The Candid Cal Crutchlow Interview, Part 1 - His Toughest Year Yet, Adapting To The Ducati

It has been a very tough year for Cal Crutchlow. Coming off the high of 2013, the year in which he scored four podiums, finished fifth in the championship, and looked certain to score his first win in MotoGP, his season in Ducati has been a massive challenge. Technical malfunctions, crashes, and a battle to find a way around the chronic understeer which plagues the Desmosedici. Crutchlow lingers in the middle of the pack, not fighting at the sharp end. This was not the season which Crutchlow had envisaged when he signed for Ducati.

At Aragon, ahead of the fourteenth race of the season, we caught up with Crutchlow, to talk about his year so far, his expectations for next year, and how he manages to keep his morale up through such a difficult period. Cal Crutchlow gave a candid and honest account of his season, not shirking the blame, and speaking openly of the fears and doubts which plague a professional motorcycle racer when they go through a season as tough as this. He opened a window into a side of racing which is not often talked about, and marks his courage as both a rider, and as a human being.

The interview went on for so long that we have had to split it up into three parts, which will appear over the next few days. In the first part of the interview, he speaks of his battle to adapt to the Ducati, and of 2014 being his toughest year in MotoGP so far. In the second part of the interview, he delves into the dark side of his year, of the struggle to maintain his morale while the results are not coming. And in the final part of the interview, he talks about how mental strength is the decisive factor in motorcycle racing, and discusses Jack Miller's ascent to MotoGP.

MotoMatters.com: You said 2011 was one of the toughest seasons you've ever had. Is this one tougher? Or easier because you know that it could be worse?

Cal Crutchlow: I think first and foremost, when I came to Ducati, I thought I could make it work, I thought I could ride the bike how it needed to be ridden. As every rider does in this situation, I think every rider has to believe in themselves and believe that they can do it.

I didn't know the situation until I rode the bike, sure, but would I say it's worse than 2011? Yes, because I'm expected to do well now, and in 2011 I wasn't. I wanted to do well in 2011, that was the difference. Not that I don't want to do well now, but I mean in 2011, I expected myself that I would just turn up and be competitive, because I'd been at the front in World Superbikes, and it really wasn't the case. But if you look at the results, I probably had better results in 2011 than I have now.

The pace is faster now, so it's difficult to take. There's more bikes that are competitive, there's more riders that are more competitive now than they were then, but I'd say this year was tougher, because I know what I'm capable of. In 2011, I didn't know what I was capable of, I just thought that I was getting my arse handed to me by other riders, which I was. But now, after, I'm not saying I know how easy it was in the last two years to be competitive, but I could be competitive more consistently, more easily, whereas now, it feels like I'm riding 70% harder and I'm nowhere near competitive. So yeah, I'd say this year's tougher.

MM: How have you tried to adapt to the bike? Obviously we know the Ducati has understeer, it's the first problem which every new rider talks about. You have taught yourself to become a corner speed rider, how did you cope with not being able to do that?

CC: The Ducati is very different from what I've been used to riding. It's as simple as that. And I think that I haven't adapted my style perfectly to it. At the start of the year, when I first started to ride the bike, and for the first five races, I was adamant I wasn't going to change my style, because as I'd said a few times before, I'd spent three years trying to learn to ride like Lorenzo, and I'd never mastered it, but I'd got close, and a lot better than what I was when I first started. And Daniele [Romagnoli], my crew chief, taught me to ride like that, I adapted my style to ride like that, and we had some good results on that machine.

So when I came to Ducati, I was trying to carry the corner speed with the bike, and it wasn't capable of doing it. So you have to change your style in the braking, to be so late in the braking, because the Ducati is so strong in the braking zone. Better than any bike I've ever ridden in the braking zone. But that's my weak point; I brake soft initially, hard in the middle, and then let go of the brakes. Whereas the Ducati needs to be ridden, you brake later than where I'm braking, harder, and longer, and into the corner. And I like to be able to release the brake and turn the bike. It was a lot different to what I was used to. So I'm still trying to adapt every time I ride the bike.

The problem I feel I'm facing is that every time we go to a track, the only thing I remember is riding it on another bike. And I believe with Andrea [Dovizioso] last year, that was exactly what he was doing. He'd ridden two different bikes in two seasons, then he came onto a third bike in a third season, and he was trying to ride the bike very much like what I'm doing now. And he was the same sort of distance, the same pace as what I'm doing now. Then he started to understand the bike immediately at the first test this year, and he's just continued that since.

So that's why, you know, if I stayed another year, maybe the same thing would happen to me next year and I'd be a lot more competitive. I'd like to think so. But that doesn't mean I've stopped trying to adapt my style and stopped working, because I haven't. It's just difficult to go to these circuits and ride in the way that I do.

MM: Because it's the same with both Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, it does seem that it takes a year to adapt to the Ducati. Talking to Andrea Dovizioso last year, and he just looked shellshocked, where this year, he's different, he's much more upbeat.

CC: I think it's a similar situation to what I'm in now. And as I said, if I continued and stayed for a second year at Ducati, I reckon I'd be exactly the same [as Dovizioso]. I'm not saying I'd suddenly start winning races and getting podiums, Andrea is probably riding the best I've ever seen him ride in his whole career, as is Iannone, and they're definitely both riding a lot better than me. Their morale's a lot better than mine as well, and you have to believe that half the time, that's worth four tenths.

You know, I looked at the Misano result, and I believe that, I ran off the track quite a few times, I made a lot of mistakes, I lost ten seconds there, I lost ten seconds in the speed of the bike, because they were gaining four tenths on me per lap just on power with their engine, and then I believe the other is about they had a good result the race before, or they had a good few results or they had a good qualifying, to boost your morale or your mentality.

It's so funny, if you go and suddenly, just say I went out tomorrow morning, and I was fastest in the first session, you don't know what that can do for your morale in the second session and the rest of the weekend. As you know, I don't like having the softer tire option for Ducati, but they use that to their advantage, because if they use that and go fast, and go to the front, they sort of carry that momentum throughout the weekend. They know they can be competitive. Whereas I'm reluctant to use it, because you're never going to race it, hardly ever. I think I've raced it once this year. So then, we have to use it over the weekend, because of the rules, we haven't got enough tires otherwise.

So yeah, as I said, the changing the style thing, I've never stopped trying to change my style, and trying to be competitive, but I believe it's difficult to just come to a circuit and suddenly be able to be competitive.

MM: You need to retrain your muscle memory, track memory?

CC: Yes, also at Misano, I really thought Misano would be a lot better because we had had the test there. But then we went there and the Friday was wet, so I thought, maybe that would play into our advantage again, because we'd already had the test there. But then when it turned out the grip level at the track was not the best, it again didn't suit my style as much compared to the others. They just braked later, carried less corner speed, and came out faster. Where when I tried to carry the corner speed and tried to turn the bike, it became difficult.

I think the rest of the year is going to be tough, the other guys have got a lot different package to what I've got. They did even at the last races, but now they've got even more things. It's a strange situation, but Ducati are giving me, my guys in my garage are always working hard, I've no complaints of the machine, of how hard they're working. We're working as best we can with what we've got, and it's as simple as that.

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Total votes: 8

Comments

The Ducati has had the exact same issue since 2007, and without Stoner their results have been pretty much the same for 8 years. The new engine and chassis layout is the only thing that will change their fortunes, I really can't wait to see the 2015 bike.

Total votes: 58

Everyone saw this coming. Cal is a great rider and an even better fellow, but this situation was as easy to predict as a daily sunset. I just hope his wallet is much heavier now in return for sacrificing a season aboard that Ducati.

Total votes: 85

He sacrificed a year of Ducati's time as well. I get the distinct impression his feedback has not been particularly helpful.

Total votes: 76

...cannot wait for the rest of the interview.
If any that's another chance to appreciate Cal's personality. He's really a nice guy albeit at times "overcooks" his talking and his riding.
It would be interesting see the full circle Yamaha-Ducati-Honda and see the different styles required to make the most out of the machine.

Total votes: 77

My gut tells me that Cal is bailing out on Ducati at just the wrong time. One gets the sense that they are on the verge of cracking this nut and becoming much more competitive next year with their new bike. Time will tell...

Anyway, cudos to Cal for getting his nice paycheck, and it seems he is not sacrificing too much of that by going to ride the Honda. That's not a criticism, just saying good on him. Biggest question for me now is just how close will that Honda be to the factory bikes? Are Bradl's and Alvaro's bikes close to the Repsol bikes and the gap is really the riders, or are those bikes massively different? (Alvaro's brakes and dampers notwithstanding). And are they closer to factory spec than the Tech 3 Yamaha that Cal gave up last year?

I only ask these questions because Cal's goal when he left Tech 3 was to get on a factory bike and win races (and $$)...and with his departure from Ducati, is he really going to be on a bike that can compete with MM93 and DP26? Even if the bike is the same or close, my guess, and it's just my opinion, is that even with as fast as Cal is on a single lap, he's about to get his ass handed to him. Beating Rossi (a few times when he was in the doldrums) and Smith last year (Smith had a downgraded bike) earned Cal a strong rep. But Dovi beat him at Tech 3 and just destroyed him at Ducati (in Cal's adjustment year)...But remember that Dovi got spanked by the Repsol boys when he was on the exact same factory bike? So what does that mean?

Crutchlow spent all his time trying to ride like Lorenzo because Lorenzo was crazy fast...well now, he's got to figure out how the Repsol boys do it because they are just as crazy fast (MM certified alien), but on yet another new bike for Cal to learn with different braking and cornering characteristics.

I see a long road ahead for Cal because I just don't see him beating MM93 and DP26, and by definition then, he won't be beating Lorenzo or Rossi, unless Honda makes a big step next year. In my mind, Cal is no better off now with a satellite/factory Honda than he was a couple years ago at Tech 3 except for the $$. I'm not sure I see any victories coming for quite a while...

Just my opinions, although I'd love to be proven wrong....I love having Cal in the paddock, he brings character and entertainment just like Colin did, and he's a fiery competitor. :)

Anybody think differently?

Total votes: 79

Really though, in the dry there is only a choice one of four bikes that are going to get to win a race right now (and usually it will be the one of those four).

The question you raise is; will Ducati have a bike that is good enough in the dry on the same tyres as the factory bikes (not using the open class leg-up they get now)?

And then the question is, are the riders good enough?

Cal will never know, but hopefully next year we will see if Dovi or Iannone are up there with the 'top' four.

The rest of the bikes, even the proper satellites are realistically competing for the odd podium and that's the best Cal, Pol, Smith, Redding can get.

Total votes: 57

Well said Marc1's. My understanding is that the difference between the satellite and factory M1's was greater than that of the LCR Honda and factory Hondas, that this has become somewhat less so just this season but remains.

A lot of legit negatives have been raised about what Cal got at Tec3 vs what was promised him (verbally and handshake at least) from Yamaha while w Herve, and my take is that it holds water.

I see Cal as having made the best decisions he could for this season and again for next. He was fortunate I think to land the factory LCR bike. I don't see fault in believing in oneself as a rider and looking at Nicky's results and expecting more on the Duc this yr, knowing Stoner's results and leaning into the possibility of being the key to unlock the bike's potential. These guys are all amazing riders, and have good reason to expect much from themselves, and it can be self-fulfilling to do so...AND nice to have those expectations hedged by enough salary to provide many many hams for you and yours.

At any rate, it is also within reason to expect that Cal will get on GREAT w the factory Honda. Also, swap fat cash stacks for the hedged expectations via getting the chance, for once in your career, to be on the venerable Honda factory machine in its final unadulterated iteration in 2015.

The guy has potential here and now, which isn't something I feel I can say about a very long list of riders for MotoGP. Getting on the right-enough bike at the right time in a rider's career trajectory is an amazing thing. SO many riders would LOVE to be in Cal's boots this late Fall. I will abstain from getting a beer from the fridge and starting in ("what if Ben Spies had gone from Tech 3 to LCR, and won't A.Espargaro tell his grandkids he wished that...").

Good riddance to this post 800cc thru 2014 Ducati! Go fwd boldy Bologna, and never look back!

Total votes: 59

I will abstain from getting a beer from the fridge and starting in ("what if Ben Spies had gone from Tech 3 to LCR, and won't A.Espargaro tell his grandkids he wished that...").

LOL! Hey, you can think it!

Total votes: 56

I can't quite figure Cal out. I'd imagine I'd love to hangout, drink beer and bullshit with the guy, given the chance. On the other hand, I shake my head sometimes while reading what he's said. I'm dumbfounded that he somehow thought he'd get on better with Ducati than Rossi. I get that as a racer, belief in yourself might be the most important trait, but honest analysis of the team, bike and the rider's style and ability have to be right up there. Of course, if he signed for the paycheck...fair play in a dangerous sport with a limited number of years to secure your future. I find it a bit funny when Cal says parts are making him look worse to his stablemates...I remember him complaining at Tech3 about not having the same fuel tank as Rossi and JLo...only to have Yamaha get tired of his bitching and finally giving him the same tank....only to have him revert to the old tank after not liking it! LOL! Anyway, can't wait to read the rest of the interview and see how he does at LCR...sadly we'll have to wait awhile for the later.

Total votes: 67

Cal has never compared himself to Valentino, he does not ride in anyway like Valentino. To criticize Cal for being brave to try and tame the Desmo, you might as well be criticizing Vale for doing the same thing in 2011, yet all us VR fans, myself included, would always rule this as a learning experience, and clearly one that has had a silver lining.

In regards to the fuel tank, you are forgetting the rest of the story. Although sounding rather like an excuse, a valid point was raised by CC that they had not had any testing time with the tank, and although his style is most similar to Lorenzo's and I'm sure he had access to JL99's data, that still can make the tenth of a difference over a lap. Let's not forget this issue is in regards to the Yamaha performing well at the beginning of a race and with a JL99-esque style, if your not out front, you're not going to be maximizing the Yamaha. This is all rather irrelevant simply because his results at Tech 3 in 2013 were highly praised and at many select comments by other 'Aliens', they all recognized Cal's talent and possibility at a dry win.

Total votes: 63

several RCV 213V podium lockouts in 2013.

Not saying Cal is going to win but the Honda he gets will have Öhlins & Brembo fitted & be full factory - unlike his Tech 3 satellite M1 which was never as good as the factory Yamaha's.

Crutchlow's 2015 bike is not good news for Team Yamaha, look what he did in 2013 with lesser kit.

Total votes: 66

Just me thinking while in traffic, but I have to think Cal thought riding a Ducati and beating Rossi while he's on the M1 would be his checkmate to the beating he gave Rossi aboard the M1 while he was on the Tech3. Then, Rossi gets canned and Cal goes to the factory Yamaha team for 2015. Can't say that I blame him for his thinking, he just miscalculated (as had most fans and journos(me included).

I like Cal and know how bad humble pie tastes myself, but the writing on the wall was spray painted in Ducati red with how this was going to turn out for him. As others have said though, at least he got "paid" (that also bothers me though as this was more about vigilantism than anything else).

Total votes: 70

I read on this forum many a time that Cal Crutchlow is big mouth and that his riding ability does not match his brashness. I am a bit of a Crutchlow fan and I therefore believe that he should be judged differently from others in the MotoGP paddock. When you look back at the three years preceding this year, Crutchlow did quite alright (if one takes 2011 as a learning year). I ask you to consider one thing before passing judgement on Crutchlow. He is no national hero who has a great deal of support from fans (like say Ben Spies has) nor did have any great support from anyone in the MotoGP paddock and his national identity did not matter (unlike say what it does now for Loris Baz). I think, only the fact that Herve Poncharal saw something in him brought him into the MotoGP paddock.

From the part of interview above and also from his utterances in the past, I feel that Crutchlow is not the most intelligent of the species of homo sapiens. But his brashness and his lack of fear in making statements which would make other riders cringe has made him the figure he is. First of all he talks foolishly of trying to be Lorenzo and then he talks about how his aggressive and man handling style would make him tame the Ducati. I am sure he actually thought he could and his confident assertions made Ducati believe that he could be a success since his utterances coincided with his good performance at Tech3 in 2013.

I really believe 2014 has been a huge shock to Crutchlow assuming that he had it in him to tame the beast. What happened to him at Ducati was what happened to Nicky Hayden. When Hayden signed for Ducati the paddock was abuzz with talk of how the Ducati would work well with Nicky Hayden, given his natural style supported aggression rather than smoothness. Even Casey Stoner was all warm and fuzzy about Hayden moving to Ducati. We know the rest of the story.

So Mr. Crutchlow unlike the polite Mr. Hayden (who has the whole of USA cheering for him) opens his mouth and talks sufficiently foolishly and incoherently but still does not say that he lost confidence himself or his ability. Ergo he ends up at LCR. Next year will show what he will do on the Honda, but please consider this while you pass a judgement about him.

His supreme confidence (probably a result of a slightly underwhelming introspection about ability) and the statements that came because of his confidence are the reasons why Cal Crutchlow has been having a career that very few people from WSBK have had. I think there is a wonderful irony here. Cal Crutchlow is in the MotoGP paddock not because of any great support from Dorna or his own country, but purely on merit, even though he seems to be lacking in it totally. Whatever it is we will never know how talented Crutchlow really is. But he is a character not afraid to speak (irrespective of the content of his speech) and that brings variety to the paddock and that I like. For those of you who believe he fooled people into believing that he is actually better than what he is, it would be good to remember that he managed to first fool himself into believing who he is and only then fooled the paddock.

Total votes: 69

My problem with Cal is that I remember how insulting he (and his father) got with anybody that didn't support his move to Ducati. Not talking about people saying he was stupid. No, only talking about people that said they were sorry he wouldn't be at the front anymore but wishing him good luck. He was insulting them on twitter, saying to f off. It was like if he managed to not know anything about every other rider and Ducati in recent years.
So now to read he took him 5 races to accept he needed to adapt his style just makes me laugh. And how long did it take him to throw in the towel on Ducati?
It's a shame but I don't believe he'll get much further in his career, nice bloke but too arrogant for his own good.

Total votes: 67

the more I realize there is nothing comparable to what a certain aussie used to do on their bikes.

Yes, I'm a fan.

But still...

Total votes: 46