year. He had arrived but nothing has been plain sailing for our Cal.
It can be said without contradiction that he is a PR man’s nightmare and a reporters dream. He says it as he sees it, not always engaging brain before opening trap. And it hasn’t always gone down too well with sponsors, team managers or fellow riders. James Toseland once described him as Marmite man, you either loved him or hated him. He also seemed to be developing the rather expensive habit of crashing. Now it was said by the great Bob McIntyre, no less, that if you didn’t fall off now and again you weren’t trying hard enough. But there are limits.
So Mr Smooth he is not but even so he obtained a works ride with Ducati for 2014. It lasted for one of his contracted two years. It is this which gives ammunition to those who doubt his ability to win a world title. They conveniently forget that the “dream team” of Rossi and Ducati was a disaster, only Casey Stoner has succeeded, and it is highly questionable, based on his current form, if Lorenzo is going to do the trick in 2017.
But there is something in the view that Crutchlow is at his best battling against the odds and that the private Lucio Cechinelli team, backed by Honda, is where he feels most at home. He has a tight-knit group of friends and his home in the Isle of Man is an important retreat. There he has his wife Lucy, their three month old daughter Willow and mates such as world cycling champion Mark Cavendish.
He is a great British hero and is by far the best we have got.