Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) is on top of the world this week with three good reasons to celebrate after a dramatic MotoGP™ race in Argentina last Sunday. Not only did Crutchlow take the third win of his MotoGP™ career in an unforgettable Termas de Rio Hondo race, but he became the first British rider to lead the premier class World Championship since Barry Sheene in 1979.
He also earned a place in Honda folklore in South America by winning the Japanese factory’s 750th Grand Prix.
The LCR Honda Castrol rider spoke exclusively to motogp.com about his Argentina success and what it means to be leading the Championship.
How important is it to get a win so early in the season in terms of momentum and easing some pressure to get back to winning ways since 2016?
“Winning a MotoGP™ race is massive and it’s great to get one out of the way at just the second race. Brno was mid- 2016 and Phillip Island towards the end of that year, but getting this win so early gives me a lot of momentum for the remainder of 2018. I felt in many races last year that I was riding well but I didn’t take my chances like I did on Sunday. I won’t get carried away though. The pressure is off in terms of chasing a win this year but to win the title you need to be winning six or more races. Marc and Andrea won six each last year, so that’s what I need to strive towards to be fighting for the title. But my goal is to be fighting for the podium in every race.”
Did this win feel any different to Brno and Phillip Island because in Argentina you were fast in every session and in all conditions?
“Sunday’s win was not unexpected. Marc was the fastest throughout the weekend and that was clear. But even on Saturday I felt it was between me and him for the win. He was the guy to beat but after him I felt I was the next fastest, so if he wasn’t in the reckoning, I felt I had a high possibility of winning if I did the right things. I did the right things and won.”
In Parc Ferme you shouted: “Don’t doubt me.” Why was that?
“When you’re full of adrenaline in that special moment you say anything that comes into your head at the time. It could have been directed at myself. As a motorcycle racer, you go through many phases in your career and you’re always going to have doubts. I won two races in 2016 and it seemed very hard to win last year, so you start to have doubts but I think every professional in sport has those moments. I’m very self-motivated and even when the odds seem stacked against me I still believe I can do something. But it could also be directed at people that doubt I can win races or fight for the title.”
How does it feel to be the first British rider since Barry Sheene in 1979 to be leading the premier class World Championship?
“That happened in 1979 and I wasn’t born for another six years! It makes me feel very proud but I think I’m doing a good job whatever the history books say because in Argentina I was racing guys like Alex and Jack who are 10 years younger than me. When I won in Brno everybody was talking about it being the first win for a British rider in the premier class since Barry Sheene and comparing me to him, which was incredible. Just to be spoken in the same sentence as Barry was very humbling. But he won many races and two titles and I’ve only won three races, so I’ve got some work to do.”
Milestones are always nice to achieve, so how special was it that your win in Argentina was the 750th Grand Prix success for Honda?
“I think my team really deserve it more than anything else. Lucio Cecchinello has been with Honda for a very long time and he’s always had a great collaboration with them. Everybody in the team works incredibly hard and for Lucio to have that on the CV is something special for him and the entire squad. On a personal note, it’s a very nice feeling. But I’m not saying I’ll still be riding when it comes to trying to win the 1000th for Honda!”
The fourth place in Qatar and win in Argentina means you’ve had the best start ever in your MotoGP career, so what do you think is the main reason for that?
“Honestly I don’t know because previously I’ve generally always started badly at Qatar. I do like Argentina and I took my opportunity there in a difficult race because Johann, Alex and Jack didn’t make it easy. I think it comes down to good preparation from myself, the LCR CASTROL Team and Honda. They’ve given me the tools to be more competitive this year. My bike is working better in terms of the speed and acceleration, which is where we felt we were lacking in the past and HRC has done a great job to improve the engine. Whenever we’ve made requests for changes before it has been difficult to pair the engine with the electronics, particularly at the start of the season. But this year we go to tracks and hit the ground running and I’ve been competitive throughout winter testing and in the first two races.”
Would you say the priority in terms of improving performance of the 2018 RC213V was focused exclusively on the engine?
“It’s a difficult one for the factories without concessions because you have to seal the engines before the start of the season and then you can’t modify them. It’s vital that you get it right and that was a priority. We haven’t changed the bike so much and most of the parts are similar to last year. The feel of the bike is very similar too but we have more power to play with. Having more power is not always the solution because you have to manage it with electronics or your right wrist, but I’d rather be taking power away than be lacking speed because then you’re up against it.”
You’re now an official HRC contracted rider for the first time, so do you feel any different in terms of support from Honda?
“That’s hard to say because I’ve always had great support from Honda from the moment I first walked into the LCR garage at the end of 2014. They’ve always listened to my input on the bike and I work hard for my team but also for Honda as well because I want to help them create a bike we can all be competitive on. I’ve always had great technical staff in my garage from Honda and they have obviously been pleased with the way I’ve managed the situation in the first two races.”
Based on what we’ve seen this year, with your LCR Honda Castrol team win and the pole position in Qatar and Argentina being taken by a rider from Monster Yamaha Tech 3 and Alma Pramac Racing, can an Independent Team rider win the World Championship?
“That’s a tough question, but if I didn’t believe I could do it or the team could do it then there is no point in me turning up. It will be very, very difficult and honestly the likelihood is no. The factories have so many more resources compared to an Independent Team that it will take something very special to do it. Being a factory rider as I am, I’ve got great support from Honda. But there is a lot that goes into winning. An Independent Team might have 30 staff but a factory has 90. And we need to see what happens when the factories begin to develop their machinery with new parts once we get to Europe because that can be a time when the gap in performance widens. I’m happy with the package I’ve got and competitive with it and I’m confident I can get stronger. What I do know is that Dorna and Carmelo Ezpeleta have done an outstanding job to create a series where guys not on a factory bike or in a factory team have a great opportunity to be competitive. I genuinely believe MotoGP™ is the best sporting event in the world right now. The show in Moto3™, Moto2™ and MotoGP™ is so exciting.”
Do you think 2018 is going to be the toughest MotoGP™ title to win in history?
“I know how hard it is to win races in MotoGP™ and I’ll soon know when we get to Austin how hard it is to lead the World Championship. It’s not something I’ve done since World Supersport back in 2009! I’m under no illusions about how tough the season is going to be. It’s the longest in history and the competition is unbelievably strong. They key for me is consistency and trying to score points in every race. If I don’t have the best day I still need to be scoring points if I want to be in a strong position come Valencia at the end of the year. You’ve got to take the setbacks on the chin and react as calmly as possibly because I think this year’s title is one of the hardest to win ever. This season there are 10 guys going into every race that can be on the podium.”
Behind you on Sunday there was a lot of well documented controversy, so what’s your opinion on Marc Marquez as he came through the pack?
“This might sound like a cop out and I know everybody watched it and has an opinion on it but it doesn’t concern me. I need to concentrate on what I’m doing and the team is doing to make sure we stay at the top of the rankings. What happened has happened and it didn’t concern me. It’s been a talking point for everybody else but it doesn’t need to be one for me.”
All three of your wins have come with wife Lucy watching at home on TV, so are you still letting her come to races with you?
“She can still come to races (laughs). I usually ride better when Lucy is there but it just so happens she hasn’t seen me win yet at the track. About 15 minutes before I went to the grid on Sunday I was talking to her on the phone and I wasn’t happy about something that had happened at the track. She got me calmed down and she told me: “Cal, just concentrate on winning and go and do it for your girl’s.” I remembered those words with two laps to go. I passed Johann and thought about what she said when I was in turns seven and eight. There were a few damp patches there and I hit one and I just remembered the phone call and what Lucy had told me about doing it for her and my daughter, Willow. She was a calming influence on me even though she was about 7000 miles away!?