The man himself might rate it as something of a tall order, but Casey Stoner is the rider to dethrone record-breaking MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi in 2010, reckons Steve Parrish – and in so doing reclaim for both himself and Ducati the glory that was last theirs three years ago.
Last year was a tough one for Stoner, as illness forced him to miss the mid-season Czech Republic, US and San Marino rounds on the premier class calendar – costing the Australian all hope of bidding for glory, as back-to-back late-season victories on home turf at Phillip Island and at Sepang in Malaysia went to demonstrate what perhaps might have been.
Having been outpaced by Yamaha arch-rival and nine-time world champion Rossi for two consecutive days during pre-season testing at Sepang three weeks ago, Stoner hinted that he will have his work cut out to topple the seemingly invincible Italian over the course of the coming months [see separate story – click here
] – but former rider and truck racer-turned-BBC MotoGP commentator Parrish reckons if anybody can give 'The Doctor' a dose of his own medicine in 2010 and future campaigns, it is the 24-year-old from Queensland.
“Yeah, I think they can,” the 1978 British 500cc Champion told Crash.net Radio
, when asked if Rossi's challengers can get the better of him this year. “I've actually gone for Casey this season, only because I just keep thinking (in relation to Rossi), nine world championships and 31-years-old, how long can you carry on being that brilliant? He is the greatest of all time as far as I'm concerned. I get a lot of stick from people saying 'Ah, but what about Mike Hailwood?', but in my generation Valentino Rossi has been the greatest. It won't surprise me if he goes out there and wins another [title], but it must just get harder and harder for him every year.
“I'm looking forward to seeing the top four – they call them the 'Aliens' out there – and I just hope that Dani Pedrosa doesn't hurt himself at the start of the season, that Casey doesn't get sick, which I'm sure he won't, and it really should be a great battle. I think those four bikes are fairly evenly-matched; I don't know who's done the best work over the winter months, but I don't see any big surprises – it's all evolutions really. Ducati have changed the firing order a little bit, and Yamaha have altered this and Honda have probably gone away and done a bit. It should be very good between Dani Pedrosa, Casey, Jorge [Lorenzo] and Valentino Rossi – and let's see who can be the one to pick up the pace and join those four.”
The obvious candidate to fill that role, of course, is on paper 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, who considerably underwhelmed last year following his switch from Repsol Honda to Ducati Marlboro – winding up a lowly 13th in the final riders' standings with just a single podium finish to his name at Indianapolis, and trailing team-mate Stoner by a gaping 116 points despite starting four races more than the Southport native.
Hayden is well aware that he has a reputation to re-establish and a career to get back on-track second time around with the Italian manufacturer, and he knows that if he fails to produce the goods again he not be given a third chance. The jury remains out as to whether or not the Kentucky-born ace can do that, or whether he will find his status as America's leading motorcycling star of the moment usurped by either Tech 3 adversary Colin Edwards or premier class new arrival and reigning World Superbike Champion Ben Spies, who will similarly compete for the Yamaha satellite operation in 2010.
“Nicky is under a huge amount of pressure,” Parrish acknowledged. “I was with him skiing at Madonna di Campiglio and interviewed him there, and he knows that it's a massive year for him. He's kind of been given a break, because he didn't achieve what he expected to achieve in 2009 – but he's been given another chance and he has to step up to it. As he's said, talk's pretty cheap, but he's willing to do everything in his power to make it work this year.
“He has to join that front bunch, being on a factory Ducati out there; he's got to be at least fifth. I hope he can do that, because he's such a nice bloke, and I know they say nice blokes don't make it, but he has huge amounts of determination and he clearly is a very talented motorcycle rider. Can he do it? I hope he can, but I'm not sure.
“Ben Spies hasn't got to do a great deal, because he has achieved so much already. This is his apprenticeship year and he is an unknown quantity [in MotoGP], and I guess what he's got to do is beat what James Toseland did in some ways, but let's face it, James had a great [debut] year – he qualified second on the grid for his first race and finished sixth. Ben is the next big thing; he surpassed all expectations in coming over from America and doing what he did, but he needs to get out there and get in the top five or six every now and again. If he can get himself on the podium, it would be absolutely amazing.
“To be honest, though, I don't see anyone else joining the top four this year. They might bridge the gap a little bit, but I really don't think there's anyone out there that can join those four. Colin [Edwards] is a lovely bloke, but he's trying to be the best-of-the-rest, [Andrea] Dovizioso I think was slightly disappointing last year on the factory bike – I was expecting a bit more from him – and we'll have to see what the [former] 250cc guys can do. [Marco] Simoncelli could be a surprise, or any of those 250cc guys, but it's a tough old field out there and it's not hard to be last.”
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