MotoGP Big Read: Celebrating 25 years of Lucio Cecchinello Racing

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Owning your own race team is dream for many. To actually do that in MotoGP and turn it into a financially stable, competitive and respected entity is on another level entirely. Lucio Cecchinello has achieved this, and 2021 marks the Lucio Cecchinello Racing (LCR) team’s 25th Anniversary in the Grand Prix paddock.

From a three-man 125cc squad in 1996 to multi-time MotoGP race winners in 2021, the team have tasted success at each level of GP racing. At the time of writing LCR have a total of 24 victories, 84 podiums and 27 poles, with 55 crew members. And in terms of riders, it’s fair to say they’ve played a part in the career of some of the very best: Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller and a host of other stars have all raced for Cecchinello.

It’s a remarkable achievement and quite the story to tell: the underdogs successfully overcoming the odds. MCN sat down with the man himself to discuss the last 25 years.

Humble Beginnings 

By today’s standards, Cecchinello the racer was a late arrival. His parents insisted that he completed high school first and paid his way at home. He was 19 when he entered the Italian Championship in 1989, and 23 when he first joined the 125cc World Championship.

Cecchinello raced, and won the title, in the European Championship in 1995 before seeking a return to the World Championship. The problem was that teams wanted younger riders, so Cecchinello took things into his own hands and created his own team at the age of 26.

“I invested all of the money that I’d put aside from a couple of years of my career,” he explains to MCN. “It wasn’t much. I didn’t even have the money to buy a vehicle, so I borrowed it from one of my mechanics. Our very first team name was Honda Team GP3 because it was me and two mechanics, Paulo Cordioli and Marco Seda, and our small van.”

Lucio Cecchinello wins 1998 Madrid

Let's go racing

Cecchinello scored multiple 125cc top 10s in 1996 and 1997 before recruiting two-time runner-up Noboru Ueda to race alongside him in 1998. Instant success followed. Ueda secured the team’s maiden pole at the season opener in Japan, before clinching LCR’s first victory at the Johor Circuit in Malaysia two weeks later. The celebrations would go up another level that year when Cecchinello himself won the Madrid Grand Prix.

“I was so proud and was emotional as I got the chequered flag. I remember that I had goosebumps all over my spine, thinking ‘wow that’s incredible, I’ve done it!’ It was a realisation of a dream, especially considering that plenty of people had laughed at me when we started out: ‘What are you going to do? You’re crazy, you’ll never get there. Your technicians have no experience.’ This confirmed that the team was very competitive.”

Ueda won again in Rio in 1999 before the team switched to Aprilia in 2001. Cecchinello won LCR Aprilia’s first race at the Catalan GP on his way to fourth overall. He would retire from racing at the end of 2003 with seven victories and 12 further podiums.

2001 Catalan GP Cecchinello Elias

The Arrival of Casey

Investment from sunglasses company Safilo allowed the team to expand into the 250cc class with Aprilia in 2002. Aussie rider Stoner joined the team that year and a successful relationship was formed.

In 2005 Stoner almost led LCR to 250cc glory, finishing runner-up to Dani Pedrosa with five victories and five further podiums. Stoner put MotoGP on notice, first with Yamaha who almost signed a deal with LCR for them become their satellite team, and then with Sito Pons’ Honda outfit. However, sponsorship woes led to Pons’ withdrawal and in December 2005, LCR became a Honda team again and kept their star rider.

“I had to set up the team to be ready for the end of January to go testing! It was crazy work for me to find personnel, the tools, the crates, the materials, wheels, suspension.
I was working day and night.”

It was all worth it. Stoner secured pole for the second race in Qatar, before finishing on the podium in Turkey. Ducati lured Stoner away for 2007 and the Aussie duly won the title, a feat he would repeat in 2011 with Repsol Honda before retiring at the end of 2012.

“Casey was a very special rider, and we knew he was a big talent, but we didn’t expect him to be so competitive in MotoGP as quickly as he was. We also knew he wouldn’t have a long career because he told me in his very first year: ‘I’m going to win the title and then I’m going to retire. I want to go back to Oz and enjoy life there’. That’s what he did.”

Casey Stoner LCR Estoril

Overcoming Hard Times

The years in-between Stoner’s departure and Crutchlow’s arrival weren’t always easy. The introduction of the 800cc format in 2007 was particularly tough, with the uncompetitive customer Honda seriously lacking top speed. LCR’s Carlos Checa struggled to make it into the points most weeks. As a result, LCR couldn’t guarantee TV coverage to their sponsors and Cecchinello admits he was genuinely worried.

Randy de Puniet (2008-2010) and Stefan Bradl (2012-2014) brought some positively back either side of a tough campaign with Toni Elias, but it was the arrival Crutchlow in 2015 which reignited the fire. The Brit achieved several podiums, pole positions and the team’s first MotoGP victories, but he also boosted their partnership with HRC – to the point that LCR now run up-to-date, full-factory RC213Vs.

“Marc [Marquez] and Cal both fought the Honda, they weren’t clean riders. HRC realised they could use our team to develop the bike and therefore they increased our collaboration. I assured HRC that we would always have technicians, mechanics and crew chiefs who knew the bike really well. We are now a platform for them, a very trustful platform, to provide feedback for the motorbike’s development.”

LCR are now considered frontrunners in MotoGP and as race winners, and rightly so.

“The most epic moment as a team was the first MotoGP victory. It was like a dream. Just fantastic!” smiled Cecchinello

Cecchinello on Crutchlow

Cal Crutchlow turned Lucio Cecchinello’s ultimate dream into a reality at Brno in 2016 when he claimed the team’s maiden MotoGP victory. It was a fantastic day for LCR, a fantastic day for Crutchlow, and a fantastic day for British fans who’d waited 35 years to see one of their own on the top step.

He went on to add victories at Phillip Island and Argentina, and in doing so the fiery Brit helped to elevate LCR Honda to the next level in MotoGP. Straight-talking Cal formed quite the relationship with Cecchinello during the six years he spent with the team.

“When I signed Cal, I remember that somebody from Ducati told me: ‘Oh, good luck’,” Cecchinello recalled. “Honestly, I never, ever had an argument with Cal. Of course, sometimes we had to discuss some things, but we always got along, and we didn’t have any problems.”

Crutchlow’s understanding of the needs and requirements of a satellite team helped LCR to push themselves up the pecking order. Being the team that provided the UK with its first winner since Barry Sheene also led to extra support here – which was evident each year at Silverstone. LCR Honda merchandise can be seen everywhere at the British GP.

“This doesn’t mean it was always easy! You know Cal, when he says he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t! If he says no, it’s no! If he says yes, it’s yes. There’s no middle ground! But every time he had to do important thing for us, the sponsors or for Honda, he was always there. Honestly, I can only be happy and proud to have worked with Cal.”

During his six years at LCR Cal recorded three victories, 12 podiums and two pole positions.

Cal Crutchlow wins at Brno

Sponsorship Savvy

A noticeable difference between LCR and other teams is the interchangeable sponsors seen at different races. From Castrol and Givi, Red Bull to Playboy, LCR have attracted a host of one-off sponsors. The idea came directly from Cecchinello, who acknowledged that his team couldn’t compete for contracts worth millions.

“Dorna change their title sponsor for every event. If they can do this, why can’t I? We introduced the event title sponsorship contract. You present the opportunity to these companies to be a star for one night, instead of being a small sponsor for the entire season. With this concept, you select the markets, they can choose and pick the country which is best for them to hold events with their clients or with their salesman, and then create their own event at the race weekend.”

Five More Years

LCR is a fantastic example of a true underdog story. Cecchinello’s team regularly compete with the big boys of MotoGP and have managed to stay on top of the rising costs involved. Doing so for 25 years is a remarkable achievement, one that Lucio and the entire paddock should respect and celebrate.

“I feel so proud! I want to take this opportunity to also express my deepest gratitude to all of the people who have worked with us because it’s fantastic what we’ve done.”

And LCR are far from done in MotoGP. The team have signed a new five-year deal with Dorna which keeps them on the grid until at least the end of the 2026 season. “My god, it’s incredible. My hair will be all white!” Lucio laughed. “Actually, I think Cal Crutchlow contributed to giving me more white hair!"

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Josh Close

By Josh Close

Sports Reporter and fan of all things motorsport.