Simon Crafar: Let's get back to great racing

He fought the factory bikes on a satellite Yamaha and won. Simon Crafar on why CRTs are the future, the easy way to go faster on track and how he'd change Superbike racing for the better

Simon Crafar rose to fame in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, beating Mick Doohan in GP500s on a satellite Yamaha. He's still heavily involved in motorcycle racing and helps coach rising talent in European and World Superbike circles. He's the man behind Motovudu, the new book and DVD that help you put into place the techniques he used to take on the world's best. He's outspoken and he's got a lot of interesting things to say. Here he is in his own words:

On Racing

When it comes to electronics and rider aids, why cant we learn from F1? They got rid of it long ago, and it did not stop the development of street cars. Come Sunday morning I don't want to sit down in front of my TV and watch who's got the best launch control. I want to see who's the best starter and also see some human error. Sometimes people fluff the start, make a mistake and have to battle back through. It's sport and to me that is more about the rider than electronics. I am very up for at least limitations on electronic controls (control ECU with a limited number of inputs, along the lines of F1?)

We always need some electronics but I'd like less "rider aids" between the rider and the engine. Yes these electronic “rider aids” can help the lesser experienced riders, if there were less electronic interference the really talented guys - Stoner, Rossi - may win by further, but at least they deserve to, and it's not because they have better electronics. I think its sad that now days human input is getting less important in racing on lots of different levels. It seems that often the chief mechanic is no longer the most important guy in the garage, and he should be, not the guy in the corner playing computer games.

I’m not talking about data that can be very useful to help with setup decisions, I mean anything that takes away any responsibility from the rider being 100% in control of all the controls on the bike once he leaves the garage (Launch, Traction, ABS etc). Young guys in lower teams can't prove themselves if top and bottom teams have such different electronic systems. Sure, the boys at the front have always had something extra, the top boys in the past got better tyres, factory bikes, but without the electronics you could still prove yourself if you had a day when it all came together.

If nobody has electronic riders aids, or everyone has the same level of electronic rider aids, it's more about setup and machinery and most of all rider talent. Motorcycle racing has always been mostly about rider talent.

Some people don’t like CRT, but it is the future.  MotoGP is out of control cost wise. I'm not against development of machinery, I'm against only a small group of guys having the access to this wonderful machinery. These days we're talking £250,000 for a factory engine that makes 250bhp when you can have 250bhp for £30,000-40,000 if you modify a production 1000cc engine. So why spend £250,000 a pop for one engine? Only the manufacturers can do it and now not even they can't afford to run many or any of these bikes, so it has to change. Yes, this year it's going to be two different classes in the same race. The fastest MotoGP bikes we have ever seen, and then the new developing and lower spec CRT bikes.

It's going to take a couple of years to sort the class out, like Moto2 did. I see it like if you're building a new house out of the old one while living in it, the new house will look crap until it's finished. CRT is the same, but when its is finished we're likely to have 30 bikes on the grid ready to scrap it out, more people will be able to ride them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking CRT bikes will be slow. Just give them 12-24 months to sort themselves out.

Ben Spies talks sense. I heard him say in a recent interview that because we’re going to CRT - which is a lower level of bike - there will be more people that can ride them to their full potential, and he's bang on. That's exactly what I said when going from Superbike to 500s, it's why Superbike has more guys battling because more guys can ride those bikes. As soon as you get to the really difficult bikes to ride you only have a small group of guys who can ride them to their potential.

The thing that I feel the strongest about is allowing the talent to come through. I’m not saying I agree with every point of CRT rules but it does mean we'll have more bikes on the grid, more jobs for mechanics and all others involved, more jobs for riders. CRT will mean more National championship riders will get a chance to ride in World Championship, and show what they can do.  That's how I got a chance - riding a low budget private bike in GP and doing well enough on it that I got offered rides in better teams.

I look forward to the MotoGP racing in a few year's time when everyone's on CRT, we'll have lots of riders and bikes on the grid, lots of different manufacturers from many different countries & some great racing. Hopefully some big skids for us to watch too if they limit the traction control..!

World Superbikes has lost the spirit of superbikes. It's got ridiculous. WSB could have such a big field if the costs were affordable. If I remember correctly, Foggy won at WSBK on a kit 888 at Donington, that his Dad bought him. You can't do that anymore no matter how talented. On the factory Superbikes today, the only standard bit on the bike is the engine cases. Based on a standard bike my arse. Cheating frames & engines, because they are allowed to. They also have crazy money electronic packages that only some guys have.  Supersport 600 has much the same problem as I see it. Why not make Superbike more like a trick Superstock 1000, with slicks and all the normal bolt on bits anyone can buy? Control ECU? The field will bigger, our National Championship wildcards will bother to enter their home WSBK races again, sometimes one of these wildcard entries will win their home round again, and we all love to see that. WSBK as I understand it is supposed to be based on street bikes we can all buy, but they are getting closer and closer to MotoGP bikes because they have not been made to stick to rules that make them really ‘based on street bikes’, affordable and available to all.

EVO rules. I'm proud of the BSB guys for taking on the rising costs and problems of SBK rules and doing something about it.  Again, don’t make the mistake of thinking EVO will be slow.

I love the Superstock 600 class run at some WSBK rounds. I think it's a great class. Talent really does rise to the top and will continue to as long as WSBK police the teams who cheat. It's a great class due to the relative lack of costs, closeness of the bikes and lack of rider aids. There's a few things I'd change, like the ‘one bike rule’, but right now it works great.

Marquez is the next Rossi? When he came from the back of the grid in 125s to win at Estoril, I, like I imagine most people thought, 'Wow, this guy is the next Rossi'. I hope he recovers from his eye problem: un-bel-ievable talent.

On Instructing

What are the common things I see people do on track at Trackdays? I see riders focussing on the corners instead of focussing on the straights. They ride down the straights not on the throttle stop, looking for the corners, then go through the corner as fast as they can. I get them to approach it from a different angle: Get everything you can out of the straights, the corners are from getting from straight to straight and if you push too hard in the corners, you’ll risk your body and destroy the straights.

Staying on the brakes too long is another one, people ‘comfort brake’. I know how it is as a rider, if you don't trust the front you’ll stay on the brakes too long so when you release them and bang the bike on its side you enter the corner too slow. Another common mistake I see is getting on the throttle too much to early. Often this is because they have stayed on the brakes too long so are not carrying enough speed to the corner so the temptation is to try to make up for it by getting on the throttle to much before or in the corner, the result is destroying the corner exits. Those things are probably the most common three things I see.

How I learn a circuit I've never been to before?  Like always, I focus on the straights, squeezing everything I can out of them. I'm either full on the gas, full on the brakes or full lean without gas and brakes - just getting the bike turned, not pushing in the corners too much at first.

Once you've got everything out of the straights you can start to push in the corners. It's down to experience also, but I'll brake into the turn and think 'right I'm going to let go the brakes...... here! and bang it on its side and see where I end up!' then if I run out wide, I figure I turned in too early or with too much speed. Once I’ve got that corner nailed, I keep doing that and focus on getting the next corner right.

When the front lets go and you're on the brake there's not much chance of saving it. If it's dry, you have good quality & warm tyres, you can brake 100% at a slight lean. There's an area from part lean right to part lean left, where you can use full brakes with no risk.  The risk comes from staying on full brakes past that slight lean. Once you get to a certain lean angle the bike and front tyre usually start to resist the lean. It becomes a bit stiff. That's the front tyre and bike telling you something, which is: don't push it past there or I'll let go. I don’t stay on full brake past that lean angle. I extend my arms and push my upper body off the side of the bike to help keep the bike slightly more upright a fraction longer, so I can start to commit to the corner but still ‘steal a few metres’ more on full brakes.

Do you need to get off the bike? Lots of people stay planted in the centre, others hang off too much. If you're getting off the side of the bike too much with your lower body, then you're going to hold the bike up off maximum lean so it won’t be able to turn as well as it could. If you don't get off the bike enough, you'll still be able to go fast, but you'll be taking more risks than you would if you used your body weight to keep the tyres in a safer area for a larger percentage of the lap. It's the rider's job to help the tyres do what they could not do if the rider just sat in the middle of the bike.

Too much throttle with too much lean. It scares the hell out of me seeing riders do this when they've got so many other areas to work on to win time with much less risk. Squeeze everything out of the safe areas first.

Motovudu is simply the rules for riding on track. It's not limited to new riders or racers; it works for everyone. If you learn these rules from when you are at a lower level of riding, when you get to a high level this technique does not limit how fast you can go. I see many people that are taught a technique that works and even helps them when they are slower, but when they get to a certain level, to go any faster they risk crashing. I teach a technique that takes some faith and commitment, but is safer and does not limit the level you can reach.

There's nothing like riding a bike, even if you're superfit. When I was at my peak fitness, I used to train hard with Mick Doohan, cycling and going down the gym. Mick was full-on at everything but still when it came to the first pre-season tests I wasn't bike fit and got mentally and physically tired.

Riding motocross is great at keeping you bike fit, but there's always the risks of getting hurt. I explain to the young riders at European Junior Cup that I love motocross, I grew up with it, but unless you know it well, are sensible (very difficult), and continue to do it without long breaks away from it, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually hurt yourself doing it, and if you’ve just signed for a team, that’s a major problem. Which is why I'm a fan of trials; you're using the same muscles, at lower speeds, it's very technical so you're learning a lot and it's also cheaper.

On life

If it weren't for bikes then I'd definitely have had more brushes with the law. Racing was very good for me, it was my passion and gave me an environment to focus on something I love, keeping me busy pushing myself, instead of getting rushes from doing naughty things and getting  ‘in the shit’ with the law. I feel lucky I had a passion for something: It's the only chance you have of being very good at something. Its the reason I hope to be able to support my kids in whatever their passion is.

‘Motocross dads'.  There are some great Dads and famously bad ones, and I am sure football and Rugby etc. has some of the bad ones also. My experience of pressure from my father in Junior MX days almost put me off racing completely.

He never used to push me but when I started to go well he wanted me to train because he was investing time and money in me. I felt the pressure immediately and no longer wanted to ride because it ceased to be fun.

Sport has to be fun, especially before you are professional. You yourself have to make that decision to race, not your Dad. You will dig deeper when it's your decision. Everybody works differently, but I personally think pressure is destructive, not constructive.

Saying that, I've come across lazy riders who don't dig deep. I sat one of them down in front of his Dad and said 'You have the talent but you're not digging deep. Don't leave it too late, decide what you want and go for it. If you don't want to do it, that's fine, tell your Dad and save him some money, but if you decide to commit 100% I believe you can do it, its up to you.' 

The sad thing is that young riders no longer get the luxury of waiting until they’re 18 to decide if its just fun or a career. It took me 'til I was 18 to make the decision and commit 100% and if you don’t do this yourself, from deep inside, you won’t be able to get through the tough times racing will throw at you.

To reach the top in Sport, you need a balance of natural ability and work ethic. Guys like Kocinski and Gobert had an amazing amount of natural ability, but then you see someone like Doohan who had the natural ability but also a fierce work ethic I really respect, I remember thinking 'Wow! that's why he kicks ass!'.

My son, a professional motorcycle racer? That's not my decision. We've got bikes in the shed and we go riding when he wants to but I would never push him to go racing because if you don't want it with all your being, then you're never going to make it, you're gonna give up because it's so hard. The highs and lows are extreme. There are some very good times, but there are also loads of bad ones too. So if my son doesn't want racing 100%, even just for fun at this stage, then we might as well just continue enjoying riding in the forest.

My satelite YZR. The YZR500 had not won a race for years but I said from the day I got on it 'This bike is good enough to win, it's up to me to get it there'. That’s what I like about the really powerful bikes, it doesn’t matter that it didn't have the latest bits, as long as its in the ball park speed wise its more about who can hold the throttle on rather than who has the most powerful bike. When I found the setup, it was a beautiful bike to ride. When you have your bike setup right, you've chosen the right tyres and you are on form, you can win. We had one of those days.

My most memorable racing moment?... Phillip Island in 1998. I was down in 7th for more than half the race, battling at the back of a group containing Abe, Kosinski, Barros, Biaggi, Checa, Creville if I remember right.

I got through toward the front of the group and could see Mick D had pissed right off at the front leaving a big gap. We were slipstreaming each other and all came to the braking point at the end of the fast main straight, side by side. There's Criville on the left, me in the middle and Barros on the right, we start braking and I think: 'Who's going to let go of the brakes first and get in there'. I let go and remember the fear mixed with adrenaline going into that very fast first turn... had I just pulled this off or was I about to take someone out?

I made it and over the next laps managed to leave those guys behind and bridge the gap half way to Mick at the front. What an amazing feeling, standing on the podium with those great riders, with my Grandparents, parents and friends in that massive noisy crowd. I won’t forget that one.

Simon Crafar's Motovudu is available on DVD and in book form. You can check it out here: