People often talk about close racing in motorsport, but until you have seen motorcycle speedway competition up close you simply won’t understand the real meaning of the term.
Australia’s Jason Crump is one of those master craftsmen, and the three-time world speedway champion hurtles his 75hp single-cylinder machine around a 200-metre track just millimetres away from his competition – and did we mention the bikes don’t have brakes?
Fairly hairy terms of reference in anyone’s language, so when the English-born, Mildura-reared, Swedish-based Crump was invited to participate in the Red Bull Race Off at the 2012 Formula 1 Qantas Australian Grand Prix, he was all ears.
After all, throwing the turbo-charged Renault Megane RS250 around Albert Park would be like a – pardon the pun – walk in the park compared to his normal day job, with the luxury of full body protection; six gears to play with instead of one; stopping power; and a layout much more forgiving than the tight confines of a speedway track.
Which is just as well, as 37-year-old Crump did spent some time in the Albert Park outfield in this afternoon’s opening race, as he completed the five-lapper in last position behind five other members of the eclectic Red Bull stable of athletes all driving identically prepared Meganes -- V8 Supercar driver Ricky Kelly; freestyle motocross guru Robbie Maddison; 13-time F1 winner David Coulthard; professional drifter Mike Whiddett; and driving instructor and racer Samantha Reid.
Kelly, Coulthard and Maddison have all returned from active duty in 2011, with Maddison scoring the overall honours in the maiden event.
“After I ran off the track I looked up and the buggers had taken off on me,” said Crump. “I drove like a man possessed trying to keep up and it was a lot of fun – you kind of forget that it’s an exhibition once the competitive juices start flowing.”
Crump, a great mate of Mark Webber’s, for many years lived near the legendary Silverstone F1 circuit in Northamptonshire, but he didn’t get the chance to drive there – which kind of makes sense with the top speedway riders often competing 4-5 times a week across countries such as Poland and Sweden.
So, Crump had to call upon former V8 Supercar driver Paul Morris for some tuition in Queensland before he made the pilgrimage to Albert Park.
“Paul gave me some good tips, so at least I am not embarrassing myself, but I can’t suffer the ignominy of finishing last in the next race – I’d never live it down…”
Once the hostilities at Albert Park are over, Crump will be straight back into speedway testing mode ahead of the 2012 world title opener in New Zealand on March 31. Two other Australians will join him in the elite 16-rider field – Chris Holder and Darcy Ward.
Crump’s world speedway record over the last decade has been exemplary, finishing in the top three every year except 2011. His three championship victories came in 2004, 2006 and 2009.