CAL, THE DUKE AND LADY LUCK

CCMario Andretti once said of the perennially unlucky Chris Amon that if the New Zealander were to go into the undertaking business, people would stop dying, such was Amon’s poor fortune when it came to that forever elusive Formula One Grand Prix victory. The same assessment could arguably be made of MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow; a different discipline, a different era but the same dreadful misfortune.Since joining the MotoGP fold in 2011 aboard Tech 3’s satellite Yamaha, Crutchlow has clinched six podiums – four thirds, two seconds – and consistently impressed as Britain’s best hope of a top-tier victor since Barry Sheene’s 1981 Swedish GP success. Injury and mechanical deficiency have constantly been holding Cal back from the podium’s top step however; if he was to win, Cal felt, a contract with a factory’s heading was required…Yamaha was the logical step: Cal knew the equipment, albeit prepared by a customer team, and Ben Spies – perhaps the only man lacking luck to a greater extent that Cal – was on his way out of Yamaha at the end of 2012. For Cal, the stars were aligning…until the biggest star of all, Valentino Rossi, announced he had had enough of failing to tame the Ducati and returned to Yamaha, the team with which he claimed four of his seven top-tier World Championships. The Rossi/Yamaha tale is for another time but for Cal it meant another season on the underdog Tech 3 Yamaha.

For 2014, with no factory Yamaha ride on offer, Cal finds himself straddling the Ducati; the coveted factory ride he was after it may be but the Red ‘Duke’ hasn’t been a winner since Casey Stoner defected to Honda after the 2010 season and since then hit headlines only for making Valentino Rossi appear average at best. Hope was that Ducati, with Gigi Dall’igna at the helm would produce a ‘bike befitting Crutchlow’s talent; typical of Cal’s fortune, they haven’t.

Crutchlows team-mate Andrea Dovisioso may have mounted the podium at 2014’s second race in Austin, Texas but Cal and his new ‘Duke’ have been plagued by mechanical gremlins. Frighteningly, the thing cuts out unexpectedly – dangerous and alarming – and with several fallers in the season-opening race in Qatar Cal coasted home sixth, the engine dead has he begged it over the line. In Austin worse still; severe vibration from the rear tyre put paid to a points rewarding finish and after the resulting pit-stop the Ducati spat Cal at the Texan scenery, dislocating a finger on its way.

Still the Ducati, when it works and is rubber-side-down, is a country-mile away from the performance of the likes of Honda and Yamaha. The technical explanation is beyond a simpleton like me, and it seems even beyond the engineers at Ducati, such has been the period for which Ducati has suffered. Springs, forks and swing-arms may, for all I know, play a part but it’s doubtless that Cal has brought not only is refreshing honesty, humour and talent but his dreadful misfortune to the Italian squad.

Lady Luck may only play a bit-part role in top-tier sport but it certainly helps when it’s your dice she’s blowing on; in the words of “Old Blue Eyes” Sinatra, luck has a very un-lady like way of running out…and for Cal, it seems she’s abandoned him altogether.

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