2 Dec 2023

Crafar's career in motorcycling fuelled by family

4:16 pm on 2 December 2023
New Zealand's Simon Crafar during the 1998 Australian motorcycle Grand Prix held at Phillip Island.

New Zealand's Simon Crafar during the 1998 Australian motorcycle Grand Prix held at Phillip Island. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Former top New Zealand motorcyclist Simon Crafar says he will be forever grateful to his parents for helping him to achieve a childhood dream.

The 54-year-old raced in both the 500cc world championship and Superbikes in the 90s and was still connected to the sport as the pit reporter for MotoGP.

In his two full years in the 500cc championship, Crafar reached the podium three times and won the 1998 British Grand Prix, while he made 122 starts in Superbikes and recorded ten podiums.

Born in Waiouru, young Crafar moved around the central North Island with his father a shepherd, station manager and farrier.

He did most of his schooling in Taihape and being on the land ignited his passion for motorbikes.

Crafar admitted he would never have got started if it was not for parents Kevin and Gayle.

"They bought my bikes and Mum worked two jobs and that was a huge sacrifice by them to allow me to chase my dream, Crafar told RNZ.

They were big supporters in his fledgling motocross career and also as he went onto road bikes.

When he first left New Zealand, Crafar lived like a gypsy, bunking down and travelling with whoever he could find to help him get to races.

Fortunately from an early stage, he was fast enough for people to take notice and it was not long until some of them started giving him bikes to ride.

His racing career grew from there, but he said he never aspired to be a world champion. Instead, he was excited by the machinery.

"I just wanted to have the chance to ride the bikes I saw in the magazines with the pull out posters of the likes of Kenny Roberts and Freddie Spencer.

"I wanted to ride that machinery on the best circuits around the world and not have to pay for it.

"I managed to do that for a few years and I would have loved a few more years at it, but very few people get this opportunity and even less get to win one so I'm pretty happy."

Former New Zealand motorbike racer Simon Crafar

Former New Zealand motorbike racer Simon Crafar Photo: Supplied / X

Crafar knew that it was hard for any young sportsperson to crack it on the world stage, but admitted in his day he had one thing in his favour.

"Back then you were chosen more on your talent, whereas now you're chosen on your talent and what backing (financial) you bring to a team."

While his racing career may not have been as long as he would have liked, it has provided him and his family (wife Kirsten and two teenage daughters) a comfortable life in Andorra.

The principality between Spain and France reminded him a bit of New Zealand and it allowed him to ride his dirt bike.

Crafar gets the chance each MotoGP weekend to ride the course which allowed him to give a riders perspective for the television viewers.

However the thought of racing on one of today's 500cc bikes scared him.

"The bikes of today are less raw, the modern bikes have so much electronics with the computer doing more ao therefore there is less (control) in your hand.

They're beautiful and faster and probably safer, but because I'm so much older I don't want to get near them.

Ducati rider Francesco Bagnaia during the Austrian Grand Prix.

Ducati rider Francesco Bagnaia during the Austrian Grand Prix. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Ducati won the MotoGP title again this year with Italian Francesco Bagnaia retaining his title and the Italian manufacturer claiming the top three places.

However Crafar was sure Austrian manufacturer KTM, who had Brad Binder finish fourth this season, will mount a serious challenge in 2024.

"They are so determined to catch Ducati, they're the only ones who keep bringing parts and are closing the gap."

However the Japanese manufacturers were struggling with Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo the best placed in tenth place this year.

Suzuki exited MotoGP at the end of 2022 and this year the Japanese had just one race.

When the Japanese were dominating the European manufacturers were allowed more engines and greater testing time, but that extra assistance will now go to the Japanese.

"A massive leg up for the Japanese which is huge."

The 2024 season starts in Qatar in early March with the 22 round championship finishing in Valencia in November.

The major rider change for next season is the move of eight time champion Marc Marquez from Repsol Honda to Gresini Racing Ducati.