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The Honey Badger Strikes Back

The rain dance didn’t work. Silverstone was dry. Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden were stuck at the back…again. Bautista came 4th. Let’s not even talk about the podium. The same three names once again. Yes, my hopes are dashed. This is a bit melodramatic, isn’t it? Well, my friends do call me a drama queen, with good reason I suppose.

But I am actually not really that cranky. Why? Why? Just one name folks, Cal Crutchlow.

Honey Badger Crutchlow, Le Mans, 2012. Image courtesy Laurent Cartalade; Used under Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

No, the winners didn’t run the best race. Sure they were fast and they were on the podium. But for me, the real winner was Cal, who is fast becoming one of my favourites on the grid.

I was disappointed when Qualifying came around on Saturday. That morning, during the final practice session, Cal fell at Chapel Curve and injured his left ankle and foot. Initially it looked like a sprain, but it turned out to be a fractured bone in his left ankle. This was it, I thought. No Cal at Silverstone. It seemed a repeat of the previous year, when Cal broke his collarbone.

But come Sunday, there was a little ray of hope. Cal was racing, starting from the back of the grid no doubt, but racing nevertheless. My eyes were on Hayden and Rossi; the cameras were on the front runners. My fingers were crossed and then hope faded as I watched Hayden slip back and Rossi struggle with his Ducati.

But there was one name that was climbing the grid – steady, confident, and determined. It was as if there was no broken ankle. Two laps of 20 down, he passed the nine CRTs first. Rossi was 3.3 seconds ahead, but Cal passed him on lap 6. Hector Barbera and Stefan Bradl were next. In 7th position, Cal spotted Hayden seven seconds ahead. He seemed too far. But throughout this season, the 2009 World Supersport Champion has always pushed and pushed his way up. That wasn’t going to change in Silverstone, his home race. The crowd roared. On a different continent, I cheered while watching the television, fingers crossed.

Cal’s pace was nothing short of stunning as he matched the leading group, lap for lap. Then, on the final lap, as his fans cheered him on, Cal overtook Hayden at the Maggotts Corner. He finished an astounding 6th.

Tech 3 Yamaha manager Herve Poncharal later told Autosport, “That was a truly incredible race and words almost fail me to describe the job that Cal did today. We weren’t even sure this morning that he could ride, so for him to finish in the top six is a result I don’t think we expected or will ever forget.” He added, “He was a long way behind Nicky, but to pass him on the last lap sums Cal up perfectly. He never gives up, he’s got amazing self-belief and he has got a lot of guts to match his talent.”

Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow at Silverstone, 2011. By Stuart Dallas / MotoRaceReports; Used under Creative Commons License Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Cal said in a Monster Yamaha Tech 3 press release: “It was a very tough race but I just had to try and ignore the pain and let the adrenaline and support of the British crowd get me through. When I got by Bradl, I could see Nicky was a long way clear, but I just kept on pushing to see what happened.” He added, “When I was lying in the gravel yesterday all I could think was they (the British fans) weren’t going to see me ride in my home race again. Their support helped me a lot and I hope they went home proud of the job I did for them.”

Even as Cal recuperates at his Isle of Man home, the numbers tell the real story. Six races down, Cal is currently at the 4th spot with 26 points. Team mate Andrea Dovizioso trails behind with 22 points. Cal was seconds away from a podium finish in two races (Qatar and Jerez), and has consistently been in the top 5 (barring Le Mans and more recently Silverstone). It’s obvious that he has the pace and the determination to challenge Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner. It is obvious too that we will see Cal on the podium soon. It’s just a matter of when.

Alvaro Bautista during Qualifying at Silverstone 2012. Image courtesy Migue Moreno

And then…

I don’t mean to ignore the other riders. Cal was the man of the moment. But Silverstone did throw up a pleasant surprise when Lorenzo and Stoner faced off for the lead during the race. The neck-to-neck battle made great racing. But Lorenzo wore the British GP crown. I was disappointed for Alvaro Bautista. It would have been great to watch Bautista and the Gresini team take home the trophy. But unfortunately, the bike just didn’t show enough pace – rather the Hondas and Lorenzo were just too fast. Ben Spies’ bad luck continued as he ended the race at the 5th position. The historical TT Assen circuit, 4.555km long is up next. Lorenzo holds the record there for the fastest lap. The countdown has begun.

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