Cal, what are you up to this second week of February?
I’m just back home in the Isle of Man in-between the three test sessions we have before the season begins. I’m soaking up the weather, unfortunately. It’s raining today and it has been freezing cold. We even had some snow this week. Don’t get me wrong - it’s not too bad; it’s not horrendous; I’ve know it to be a lot worse. The problem is, Eric, is that it’s not California.
Yeah, it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit here in Southern California this week.
Yeah, we were there over the winter and it was superb. From what I can remember, it rained one day in the two months we were there.
How long now have you and your family been coming to California during the winter months? It’s been a little while now, hasn’t it?
I’d say 10 years now. We stay down around Carlsbad. We know the place well and we enjoy it down there. It’s a good place to go in California and we spend the winters there. It first came about when I was with my old management which was based in Carlsbad. I went there initially and spent a couple of weeks there. The next year I went, I spent a month there. The next year we spent two months there. As with everything, you get to meet people and you get to know people and we also hosted a lot of visitors over the two months we were there. Yeah, it’s good winter base for me. Definitely.
And when you leave California for the first MotoGP tests of the year, do you feel sharp and in-tune and ready to go?
Yeah, and California is also the home of Monster and I also try and get to the supercross races and stuff like that. The real reason I go there and why I like to be there, though, is to cycle and train. You know me, Eric, I don’t touch a motorcycle between the last race and the first test. I went one time this year for 15 minutes to ride my motocross bike and that was about it. I love to cycle and I get really fit during the two winter months in California. I started cycling around the first of December and finished on 22nd of January and I think I did 6,300 kilometers in that space in time. I use that time to get fit and to reflect on the season and to even think about the upcoming season as well. I enjoy it and I’m able to be in great shape to start the season. I’m not MotoGP bike-fit right now, but I come out of California very, very fit. If I ride a motorcycle all winter, I just don’t enjoy it as much when I do go to test and do come to race over the new year ahead.
I know Valentino Rossi has recently talked about just how important it is to come into a new test season as well as a new race season as highly motivated as possible. Does that make sense to you?
Yeah, definitely. He’s been at it a lot longer than me, I remember watching him on TV when I was a kid. It gives us all motivation with Valentino still riding. Seeing him wanting to continue in racing gives us motivation to want to be better and try and challenge as well. He has definitely set the bar high. With regards to me, yes, you have to be motivated in these tests to have a good season. Sure, sometimes you don’t have a great test, but that doesn’t mean you’re not motivated. I’m looking forward to this season. I think it’s going to be a good year.
The first official MotoGP test at Sepang appeared to go real well for you. After all was said and done and after three days of testing, you stopped the clocks at third fastest. All encouraging for you?
Yeah, we had a good test. There is no doubt about that. I was excited to ride the motorcycle and I did a lot of laps over the three days. We had a really, really busy testing session. We were good with speed and we were good with the bike. Honda definitely went away and tried to do what we had asked from last year and that was to make the engine stronger and they seem to have done that. Until you race against your competitors, you never know. But from my feeling off the bike, I feel that it is stronger than last year and maybe a little bit more manageable. We’re really pleased with what HRC and the Japanese technicians have done over the winter in Japan.
You were officially drafted into the Honda Racing Corporation factory team for 2018 and beyond which will only add to your role of racing and testing for both the Repsol Honda Team that Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa compete for as well as the LCR Honda CASTROL team you head up. When it comes to all things HRC racing and riding, do the three of you talk with one another quite a bit?
Yeah, yeah, we definitely talk. I think last year a few times I helped Marc to some extent with regards to the bike. I won’t say I went up to him and started speaking to him about it, but we always speak. With Dani it’s a little bit different situation. He’s got his own style and his own way of working, but in the end, we all seem to end up in the same direction, which is always good. I’ve been able to evaluate things - parts, different configurations, maybe electronics - and I can do that quite fast and I get a good understanding and feeling for all of it very, very fast, where some other guys may spend the whole day on it. That works well with the development of Honda, but I’m not just a test rider, I’m a racer as well. Obviously, I do test some of the parts, but there are parts that I don’t see either, but we always seem to get the job done, in a sense. Last year Marc won the title and Dani won a couple of races and it was a strong performance from Honda last year. That should be improved this year from the feedback that we’ve given in the past year.
Looking back over your shoulder, how did you feel about your 2017 MotoGP season? I’ve seen you mention on more than one occasion in the media that you thought it was “average”. Thoughts?
I set the bar so high the year before, in 2016, with a lot of podiums and a couple wins and I wanted to repeat that in 2017, but it just never fell in my favor. It was as simple as that. I thought Argentina might have been a race I could have won, but we had some issue in the race and I was happy to finish third, to be honest. I also wanted to win in Australia, but I just never got a great start and everyone managed to get a way and I ended up with a fifth place. I had a string of fourths and fifths, which could have easily been podium finishes, but we never made it happen for one reason or another. I still think we did a good season. For what we had under us, I do think we had a good season, but in comparison to the year before, of course I would call 2017 average. The plan is now is to not make this one average.
If you had your wishes and could write the script, what do you hope to achieve in racing in 2018?
Of course, podiums. There is no doubt about that. Wins are hard to come by. We know that in MotoGP. However, if I put myself in the right place, at the right time, they can happen. I’d also like to finish the championship stronger this year. That’s one of my main aims. It’s my aim to be competitive in the championship. I’ve finished in the top five in the championship before (Note: Crutchlow placed fifth overall in the 2013 MotoGP World Championship) and there is no reason why I can’t do it again. The situation is difficult because there are so many fast riders on good bikes and good machinery and the championship is getting closer and closer every single season. If we can push towards that top six in the championship, I’d be very, very happy. We’d beat a lot of factory riders. In the end, if we can aim to have top race results, there is no reason why in the championship we can’t be up there.
You consider yourself to be an observer. What do you mean by that?
I see things that, I’m not saying that other people don’t see them too, but I can spot something that somebody else can’t see so fast. I don’t understand why. I just manage to pick things up very, very fast. I always, always argue with the team or Michelin in regards to what tire somebody is using because I’ve seen it with my own eyes or have spotted it in a video or something like that and they will say, “No, no, that didn’t happen.” Then I’ll always go back to a video and say, “Look, there it is. There you go.” I don’t know why, but I think in my game, it’s a very, very positive thing to have. Does it make me any faster on the bike? I don’t really think so. It just makes me aware of things going on around me.
You don’t want to be looked at as a big MotoGP rock star, do you? You’ve said on many an occasion that you do what you do simply because you love racing a motorcycle.
Yeah. Ever since I’ve been able to race a motorcycle, I’ve loved it. I love it when the season is on. Don’t get me wrong: There are times during the season when you’ve had a difficult race or you’ve had a difficult day, of course. But we have the best job in the world. You’ll always have your ups and downs with it, but yeah, I love racing motorcycles. I definitely don’t do it for the fame, that’s sure. I’m very happy with the position that I’m in. I’m very fortunate to be in that position.
You’re renowned for your work ethic and determination to excel. Having said that, you’ve also made mention that you don’t feel that you’re as naturally talented as some of the other riders you line up against. Is that true?
Yeah, I still do. I still think I’m not as naturally talented as some of the guys. I can’t do exactly what they can on a motorcycle week-in and week-out. I can’t ride a motocross bike. I’m jo good on a motocross bike, but I also don’t really care to be. If I do go ride a motocross bike or a flat track bike or something that some of these guys train on, it doesn’t make me any faster on the track at all. I know it doesn’t. I’ve tried it. Some of the guys are fantastic at doing that and they’re also good in MotoGP, so I’m definitely not as naturally talented on a motorcycle, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be competitive because it will probably be my determination that will bring me through.
Right on, Cal. Last question: Are you as excited as ever to go racing comeMarch 18, 2018 and the curtain raising Grand Prix of Qatar at the Losail International Circuit? Is it more of a job now?
No. I’m definitely excited to go racing. No doubt about that.