Casey Stoner may have taken more 800cc MotoGP wins than any other rider, but Ducati team boss Livio Suppo believes third place in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix was one of the best rides of his career - while Stoner himself labeled it as better than his Qatar victory.
“I would rate that as one of the best performances of Casey's career,” said Suppo. “He didn't win but he made the podium for the first time at this circuit through sheer determination. He's getting even better in every area -'bravissimo'!”
As Suppo indicated, Stoner had never finished on the Jerez podium in any class during his seven previous visits and described the circuit as “kryptonite” for himself and the Desmosedici during the March pre-season test, which he nonetheless finished on top.
In his two previous Ducati Spanish GP appearances, Stoner had finished fifth and eleventh, but the 23-year-old qualified his carbon-fibre GP9 in third position and ran second to Honda's Dani Pedrosa early in the 27 lap race.
Despite a spirited defence, Valentino Rossi demoted Stoner to third on lap six, and his podium looked under threat from the second Fiat Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo late in the race, until the Spaniard fell with four laps to go.
to third, Stoner set the third fastest lap of the race - just 0.037sec slower than Rossi and a mere 0.019sec from Pedrosa - and crossed the finish line 10.507sec from victory, compared with 42.223sec one year ago, when he twice ran off track.
“After all these years this is my first time on the podium at Jerez. It's been a long time coming,” confessed Casey. “I've had a couple of opportunities in the past but missed them through mistakes and things like that. Today I wasn't nervous as we didn't think we had much of a chance of getting on the podium. Valentino, Dani and Jorge had a higher pace. We took a gamble with the setting to try and it paid off.
“I got a fantastic start and was up there with everyone. Then I started to lose the front on a few corners. Valentino came past, I got back in front of him and then he came past again. I tried to see if he could take me up to Dani but I lost the front a few times more and decided to just try and stay ahead of Jorge.
“Then he started catching me and I thought it was game over and that a podium would be gone, but I tried to fight until the dying stages at least. I was losing the front end somewhere on every lap and was almost ready to give up and back off a few tenths and then Jorge crashed.
“It was a really good day for us. We've put in a lot of effort to get the bike working here and this podium feels better than the victory in Qatar.”
After round three of the championship, Stoner remains on target to reach his goal of staying within touch of the title lead early in the season. The Australian is now up to second position, eleven points from Rossi, after round three of 17. At the same time last year he was 21 points from the top.
Stoner finished 37.685sec ahead of the next best Ducati of Sete Gibernau, in eleventh, while team-mate Nicky Hayden was 15th.