There was, realistically, no way he should have been on the grid. BBC presenter Matt Roberts, commentators Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish – a former racer – and guests James Toseland (ex-MotoGP) and Tommy Hill (current British SuperBikes champion) all agreed that it was incredibly courageous but, potentially, incredibly dangerous.
And yet there was Cal Crutchlow, limping onto his Tech3 Yamaha and lining up dead last on the 20-bike MotoGP grid for the 2012 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Nobody could have blamed Crutchlow for bowing out of his home event after a high-speed tumble at Maggotts in Saturday practise had left him with a dislocated and partially fractured left ankle – the foot MotoGP riders use to operate their clutch pedal. The Coventry-born rider spent all of Saturday afternoon in an Oxfordshire hospital receiving treatment and was clearly still in pain when he arrived at the circuit yesterday morning.
But, as he told Roberts after the race, Crutchlow felt he “had a job to do”. So he hopped – literally – onto his Tech3 bike, repaired by his mechanics after the crash, and lined up behind the lower-class CRT bikes with his usual GP rivals barely in sight.
And turned on the gas.
An optimistic Parrish had predicted a top-ten finish before the race, fancying Crutchlow to pass the CRT bikes and maybe get on terms with some of the tail-end GP runners. But Crutchlow was up to 11th – and past the entire CRT field – in two laps flat.
Cox and Parrish struggled to maintain their attention on the intense, seven-bike battle at the front as Crutchlow caught, and passed, the likes of Hector Barbera, Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl to rise into 8th. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso’s bike then succumbed to a brake problem, promoting Crutchlow to an already memorable 7th. Still, he wasn’t done.
Trailing struggling American Nicky Hayden by six seconds with six laps remaining, Crutchlow ate up the ground at a pace only race-leader Jorge Lorenzo could match before throwing a stunning move up the inside of Hayden’s Ducati at the very complex where he had been unseated the day before. Once again, the Silverstone crowd leapt to their feet and roared.
Crutchlow’s heroics provided a thrilling backdrop to an intense battle at the front which proved definitively that there is still life – and entertainment – in MotoGP racing. Lorenzo, once again the class of the field, was made to work early in the race by the likes of Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa, while Hayden, Ben Spies and surprise pole-sitter Alvaro Bautista were also in the running behind initial leader Casey Stoner. That group didn’t begin to thin out until the final laps, when Lorenzo pulled away and Dovizioso and Hayden were cast adrift.
Lorenzo signed a new two-year contract extension with Yamaha last week, ending speculation that he would be taking the seat at Honda that Stoner will vacate when he retires at the end of the season. It was the perfect way to celebrate.
In the battle for the CRT victory, it was the two Aspar Aprilias of Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargero who duelled during the final laps for the win, with the Catalonian Espargero edging out his seasoned French teammate.
There was no doubting, though, who the British crowd were cheering as the riders arrived back in the paddock after the race. Crutchlow received a massive ovation as he pulled back into the Tech3 pit and saluted his fans before limping to the back of the garage and slumping into a chair. He admitted being “emotionally drained” to Roberts, and it is little surprise that he was. Crutchlow’s performance was the story of the weekend, the only disappointment being that, without the crash, we would surely have seen have seen a first British podium at the British Grand Prix since 1995.
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