Will Cal Crutchlow break the curse of succeeding in Superbikes?

Tech3 rider Cal Crutchlow could find that coming from WSBK needn’t mean the start of a podium drought.

British MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow career has marched forward so successfully that the 2012 season is unbelievably the first time he has been able to be on the same bike for two years in a row, and the difference consistency is making is already getting his fans excited, he is a former superbike rider who looks like he is due a podium imminently, and he is making the Tech3 look so good that rumours have already done the rounds regarding Ben Spies employment options for next year (Yamaha have already stated that it is just speculation and Spies has nothing to worry about).

The season is also a straight out fight for a job with Tech3 team mate Andrea Dovizioso, both riders are on one year contracts and compatriot Bradley Smith has a deal guarantee for MotoGP action in 2013, which has undoubtedly caused Crutchlow to raise his already high game.

Crutchlow himself said before the season start that his aim for the season was to be consistently in the top five, something he has achieved so far, he puts his excellent start to the season down to confidence, he told MotoGP.com :

“I think that coming into this year I was more confident. I had a good race at the last race last year and the 1000cc suits me a little bit better, and I have a little bit more experience with the tyres sliding around than maybe the other guys do. I also think it’s my second year, I want to be in MotoGP next year and my contract is up at the end of this year. I feel that I’m riding better because of that as well.”

The former Supersport world champion never won WSBK, his best finish was fifth in 2010, but the progression from Superbike to MotoGP has long been a tricky one, with double world champions James Toseland and Colin Edwards never quite finding a way to replicate their results and convert the natural talent needed to win into MotoGP victories.

Fan Favourite, Texan Colin Edwards has had a long career in MotoGP, arriving in 2004 as a double world champion in WSBK.He has since ridden for four different manufacturers, and spent time as Valentino Rossi’s team mate, yet even with fairly equal machinery to a world champion a race win eluded him. He came incredibly close in Assen in 2006 when his chicane incident with Nicky Hayden at the end of the race saw his bike continue on without him after he hit the Astroturf.

James Toseland also arrived in MotoGP with two WSBK championships to his name, but after an agressive opener in Qatar he drew criticism from Chris Vermulen, Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner, this was compounded by a series of confidence knocking crashes, notably Donington 2008 in front of his home crowd. Major pre-season accidents, accidental jump starts and red flags all played their part in sealing his fate and banishing him back to Superbikes.

Despite his incredible wildcard win in Valencia in 2006 while Hayden and Rossi were tussling for the title, Troy Bayliss never reached his potential over a full MotoGP season, team and equipment woes often hampering him in his quest for the win. Fellow Superbike legend Carl Fogarty never found his feet in MotoGP either as his handful of starts amounted to nothing.

Fellow Yamaha rider Ben Spies is the most recent rider to try to make the switch. He arrived at Tech3 Yamaha after winning world superbikes in his rookie year, he has been by no means a failure, but despite promotion to the factory Yamaha team, it’s slow progress. Spies still only has one pole, one win and a handful of podiums to his name, while his Spanish team mate, Jorge Lorenzo is a multiple race winner and former world champion. He, like most of the European riders arrived by the more traditional route, coming up through MotoGP’s official classes: 125cc (now Moto3) 250cc (now Moto2) and then onto the MotoGP Championship. Granted there are many, many riders who compete in this way who never make it big either, but Superbike considers itself  to be a top tier world championship too, and it certainly produces it’s share of talent and multiple championship winners, but the transition from WSBK star to MotoGP legend seems to be a leap too far.

Former MotoGP riders seem more comfortable in making the switch between the world championships work for them and often reap the rewards of moving to Superbikes, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa have both shone since making the move later in their careers and even racers who careers didn’t burn as bright as they should in MotoGP can find themselves multiple race winners in WSBK, like Chiris Vermulen, Makoto Tamada and Marco Melandri all did.

If Cal Crutchlow can make the move successfully and achieve podiums while still with Tech3 it will be great not just for him but for bike sport in general. It would herald a start to satellite bikes being competitive again when in the hands of the right rider. It would mean After some success with Ben Spies that the Yamaha model of feeding a superbike rider into your satellite team and working with them to make it up to the factory team has the opportunity to become a viable training route for excellent riders, and from a UK fan point of view, we are more likely to see a British race winner sometime soon, which is also true of American riders as they are also more likely to have pursued their career down that route.

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