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I made it clear. They would have to transport me out of the commentary box in a wooden box if I did not ever commentate on a British rider winning a MotoGP™ race before I retired. Thanks to Cal Crutchlow, my promise was never put to the test.
I had always admired Cal since he arrived in MotoGP™ despite being a little nervous when having to interview him. He just wanted to be a MotoGP™ rider walking away from what would have been a very successful and lucrative World Superbike career. I think even Cal may have doubted he had made the right decision as he struggled in those early days. Typically, he stuck at it and won three MotoGP™ Grands Prix before announcing the finish of his full-time MotoGP™ career to join the factory Yamaha team as their test rider next year.
It was pouring with rain as we arrived at the Brno circuit on the Sunday morning of August 21st in 2016. I had more thoughts of keeping dry as we ran from the car park to the media centre rather than the prospect of a 35-year hoodoo finally being erased. All those thirty-five years ago I had witnessed, reported and celebrated watching Barry Sheene win the 500cc Swedish Grand Prix in Anderstorp. A more contrasting venue in every single way to the magnificent Brno circuit could not be imagined. The circuit doubled up as the local aerodrome with the entrance in a trading estate, surrounded by dark, ominous-looking woods occupied by gangs of Hells Angles during the race weekend. Barry won the 30-lap race for Yamaha with two Dutchman Boet van Dulmen and Jack Middelburg completing the podium at the last race of the season. I remember taking the pictures of Barry and his great partner in crime Marco Lucchinelli with their heads in the same winner’s garland. Italian Lucchinelli’s ninth place was enough to bring him and Suzuki the World title.
That was that. Despite the gallant efforts from the likes of Niall Mackenzie, Jeremy McWilliams and Ron Haslam and even claiming that 1987 World Champion Australian Wayne Gardner was English because he lived in England, a British rider never stood again on the top step of a premier class podium. Barry Sheene had passed away 13 years earlier and I honestly started to believe it was never ever going to happen again, until along came Cal.
That wet day in the Czech Republic started so well. Scotsman John McPhee won his first Moto3™ Grand Prix in the wet race. The rain had stopped an hour before the start of the 22 lap MotoGP™ race, but the track was still wet. Crutchlow was 15th at the end of the first lap but as the track started to dry, he began racing through the field. I still never envisaged what unfolded in front of me. It was around the 12th lap I had the first inkling that history was about to unfold when he moved into fourth place. I so wanted it to happen, but I was panicking because I had nothing, no facts or figures prepared and so always I just kept talking. Four laps later he was at the front pulling away from the likes Rossi and Marquez who knew something about not only winning Grands Prix, but world titles. Commentating on the last lap with your eyes closed may not be very professional but that’s exactly what I did, peeping through my fingers a couple of times, until Cal reached the hill leading up to that dreaded chicane that leads onto the start /finish straight. Please, please do not crash I prayed, and Cal did not. He was a lot calmer than me in the press conference that followed and then two months later when he won again at Phillip Island in Australia. Barry Sheene would have loved it.
So many thanks Cal. Good luck in the future – and lucky Yamaha.
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