It was a welcome return to the top five for LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow on Sunday at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, the British rider finishing in his highest position since also finishing fifth at the Czech GP.
Crutchlow pipped Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to the line by 0.047 in Japan but could it have been more? Starting from the middle of the second row, Crutchlow was aiming to try and climb onto the podium for the second consecutive year at the Twin Ring Motegi – Honda’s home circuit. Sadly that didn’t quite materialise, with the 33-year-old explaining post-race that he had to “manage a situation” fairly early into the race.
“Yeah part of me is disappointed not to be on the podium of course but I never had a great feeling in the early part of the race,” began Crutchlow. “I also had to manage a situation to make sure I finished the race, for 10 or 12 laps it was really difficult to manage. But I felt we did a good job, I never had fantastic pace all weekend and I didn’t have great pace at the last race in Thailand either.
“I felt in Thailand we could have had a good result, maybe similar to what we had today, but I said I wanted to aim for the podium. I didn’t finish on the podium today but obviously my team and Honda are very happy with the top five result here at Honda’s home Grand Prix.”
But what was that issue? A smirking Crutchlow said: “I can’t tell you. Probably the same as everyone else but yeah, it was to make sure I got to the finish and finish the race. But I was in two minds whether to go faster and try and catch the group in front, or slow down.
“So I slowed down a little bit, probably a bit too much, and then I had Alex pass me which helped me out a little bit, but also it meant we never went forward in the race. We resumed our battle from last year, I was second last year and he was third, then this race we battled again so it was good fun.”
The Twin Ring Motegi is notorious for being the harshest track on the calendar for brakes, with its stop-go nature also punishing on fuel. Race winner Marc Marquez had to get a helping hand back to parc fermé from Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) because his Repsol Honda machine ran out of juice after the chequered flag. The likelihood is Crutchlow had to manage the same issue, although we can’t be 100% sure.
Nevertheless, it was a good weekend for Crutchlow and after the struggles of 2019, is the LCR Honda man starting to make headway with the fiery animal that is the latest RC213V?
“No, because I feel these last two races have really highlighted our problems,” admitted the number 35 rider. “Thailand we had a problem with the brake in the race and I had to finish where I had to finish so, we need to understand what the package is for next year and start to look at that because we can’t really improve our settings or our bike so much this year, so I think we have to look forward more to next year than now.”
Next up: Phillip Island. Crutchlow’s weekend ended in disaster after a huge Friday afternoon crash at Turn 1, the subsequent horrific ankle injury meant he missed 2019 pre-season testing. Better luck this time around is hopefully in store for Crutchlow, whose famous 2016 triumph remains firmly in the memories of every British racing - and probably non-British - fan. FP1 in Australian begins at 10:50 local time (GMT+11), tune in to see how Crutchlow fares on the Island in 2019.