BSB Rookie Cal Crutchlow speaks to LB
Like a lot of the young racers in the paddock, Cal has always been exposed to racing and spent his childhood travelling around the circuits of the Europe with his father Derek, who was also a well respected racer. The only difference between him and the other kids was that he wasn’t actually interested in racing himself until he was about 11 years old.
The first series Cal raced in was the UK Junior Challenge, which was raced at Darley Moore. He always got high results and was on the podium more often than not; he went on to win the series with nine wins, six second places and three third place finishes.
Cal’s next test was the Aprilia 125 Challenge in 2000 which ran along-side BSB. He was racing the likes of the now MotoGP Champion Casey Stoner, and Chaz Davies who has been riding for Pramac D’antin MotoGP for the last three races of this season. At the end of his first season Cal finished fifth in the Championship and third in his age group.
Not one to settle for fifth, Cal decided to enter the Aprilia Challenge once more; and this time he was out to win it. The ACU Road Race Academy was formed in 2001 and after a number of assessments Cal was chosen along with another 11 young riders to be the first apprentices. Half way through the season, Cal broke his arm. He still managed to get the points and finished the Championship in first place. He got a total of 17 podiums out of 22 races, eight of those being a first place finish.
In the latter part of 2002, aged just 16, Cal joined the Tech 2 Suzuki Junior Superstock Team riding a GSX-R 600. His team mate was no other than Tom Sykes, who is now riding for Paul Birds Stobart Honda in BSB also. He planned to stay with the Tech 3 team for 2003, but the team ran into financial trouble and couldn’t give him the ride.
Cal decided to enter the Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 Cup instead. He was racing against Tommy Hill and Kieran Clarke, Cal fought hard and by the end of the season he got four race wins, two second places, six pole positions and six new lap records. He finished second in the series and was offered a ride with Northpoint Ekerold Honda in British Supersport for 2004. Cal spent three years in British Supersport, finishing tenth overall in his first year, joint third in his second year and in 2006, Cal won the Championship.
After his spectacular Supersport title win, Cal signed for the 2007 season as a rookie in BSB with Rizla Suzuki; he couldn’t believe his luck. His team mate was now Chris Walker, who had just returned from WSB. With a brand new machine to ride and develop, Cal has had many lessons to learn. His season highlight was this weekend when got his first ever BSB podium (a third place) at the last round at Brands Hatch, and finishing ninth in the championship with 152 points.
Londonbiker's Foxy caught up with Cal at the last round of the British Superbikes at Brands Hatch and had an up close and personal chat with him.
Foxy: How you doing there Cal? Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us today.
Firstly, I noticed that there’s not a great deal of information on you out there, would you like to tell us a bit about how old you were and how you got into racing?
Cal: God... Getting into racing bikes was just following my dad around Europe really. He used to do a bit of British Superbike racing and some Club level racing, and then World Endurance. So, he took me around the world as a young’un, I used to ride my push-bike around all of the tracks and that was about it. So I wasn’t really interested at all until I was like 12 or 13, and then it just clicked, and I decided that I wanted to ride a motorbike. My dad said alright we’ll buy you one, and he got me a 125cc Aprilia. I jumped on it and crashed it within four corners!! (Cal Laughs) So it didn’t really go too good and erm, you know ever since then, I just carried on and loved it you know, and that is where my hat is and I’ve always followed my dream..
Foxy: Who have been your heroes and mentors during your racing career so far?
Cal: Oh God, you know... Obviously Valentino Rossi; I think he’s everybody’s. You even speak to Casey Stoner now and he’ll say looking back two or three years ago, he was his hero and he’s just beat him in the World Championship.
Foxy: I know... It's crazy really isn’t it...
Cal: It’s unbelievable what he’s done and achieved. Other hero’s are Troy Bayliss, umm... he always tries his best and he’s just a really, really nice guy. He used to live in Coventry as well...
Cal: Yeah, so I get to know him a little bit. And, he never gives up and that’s the mentality you should always have. Neil Hodgson and obviously James Toseland, you know both very clever in what they do with publicity and they are both very good riders. They are both World Champions...
Foxy: You have worked hard, and moved up from the UK Junior Challenge in 1999 to British Superbikes this year, what keeps you motivated and dedicated to progressing through the sport?
Cal: I haven’t won every championship yet! So, you know I have won a 125 Championship, a British Supersport Championship on the 600’s, next is the 1000’s and then we’ll see about World Supers or going onto MotoGP.
Foxy: Right, let’s talk about your Rookie Season in British Superbikes, how have you found it so far?
Cal: Yeah, it’s been a difficult year... Errr, there’s no doubt about that; I have been trying really hard. Obviously the Rizla Suzuki is a brand new K7 at the start of the year, it’s a fantastic road bike and we’ve transformed it onto the track and it was difficult you know. Everybody knows it’s been difficult and Max Biaggi is riding it over in World Superbikes and even he’s found it difficult, and if a man of his calibre struggling...
Foxy: He’s still came third in the series and he’s a rookie in there too...
Cal: Yeah... I think with that you know, as with my progression with the 600’s, I think we’ve done well. I have had a few fourth places, and a couple of fifths as well, they are top fives and that is what I have aimed for at the start of the season and that was my soul aim to finish in the top five, so not bad.
You look at the likes of Leon Camier and Tom Sykes, they have jumped on their bikes and they have jumped on proven packages so they’re already winning... So, for me, I know I’ll come out of the year stronger and, depending on what I do next year is something else and hopefully, I’ll be able to carry on my strength about what I have learnt about building bikes and the technical side of being with Rizla Suzuki. It has worked well...
Foxy: How have you found the transition from the 600cc Supersport to a Superbike?
Cal: A motorbike is a motorbike at the end of the day! Erm, everybody says that and it’s not necessarily about changing the speed or anything, because you always want to go faster...
Foxy: It’s about the power delivery though isn’t it? There’s a lot more power?
Cal: At the start of the year when I first started to ride the bike I wasn’t even giving a 100% throttle, and now I’m screaming for more power so, that’s just the way it is you know... it’s always going to be like that on motorbikes. I think changing lines and riding styles was a little bit difficult because I still fell into rushing into corners like a 600, erm... which now I’m not doing and the results are getting better.
Foxy: British Superbike fans have noticed big a difference in your riding since the start of the season. Is this due to seeing other rookies like Ray and Sykes gaining higher positions in the later part of the championship?
Cal: No, not at all. Like I said, I have proved last year that I can ride a motorbike, I beat Tom Sykes and I beat Leon Camier to the championship. So I know that can beat them, it’s to do with I’m still on a first year K7 and they are both on Honda’s which are three years old. I think I have proved to myself that I ride a motorbike and beating Chris (Walker) at some of the races, you know he’s just come back from a world championship, he’s been runner up in the British Championship god know how many times, he can obviously race a motorbike and for me to be up there and battling with my team mate, it’s incredible for the whole team.
Foxy: Your collision with Ryuichi Kiyonari at Donington Park this year looked very painful. What were your first thoughts following the collision?
Cal: Shit!!! (Laughs) No, it was more of a sorry more than anything, and you know that I didn’t mean to do it, it was a mistake. These things happen in racing, we race motorbikes for a living and unfortunately I hit a false neutral gear. I wasn’t even intending to pass him and I just had nowhere to go and unfortunately it was him that was in front of me. Whoever was in front of me would have been knocked off what ever happened. I went round and apologised to Kiyo, to all of his mechanics and to Neil Tuxworth, they were all fine about it, they know it was a racing incident and it’s just what happens. I felt dreadful to be honest and it was painful for me as well, I had to have three days going in and out of hospital for them to have a look at my arm, I mean I had a blood clot in my arm...
Foxy: It swelled right up didn’t it?
Cal: Yeah, it was a nightmare for the second race as well; I could hardly get my leathers on...
Foxy: So what did they do to sort the blood clot out?
Cal: It sort of dispersed itself; they took a bit of fluid off it. They were actually going to operate on it, but fortunately I didn’t have to have it done.
Foxy: Suzuki have had some problems getting the most out of the bike this year with it not being up to previous years expectations, has there been any focus put on you to help with the developing the bike?
Cal: Yeah, I have done a lot of development this year, my side of the garage and me. It’s been hard because obviously I don’t really know what a superbike should do as this is my first year. So to develop the bike and the parts, I think we have done a very good job. Everybody says why is the Suzuki so far behind? It’s not, but why are they not winning races, and when you look at it both Chris and me are both breaking lap records every weekend, every time we ride we run the lap record. We’re there, we’re fast enough, but you just have to think that the other bikes have got the development that out bike hasn’t yet. And, when those bikes are new next year and Suzuki stays the same, maybe the Suzuki will win.
Foxy: Also, Neil Hodgson did some testing with Rizla Suzuki mid-season, has he passed on any critical information that might help you?
Cal: Yeah, we tried a lot of stuff that Neil ran; it didn’t suit my riding style but, there’s things to be learnt from it. The chassis and the geometry and stuff that he tried, I’m not saying that we wouldn’t have tried them, we just don’t get the time, we race and he had a two day test. It was nice to have the point of view of a world champion and the bike and he could tell us something about it. He prefers the different tyres than to what I race, I use a triple compound and he preferred the dual. He tried some stuff that just didn’t work for me, I went out at the next race and just had his set-up for the first session and just didn’t like it. I’m not going to like his set-up, but he gave me some very valuable information. All credit to the team for getting him to do it because I think it was a step in the right direction.
Foxy: We know that Chris Walker has been using the new 2008 engine, which has a softer power delivery, have you also been using that engine also?
Cal: Now and again, I think I raced it at Croft. We’re not in 2008 yet, so I don’t see the point in using the engine, so we are sort of just concentrating on getting what we can. Like I said, I’m new to a Superbikes, so for me at the minute it’s just concentrating on what I’m doing.
Foxy: Between the 2007 engine and the 2008 engine, have you noticed any benefits?
Cal: I think the Suzuki is going to be very strong next year. The bike hasn’t lost a lot of power, especially around our sort of circuits around Britain. I’m not saying that we don’t need that much power, but it’s not as if we have a mile long straight anywhere. There’s not a drastic change, it’s still got a lot of power, I know that!
Foxy: There has been some speculation that you may be leaving Rizla Suzuki at the end of this season, along with that speculation there are also rumours that you could be riding a Honda next year? Is this true?
Cal: (Smirks) Erm... I’m not able to comment on that at the minute...
Foxy: Fair enough... (Laughs)
Foxy: Everyone knows that riding the bikes that you ride is a thrilling and heart-stopping experience. But, as a rider what is it really like sitting at the line and counting down the seconds to the start of a race?
Cal: It’s the best buzz in the world! You can’t understand you know... In a sense you are absolutely crapping yourself, but in a way it’s just like the best thing that could ever happen. I do a job that nobody can dream of doing, it’s just absolutely fantastic. I’m humble in a way, I just think God, who ever gave me the chance of this...
Foxy: Well you did it yourself...
Cal: It’s one of those things, I sit there on the line when all of the other people are there on the grid and I just think that to do this, it’s just my dream. I used to watch them on TV and now I’m racing against them, it’s like, Bloody Hell!! (Cal smiles from ear to ear) It’s good, I really enjoy it.
Foxy: Some racers listen to music or chill in their motor-homes to prepare for a race. What do you do?
Cal: Erm, not much really... I don’t know. I just try to keep myself busy more than anything, coz if I’m not I just think about the race or something that could go wrong, or think about winning. I just like to jump on the bike and do my job, erm I like to do a lot of PR stuff. I like to do a lot of stuff for the fans because basically they are the ones that pay our wages at the end of the day; they come and watch the racing. The fans are more important than the racing really I think.
Foxy: As a British Superbike rider, do you get any celebrity status?
Cal: (Smiles) No, not at all, (Laughs) it’s good for me, I don’t see myself any different to anyone else. I like to mix with normal friends that do normal jobs; I don’t go to celebrity parties or anything if that’s what you’re asking... (Giggles)
Foxy: Well, you’re a celebrity in British bike racing world you know, especially in British Superbikes...
Cal: Yeah... I like signing autographs and that, it makes you feel good.
Foxy: How does someone your age deal with all of the attention and demand from fans and the women?
Cal: Fans, I enjoy speaking to, I get a lot of pleasure giving them my time and making the effort. Especially the young kids you know, coz I remember being that young kid trying to get autographs and asking for a knee slider and I try and do it when I can. But, erm girls, it makes no difference. Racing and girls go hand in hand, I know that, but I think it makes no difference to me. I just try and concentrate on my job.
Foxy: Right, where do you see yourself in five years time?
Cal: MotoGP!! If I haven’t won the Championship by then, I’d sincerely like to be racing in it, I know that.
Foxy: Do you ride a bike on the road? If so what and do you have any funny stories you can share with us?
Cal: Erm, I don’t ride a bike on the road. The funny story is, I haven’t got a licence, (Laughs) I haven’t even taken my test, and so I’m not really interested at the minute...
Foxy: What bike would you have if you had one on the road?
Cal: I’d have to say a Suzuki I suppose... (Chuckles) I quite like the thought of having a quad or something on the road, to mess about on or a supermoto. But to be honest, I think that is why I haven’t taken my test is because I think I would be a bit of a lunatic...
Foxy: Yeah, it does happen mate! (Laughs)
Cal: (Laughs out very loud)
Foxy: And finally, what advice would you give to a rider who dreams of being a BSB rider?
Cal: Never give up and follow your dream you know. If your dreams to be a superbike rider or a MotoGP champion or whatever, you just follow it. My dreams have changed over the years because of what I have done and what I’ve achieved. My dream was to win the British Supersport Championship, and I have won it, so now my next dream is to win the British Superbike Championship and it just goes on, and you see how you get on. Never give up and just keep trying.
Foxy: Thank you very much for your time Cal, much appreciated...
Cal: Thank you very much.
We would like to thank Cal and the Rizla Team for taking the time out to speak to us.