Interviews: 20 minutes with Simon Crafar

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In the run-up to the Silverstone round of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship from August 24 to 26, we caught up with the winner of the 1998 British Grand Prix, Simon Crafar, who recently attended a Suzuki-run trackday at the iconic venue. 

Kiwi Crafar took his sole Grand Prix victory in the 500cc class at Donington Park aboard his Red Bull Yamaha, finishing ahead of Mick Doohan. Now running his own trackday instruction under the name Motovudu, 49-year-old Crafar is also a journalist within the MotoGP paddock for Dorna and can be seen at each meeting conducting the post race interviews with the podium finishers in parc ferme.

We sat down with him for 20 minutes over a coffee to discuss life after racing, his transition into journalism and describing a Grand Prix win.

Simon Crafar talks with MCN's Dan Sutherland at Silverstone

So where are you based these days?

“Andorra. I’ve been there for around 20 years.”

Are you still riding bikes then?

“I still do about 70 days a year on track with Motovudu, but that will probably drop now with the commentating job.

“In the last 12 months I’ve done 8000 miles on one of my Suzuki GSX-Rs and then I jumped on another one and did another 5000 miles, so what’s that? Around 13,000 miles in the past 12 months just on track.”

Crafar tries out the MCN Fleet Suzuki SV650X for size

Superb! Do you ride any other types of bike?

“I do a bit of trials riding from my house and that’s it. Where I live in Andorra, trials bikes are the best, but sadly I just have less and less time for it – which makes me sad, but that’s life I guess!”

Andorra is a bit of a hotspot for GP stars, have you ridden with any of them?

“You know what, I actually haven’t, but I know I will in the second half of this year. We’ve been talking about it, but I have been focusing on my two jobs and I’ve simply had no time.

“I’ve been getting two days at home sometimes in a two-week period and so for me to then run away and go trials riding is not really acceptable, you know. I end-up spending that time with my family, so I haven’t done any this year.

“I’ve got some planned for later this year though, because I’ve stopped doing the trackdays for the rest of this summer, so I can focus on my new job and getting it right by the end of the year.”

Simon Crafar at Brands Hatch World Superbikes in 1997

So how did the GP job come about?

“That’s a good question. I didn’t see it coming. I did a video with MotoGP about qualifying in Assen in 1998 and how I had pole postion, before Doohan stole it from me at the last second.

“I did this video and they produced it for their website and that was that. A year later – which was last November – they asked if I was coming to the last race of the season at Valencia.

“I thought they were going to shoot another video and I was happy to help, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way for it. I just thought I would try and bump into them at the circuit. Then I got a message saying ‘are you going to come and meet us?’ They then hit me with this job offer and I really didn’t see it coming.

I was honoured to join the team

“I just said ‘I’m honoured that you would ask me, thing is, I left the Grand Prix paddock because it was too much time away from my brand new babies and my wife.’

“They thought I was saying no, but I went on to say ‘but now they’re teenagers and they don’t need me so much. Can I walk outside and give them a call and see what they think?’

“They said: ‘That’s awesome, fantastic, we’re so happy for you! Are you going to make the next step?’ I walk back in and say ‘well they’re cool with it, how about we move to the next stage?”

Simon Crafar on the way to victory at the 1998 British Grand Prix

How did you find the transition from racer to pundit?

“It’s something completely different. As a rider you think, I know about the paddock, I know a lot of the people, I know how it all works, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I couldn’t have been much more wrong! It is a totally different trade.

“To be a journalist, to be a presenter, it’s something else and so I really had to learn from scratch. I wasn’t proud of my early work and I thought I was rubbish. Part of that was the nerves because I didn’t always know where to be, what to do, what it was exactly they wanted or how to get it across.

“They were all the things I had to learn and I didn’t enjoy the first three races at all. However, I feel I am getting better and now I’m at a point where I’m not as nervous, which allows my brain to work.”

Have any racers in the paddock been supportive of your change?

“If you’re talking racers, then only Neil Hodgson, who also now works in the media in the paddock. Neil is a true friend of mine and was before this job. We raced against each other, but then we really got to know each other working and teaching on track.

Neil Hodgson (number nine) leads Simon Crafar (number six)

“I had started doing it three years before Neil and so I helped him make the transition from racer to instructor. When I came into this job, he was awesome to me. He wasn’t helping me to do my job, but he was helping me put up with the stress and push through and keep pushing myself because he encouraged me.

“He said: ‘Si, at the beginning it’s hard and not enjoyable, you know. But don’t give up mate, keep trying and you’ll get it. You’ve got the racer info, all you’ve gotta do is figure out the journalism side.’ That was really kind of him.”

So, do you miss being a racer?

“I still love looking at the machinery and I miss the comradery of what it’s like to be a racer working within that team environment. However, I don’t miss racing.

“The reason I don’t miss the racing is because you have to be obsessed – I think it’s the same with any sport – but you have to be obsessed and live it. I’m talking not just the race weekend but the Monday morning after a race, you’ve got to wake up and constantly think ‘how do I make myself better?’

“It’s so all-absorbing that it takes over your whole life. If you can’t commit to that, then there’s no point being there. Once you’ve passed being able to commit 100% like that there’s absolutely no point being in the paddock.”

World Superbikes at Donington Park in 1995

How have riders responded to your new role?

“You know, that’s probably my favourite bit of the whole job. They’ve been really good and it offered me a lot of encouragement, just like the kind words of Hodgson.

“People like Valentino Rossi recognising me in the paddock made me feel like I still belonged here.” 

Do riders treat you differently to other reporters because of your past?

“There are young guys in the support classes who either weren’t born when I raced or were no older than two-years-old, yet even they know I’m an old racer. Racers, even if they don’t mean to, talk differently to other racers.

“I feel extremely fortunate that I can get that out of them. It’s a connection basically, born out of mutual respect.”

And have you got a career highlight from your racing days?

“All three of my podiums in Grand Prix for Red Bull Yamaha have to be highlights and you would expect me to say my win at Donington was my favourite, but it wasn’t.

“When you race, you put in 100% every time and it doesn’t feel any different if you’re last or first, you rode your arse off. So, when I won at Donington, it wasn’t as enjoyable as when I got second place at Phillip Island, in Australia.

“If I had to choose one moment, it would be that because I came from seventh on the first lap through to second and got to pass many of my racing heroes.

Simon Crafar wins

“I’m talking Norick Abe, Alex Criville, Max Biaggi, Alex Barros and John Kocinski. They were my heroes and so to finish behind Doohan whilst catching him was an amazing experience as a rider and on such an amazing track.

“Standing with Doohan and Criville on a podium was amazing and then seeing my family, my grandparents, my parents there was the best memory I’ve got from racing.”

Can you describe the feeling of standing on that podium?

“There’s not a lot of success and happiness in racing, but there’s a lot of banging your head against the wall trying to make it happen, only to get disappointment and obtain injuries. When that good result eventually happens you go ‘woohoo, I can do it’, but then you start all over again chasing that feeling.”

Who’s going to win the 2018 Championship?

“I hate to say something predictable but it has to be Marc Marquez if he doesn’t hurt himself – he’s the man of the moment, isn’t he? That doesn’t mean to say there’s not gonna be some good wins from some of the others along the way, but I think Marquez will take it.”

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