After a 'difficult' period without 2007 world champion Casey Stoner, Ducati is looking forward to the Australian's return to MotoGP action during the forthcoming Portuguese Grand Prix on October 4.

After leading the 2009 world championship with two wins from the first five rounds, Stoner was sick at Barcelona then battled fatigue at the following four races.

Medical tests proved inconclusive and, after returning to Australia for the summer break, it was announced that Stoner would sit out the next three rounds and return to action - hopefully at full fitness - at Estoril.

"The doctors believe that during the Barcelona race [round six] I was suffering from a virus, and, that I subsequently pushed my body too hard, leading to problems that have caused my fatigue since then," Stoner explained.

During Stoner's hiatus, team-mate Nicky Hayden put the Desmosedici back on the podium after a four-round absence with third place at Indianapolis - but Stoner remains the only rider that can challenge the factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, plus Honda's Dani Pedrosa.

There has been speculation, not helped by Ducati's attempts to sign Lorenzo and then Pedrosa, that Stoner has fallen out with the Italian team - with whom he has a contract for 2010.

In an apparent attempt to underline the strength of the Ducati/Stoner relationship, Ducati fans held up an organised mosaic reading 'I love 27' before the start of Sunday's grand prix at Misano.

"Obviously we are all missing Casey a lot, as are our fans, who made that wonderful gesture with the giant heart," declared Ducati general director Claudio Domenicali.

"This GP signals the end of a period in which we have had to manage without him and they have been a difficult few weeks, but I am extremely satisfied with the way everybody in the team has pulled together.

"So I want to personally thank all of them - from Filippo [Preziosi], who has worked hard to make the bike more manageable, Livio [Suppo], who has led the team on the battlefield, and all the other guys who have never given less than their maximum every day."

Despite his absence, Stoner only lost third in the championship to Pedrosa, by seven points, last Sunday at Misano. Four rounds remain for Stoner to try to retake the position.

Rossi also overtook Stoner as the most successful 800cc race winner with his 19th victory on Sunday, one more than Stoner's present tally.

Rookie Mika Kallio, who replaced Stoner at the factory Ducati team, took a best finish of seventh and will now return to the satellite Pramac team for the rest of the season.

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