The Ducati career-killer claims Cal

As the Ducati Desmosedici enters its second decade of destroying promising MotoGP riders’ careers and battering their spirits, spare a moment to commiserate with Cal Crutchlow. He recently had to tweet about winning a team bicycle race because, as he noted himself, it’s likely the only race on two wheels he’ll win this year.

So we’ve come to the unsurprising next chapter in the Ducati MotoGP story. Having wounded the racing careers of the likes of Carlos Checa, Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden, and killed any chance Valentino Rossi had of catching the all-time wins record of the great Giacomo Agostini, the Desmo is now efficiently crushing the spirit of Cal Crutchlow, a man with a lot of spirit to crush. Crutchlow didn’t make it into the second qualifying session this weekend in Catalunya, and afterwards sounded as mystified as the other men humbled by trying to compete at the highest levels on the Ducati MotoGP bike.

“I didn’t overnight get slower as a rider. I didn’t go into the winter thinking I am just going to ride slowly this year. Last year here I qualified second and topped 2-3 sessions, including warm-up…

“The bike does nothing I want it to do… But I will keep trying.”

I didn’t need to be a prescient genius about racing to end my previous post on this topic with the plea, “Don’t do it, Cal. Just don’t go there.” Just about everybody saw this coming when Crutchlow signed with Ducati last year. And while Ducatisti can hope that Gigi Dall’Igna can turn things around next year, that’s small consolation for Crutchlow, who already sounds like a sad echo of the men who preceded him. The good news for Ducati is that their MotoGP program doesn’t seem to be hurting the company’s sales of street motorcycles.

All of which leads me to two conclusions:

  1. Just as I always suspected but never really wanted to say, the old saying about “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” has never been true and racing success has little to do with sales success. A far more effective strategy for selling motorcycles is to convince people that Italian is inherently sexier than Japanese or German, and if your product is more expensive, that must mean it’s better. Please, don’t anyone tell Honda and Yamaha that racing is a useless drain on the bottom line, in marketing terms. The sport can’t afford any more defections.
  2. While the supposed benefit of racing is to raise a brand’s image, Ducati has spent uncounted millions of Euros on a MotoGP program with the only result being that the image of their engineering prowess has been diminished.

I know people cling to their loyalties fiercely, and it has little to do with logic and much to do with emotion, but the most contradictory thing I ever see at a race track is a fan wearing Valentino Rossi Ducati gear. How can you celebrate both the man and the company whose hubris and stubborn unwillingness to change cost him his shot at his greatest legacy?

Meanwhile: Sorry, Cal. Congrats on the bicycle race.