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Crutchlow's style has substance

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Matt Roberts | 08:46 UK time, Thursday, 12 April 2012

Late last Saturday night, in the front row press conference at the Losail Circuit in Qatar, pole setter Jorge Lorenzo was struggling to find the right words to describe the emerging threat of the man sat immediately to his left.

"This year Cal is more... 'mantequilla'" he finally says, reverting to his native language.

Mantequilla, Spanish for butter, is the word Lorenzo uses to describe his own smooth approach to finding the fastest way around a circuit; a trait he believes he inherited from his mother because of the dextrous way she would flick her knife across his morning toast, using the perfect angle of lean to cover every corner with minimum effort.

The other half of Lorenzo's racing DNA is made up of 'el martillo' (the hammer), the relentless and consistently accurate way he is able to string together lap after lap with metronomic timing.

MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow

British rider Cal Crutchlow finished fourth in the opening race of the MotoGP season in Qatar. Photo: Getty

This, he believes, he picked up from his father, a motorcycle mechanic, having spent hours watching him tapping away in the family workshop.

Describing British rider Cal Crutchlow's new found speed as mantequilla was a huge compliment coming from one of only four MotoGP masters on the grid; not least because for riders making the switch to Grand Prix racing from World Superbikes in the past, command of this particular science has proven to be the biggest obstacle.

As Crutchlow was lauded for being the first British rider to qualify on the front row since James Toseland at the very same race in 2008, comparisons were immediately and inevitably being drawn between him and the most recent in a long line of WSB superstars to attempt and ultimately fail to make the Grand Prix grade.

However, there are key differences between what at first appears to be two unerringly similar achievements and their bearing on what the future could hold for the protagonist in question.

Let me explain...

Before tyre regulations came in at the end of 2008, which included a single supplier and set allocation, riders had a limitless supply of rubber that, to an extent, they could use to paper over the cracks in bike set-up or riding style.

Using Michelin's famously sticky rear 'qualifier', which was good for just two flying laps at best, double World Superbike champion Toseland's pace during qualifying for the 2008 Grand Prix of Qatar jumped from consistent laps of low one minute 56s in race trim to a jaw-dropping effort of 1:54.182.

By comparison eventual race winner Casey Stoner, using Bridgestones, had been setting mid-1:55s in race spec and could only improve to a 1:54.733, leaving him fourth on the grid.

Nowadays, with Bridgestone supplying the entire grid, each rider has a maximum of nine front and 10 rear tyres to use as they see fit across the entire weekend, which in Qatar consisted of three different choices of front (soft, medium and extra-hard) and two choices of rear (medium and asymmetric hard).

Both rear compounds are, in theory, designed to last the full race distance and although teams invariably try to keep a fresh set of the softer compound handy for a time attack there is no longer a quick fix to find the one thing that makes riders go faster: grip.

During last Saturday night's qualifying practice Crutchlow, like Toseland four years before him, had also lapped in the low 1:56s in race trim.

Sticking with a hard front tyre that already had five laps on it he switched to a new soft rear for his penultimate run, allowing him to improve to a 1:55.022 and secure third place on the grid.

Prior to that in free practice he had led the standings for most of Thursday's opening session, using the same soft rear tyre throughout, before ending the second of two sessions on Friday night second fastest overall thanks to a 1:55.456 that came on a new soft rear but with a used hard front.

This kind of pace was an extension of the form he has already shown in preseason testing at Sepang and Jerez, which is why his qualifying time came as no surprise, certainly not to the observant Lorenzo.

After a bad start in Sunday's race Crutchlow quickly recovered positions and on lap three he was the fastest man on track, clocking a 1:55.984 to close in on team-mate Andrea Dovizioso in fourth place.

Over the next 19 laps only Stoner went faster than that, with eventual race winner Lorenzo managing a best effort of 1:56.067; enough evidence to suggest that had Dovizioso not forced Crutchlow back into mainly the low 1:57s until he finally found a way past on lap 17, he could have been closer to the podium battle at least.

This, of course, would have required plenty of 'martillo', something the Brit will have to find to go with the extra 'mantequilla' if he is to challenge Lorenzo et al in the coming battles.

It is only right to point out that the switch to 1,000cc machinery this season has aided Crutchlow's transition and it is no doubt a move that Toseland would have relished.

Yorkshireman Toseland's valiant effort on what was his MotoGP debut was a worthy achievement in its own right but it ultimately served to create false anticipation and eventually perhaps even JT himself got tangled up in his attempts to live up to the hype.

This time, however, there is the substance to suggest that British challenge will not melt away.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice article Matt, insightful analysis. Its great to have the season running again.

    Excellent performance from Cal and Jorge. I like the contrast between the Honda's power and the Yam's handling which is still there this year. It creates some competition around the lap, although it would be great to see the Yam a bit faster on the straights to avoid the inevitable overtake. The Tech3's looked solid and I hope that they can close up with the 'aliens' as only having 3-4 of them now is a shame - need some more competition up front. Less likely that the Ducatis will close that gap quickly. Any insight on the difference between Vale and Nicky this weekend? Didn't expect much from them in Qatar despite the promise but equally didn't expect to see such a gap between riders on the same bike.

    Shame that the Beeb seemed to pull the red button coverage of quali? Golf is no substitute. Surely its not hard to have two red button options... Keep up the good work though.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great ride from Colin Edwards by the way.

  • Comment number 3.

    how do you think the German fella will get on once he's "settled in to racing" on the big bikes? looks promising to me!

  • Comment number 4.

    fantastic ride from Cal. I'm rooting for him this season, no question. I wish he would stop saying in interviews something about 'proving a few people wrong'. Just ride the wheels off it and the results will come. If his start had been better and he was not stuck behind his team mate, it's possible he could have caught Stoner and been on the podium!

  • Comment number 5.

    Nice article Matt, but let's not heap even the slightest expectation on Cal's shoulders. It did for JT in a big way, and after a really good start he just went further and further back down the grid. It was quite painful to watch, back then, a symptom of which was his falling off at Donington in qualification and the race first corner. Much later there was his disqualification at Laguna Seca and finally seeing MotoGP newbie Ben Spies easily out compete him. Now Spies isn't finding things so easy himself, after promising so much, despite being on factory machinery. If it was me, I'd occasionally mention Cal in despatches and let him concentrate on his riding. When he asks you why he isn't getting much coverage that'll be the time you'll know you've given him just the right amount.

    Hope Bradley is feeling better too. The inaugural Moto3 race was better than I was expecting, though that 250cc single cylinder drone might annoy, after a while. Neither deep nor high. Shame they're not either 250 twins or 450 singles. Good luck to Hudders for the rest of the season, and wish us well against Reading this weekend..!


  • Comment number 6.

    ...this is my first, full season as the main anchor so it will be a really exciting year...

    Doesn't time fly..? Perhaps someone could change that for you.

  • Comment number 7.

    I was very surprised by Cal's performance, not so much the superb FP3 and Quali efforts he put in but his race pace. Last year, the only time he showed good solid high-up-the-field race pace was at Catalunya, and that was still only good enough to get him ahead of one factory bike. I actually missed qualifying and didn't see practice for Qatar so didn't get to see what his runs were like, but the times he posted were I thought one lap wonders, until I saw the race.

    On the other hand Matt realistically, how well do you think Toseland would have actually done with a 1000cc bike in MotoGP? Jerez and Philip Island in 2008 showed he could race very aggressively against the other MotoGP riders, do you think the reduced importance of corner speed would have helped him find the extra time he needed to bridge the gap from his 6th place finishes to the podium?

    PS @secondstain, congratulations on how well Southampton are doing! Hate you and them (in a good way) but won't begrudge you the joy :)

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Daggers3

    Never did see you at St Marys, mate. Best luck to Dag & Red. Pop across to Not606, the successor to BBC606 and let these good posters enjoy MotoGP without our chatting about footie together. ;-)

  • Comment number 9.

    Nice analysis, Matt.

    What I'd like to know is why some riders (including Crutchlow) had glowing discs under braking at Qatar and others did not. I thought they all had carbon brake discs? Are there variants?

  • Comment number 10.

    @SecondStain ah never made it down :( But yeah you're right, bikes here only :)

    @LollypopMan - I think there are different types of carbon discs, yeah they all use them in dry conditions, but some have lower mass, some have higher. I can't remember which ones dissipate heat less efficiently (might be the higher mass ones) but the ones that DO let out heat more efficiently dont get so hot and therefore bright. Of course, it might just have been down to braking patterns (Cal's SBKish style vs Dovizioso's smooth GP class style) but I reckon Cal chose a different set of discs from Dovizioso.

  • Comment number 11.

    Cheers for the feedback people...

    @TheSecondStain the point of this piece was not to build unfounded expectation but to provide some factual context to that which justifiably exists after such a good result in the opening race & point out that Cal's case is completely different to James'. However, I agree that there is a long way to go & it's important not to get carried away!

    @swindonbluearmy I thought Stefan Bradl was very impressive in Qatar - he has been building his speed throughout testing without crashing and has a careful, logical approach. If he keeps improving in the same way he'll be competitive very soon.

    @daggersfan3 race pace is established in FP and qualifying... always worth looking at the lap charts on - especially if you like a flutter on a Sunday! As for Toseland... impossible to say really but personally I'm sure his style would have suited 1000cc more and it's reasonable to think his MotoGP career would have been very different had it been on the bigger bike

  • Comment number 12.

    @LollypopMan I asked the same question - Steve Blackburn on Twitter confirmed that Cal was on the low mass discs which do glow more (as less mass to dissipate the heat). I think the advantage is that they 'bite' more than the higher mass discs. But what do I know, I'm a doctor...:-)

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for the comeback, Matt. Of course, I sincerely hope Cal is up to the mark on the Tech3 bike. If the opening race is anything to go by, he's in for a good season, but we know how Qatar can be a misleading pointer. If he's popping in regular top 6-8 for the next few races [excluding getting off the bike] or just beating his mate Dovizioso, I'll know he's up to something good or better. I'm actually quite patient about competing Brits doing really well because they've not done so for so long, and it'll be worth waiting for when it eventually happens.


  • Comment number 14.

    Nice article thanks Matt. Was a decent race to start off the season, and I not judging it too soon, but it does look like we have two different races at the moment with the CRT bikes. I think they are the way forward, so a great job done by Colin Edwards. Bradl was the other standout performance from Qatar.

    Cal seems to have taken a step forward, and it seems like he’s learnt a lot in 2011.

    Matt, could you have a word with the BBC about getting qualifying onto the iPlayer please?!


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