59° 19′ 19.9″ N
4° 23′ 11.8″ W
Sitting in the corner booth at the Swan on Parliament Square in Ramsey facing a 10oz-Gammon Steak and a pint will give you a proper idea of what life on the Island is all about. It is mid-october and outside the big, wood-framed window looking out on the junction between Parliament and Bowring all you see is a disc-zone parking spot, an insurance shop and an off-licence. Sure, the planet-famous TT race zooms through here earlier during the year, with riders braking hard into a tight right-hander and then sweeping out across the square. But not now. Now riders and fans and campers and their plethora of barbecued food and canned drinks have gone back home, spreading away from the Island in an annual, looping diaspora. A yellow-dressed, rain-drenched police officer helping school kids cross the street is here to remind you that racing is well over. The sky is grey and low, and petrol prices at the next door Raymotors aren’t cheap either. Jesus, why would you even think about living here, then?
31-year-old MotoGP LCR Honda’s rider Cal Crutchlow moved to Ramsey from Coventry, a West Midlands town -which also happens to be some 309.000 inhabitants bigger- when he was just a very young man. Not surprisingly, as a kid, Crutchlow had Football trials with Coventry and Birmingham-based Aston Villa. But that was before the knee injury, before unfolding all the racing talent, before moving to the island. As we speak, Crutchlow sits sixth in the MotoGP standings, having collected 141 points in the most competitive and brutal series of motorcycle racing on the planet. During the second half of the season, the Brit and his satellite gig have scored more points than anyone on the grid. He’s done better than Marquez, Rossi and Lorenzo on factory Hondas and Yamahas. He won 2 races and he has become a father. Because, you know, things change.
Clearly, it is not a matter of talent. The talent has always been there of course and, pretty obviously, when you are among the 21 fastest motorcycle racers on the planet you are at the very least supposed to have lots of it. It is more a matter of belief and consistency, of staying on the bike without crashing out. The most basic stats show that pre-june-2016 Crutchlow was more in the gravel than on the tarmac, scoring DNF’s in three of the five races of the season and a disappointing 17th and 11th in Texas and Jerez. Ironically, the Cathedral, Assen, marked the resurrection for the LCR rider: it was only after crashing out in the Netherlands that Crutchlow roared back in full force. He was second in Germany, took a maiden win in soaked-wet Brno and another second on hometown soil in Silverstone. Last week he was the first British rider to ever win an Australian top class Grand Prix, with a solid race in yet another seaside venue, Phillip Island.
There can be little doubt that also the factory RC213V Honda machine has improved greatly, and Marc Marquez’s late summer streak stands as the ultimate litmus test. The Japanese manufacturer was very good at trying and smoothing out the edges of possibly the most skittish, frisky and un-cooperative piece of engineering to ever come out of the Tokyo factory. The bike that took the grid at the season opener in Qatar was not as fast as the Ducati’s and not quite as maneuverable as the Yamaha’s, suffering all kinds of troubles from cornering speed, front-end chattering and lots of wheelspin. It took all of Marc Marquez’s flair to win in Austin and at Termas de Rio Hondo, but it must be noted that the rest of the Honda pack lagged well behind. It happens, and today’s bike, although far from perfect, is a more friendly, secure and performing ride.
However, not all of Crutchlow’s renaissance can be attributed only to a mere technical renovation. It’s more than that. Unmistakably, something clicked in the Coventry native’s mind, as if a previous lack of focus had been filled all of a sudden with renewed concentration and energy. You see, mistake-wise, motorcycle racing is a unique kind of sport. If you’re familiar with the concept of limit, you may very understand that the whole point of the discipline is finding where the fine line that sorts a fastest lap from a crash stands. One inch before the braking point and you’re slow. One inch after that and you’re down. It is a grueling, ferocious quest, the one to perfection. It requires bravery, intelligence, focus and faith.
Surprisingly enough, Cal Crutchlow seems to have found his peace of mind after the birth of his first daughter, Willow. Despite what Enzo Ferrari used to say, that one can be a winning driver or a good father but hardly the two things together, baby Willow and wife Lucy have provided Cal with a massive amount of calm and composure, the ones required to win a 20-plus-laps race on a 1000cc pile of metal and bolts. Once again, being a father did not make the LCR man a winning rider per se, but it has to be taken into account into the big picture of growth and maturation of a man, not only an athlete. Being a fulfilled, complete person is not only important, but also essential to an elite sportsman, let alone a motorcycle racer.
In the paddock, Cal is known as the overall good guy, a nice bloke who is friends with everybody and loved by everyone. He is a fighter, and a tough one for sure, but he is a fair fighter and a gentleman rider and is respected for that. As much as he stays away from the unnecessary spotlight, he stays away from the controversies and the politics. As, in today’s sport, it does not get better than that.
Put all these pieces together -the family, the island life, the bike, the mindset, the jedi-style attitude, and you get the big picture, the 360° portrait of a man starting to exploit all his potential. All we have to wait for, coming 2017, is to see if this process is finally over or still in progress. If the growth of the man will be finished, give Cal a competitive bike and he’ll be on the podium week in and week out.
As we speak, you can walk down Parliament, keep the left onto Dale Street, slide past the Surestrike Bowling Center and hit the Queen’s Promenade. All of a sudden, all you see is the sea. It is mid-October and the color of everything changes, as the sky rearranges its shade. The air is salty and crispy and thick strips of foam highlight the spot where the waves crash into the piers. It is beautiful, somehow moving, and peaceful, and quiet. It makes you think of the future, and it looks bright from where you are standing. Why wouldn’t you live here, after all?