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Casey Stoner: Six of the best

21 November 2012

The Valencia season finale saw double MotoGP champion Casey Stoner bring his stellar grand prix career to a close, at the age of just 27.

The Australian leaves the sport having amassed 88 podiums and 45 wins during his eleven seasons. Most significantly, 38 of those victories were in the premier MotoGP category, which Stoner joined in 2006.

Stoner is the fourth most successful rider in the 63 year history of the premier-class, between Mick Doohan and Mike Hailwood, and equal-seventh for wins in all classes.

To celebrate Stoner's career, here are six of his greatest MotoGP wins...

Number 6: 2012 Spanish MotoGP, Jerez - Round 2: We start in Spain, where Stoner marked the beginning of the 'Ground War' in his second title defence with a crushing victory in his main competitors' backyard. Jerez had always been one of Stoner's bogey circuits and among just two tracks he had not previously won at.

Having suffered chronic chatter issues throughout winter testing, Stoner also entered the second round worrying about the arm pump issues that plagued his opening race in Qatar. Jerez was arguably a Yamaha circuit too; the tight twists and short straights playing to the agility of Lorenzo's M1.

Qualifying did little to disprove those worries. Team-mate Pedrosa and Lorenzo dominated, with next best Nicky Hayden over one-second behind in third. Stoner qualified fifth and most predicted a repeat of the epic Lorenzo/Pedrosa 2010 encounter.

The Moto2 race had ended prematurely because of light drizzle and the clouds around the track looked dark and ominous. MotoGP began with damp patches but all riders believed slicks to be the only tyre of choice.

The field threaded into turn one timidly and grouped closely together for the first three laps, no one wanting to risk it all as a guinea pig for others. After warming his tyres and working out grip levels, Stoner took the lead on lap 3 with Lorenzo following closely behind.

The pair were then locked in a relentless cat-and-mouse scrap for the rest of the race, with Pedrosa and Crutchlow just over two seconds back.

Stoner set the fastest lap on laps 6, 7 and 10 before resolutely fending off Lorenzo's late charge towards the end. The Spaniard made two small errors on the penultimate lap and, in a race of such incredible consistency, that was enough to allow Stoner to prevail.

Stoner thus ticked Jerez off the 'bogey list' in style, surprising over 100,000 Spanish fans in the process.

Number 5: 2011 US MotoGP, Laguna Seca - Round 10: Almost every championship has a decisive moment, a turning point when - at least with hindsight - one rider asserts his title authority over another. At Laguna Seca 2011 the time had come for Stoner to stem the tide of Lorenzo's mid-season charge.

Lorenzo had fought back from falls at both Silverstone and Assen to beat Stoner at Mugello and then at the final corner at Sachsenring. Having romped to a win at Laguna in 2010, the formbook suggested the Mallorcan would make further inroads into Stoner's 15 point championship lead.

Lorenzo set about this with continued fervour in qualifying, beating Stoner to the US GP pole by less than a tenth of a second despite suffering from a vicious highside. But after brainstorming with engineers throughout Saturday evening, Stoner blitzed morning warm-up and looked ahead confidently to the race.

After following Lorenzo from the start, Stoner got everything up to speed and comfortably tailed his adversary. The scene looked set for another epic Laguna battle with six laps remaining, until Stoner decided to get past and check out on lap 27.

Taking advantage of Lorenzo's diminishing energy levels, Stoner never looked back and led by over 5-seconds across the line. But the majesty of the win lay in his overtaking move.

Although the Corkscrew is the most well-known corner at Laguna, the true test of mettle is turn one, an off camber sweeping left hander which rises at first before falling away at a sharp degree.

When taken at MotoGP speed, bikes come close to having both wheels off the ground. Flat out and without much run off, one doesn't really want to imagine the consequences if something went wrong.

Stoner had got great drive exiting the final turn before speeding around the outside of Lorenzo at turn one, almost scraping his shoulder against the Yamaha's fairing. It was a move fit to win any race and perfectly characterised Stoner's style - skill, aggression and bravery.

Typically, Stoner made no big deal of the overtake when reviewing his race.

“Once I caught up to Jorge, I watched to see if he made a mistake and kept the pressure on him, then chose my moment to make the move and was able to slowly open up a gap and bring the race home,” he said.

The victory spurred Stoner on to dominate the second half of the 2011 season, winning five of the remaining seven rounds to clinch the crown with two races to spare.

Number 4: 2011 British MotoGP, Silverstone - Round 6: Ayrton Senna believed rain to be the great leveller, where a rider or driver could showcase their talents regardless of their machinery. With that in mind, Stoner's dominant display at a near underwater Silverstone in his second championship year must rank among his best.

Lorenzo had won the first wet race of the year comfortably at Jerez, after Stoner was taken out by a charging Valentino Rossi. Both Stoner and Lorenzo were starting from the front row at Silverstone, with a straight-up duel between the two title favourites looking likely.

But come the race no-one got close to Stoner - many of his closest competitors falling while trying to match his pace.

After starting tentatively, Lorenzo set about reducing the gap to second place Andrea Dovizioso, but fell spectacularly coming out of Abbey leading to his first non-score in 25 races. Marco Simoncelli fell two laps later at the same corner.

Stoner eventually crossed the line over 15-seconds ahead of team-mate Dovizioso.

Even Rossi's race engineer Jerry Burgess was impressed: “They were atrocious conditions and those behind him fell by the wayside trying to keep up with him. In a race where he could have been more conservative, he was inch perfect for the whole race and I think that was one of his great rides.”

Number 3: 2009 Australian MotoGP, Phillip Island - Round 15: Stoner's sixth successive Phillip Island victory last month confirmed complete mastery of his home circuit: Since 2007, Stoner has led all but 2 of the 162 Australian Grand Prix race laps (the opening laps in '09 and '12) - a feat unlikely to be repeated.

Due to such dominance, none of Stoner's six home MotoGP wins were absolute thrillers, but most can appreciate the majesty of his throttle control, letting it all hang out around what is now officially 'Stoner Corner'.

Any of Stoner's home wins could feature on this list: His first triumph in 2007, wrapping up the title on his birthday in 2011, or claiming his first victory since returning from ankle surgery - and what would be his last grand prix win - in 2012.

But 2009 also catches the eye. It had been a strange season for the Australian. After starting the year consistently he found his riding was becoming hampered by physical exhaustion.

After seeming to accept the championship was out of reach after Ducati's 'hero or zero' tyre choice at Donington Park, Stoner took a three-race break to discover the cause of his fatigue problems (eventually diagnosed as lactose intolerance).

Despite scepticism during his absence, he returned the race before Australia, finishing second at Estoril.

Prior to Stoner, Rossi had been 'King of the Island', winning two 250 races Down Under - then unbeaten from 2001 to 2005 in the premier-class, where he also sealed the title in 2001 and 2004.

Rossi returned in 2009 under renewed pressure from team-mate and main title contender Lorenzo. After a less than inspiring fourth at Estoril, Rossi was out to solidify his seventh premier-class crown after having his championship lead trimmed to 18 points.

Both Stoner and Rossi had been strong all weekend. Stoner took pole by just 0.050s from The Doctor. Lorenzo looked less happy in fourth and the championship battle was as good as over by the first corner, when the Spaniard clipped Hayden and high-sided into turn one.

Rossi could relax - but instead he set about taking on Stoner in his backyard. Although Stoner failed to lead over the line on the first lap, he soon got past Pedrosa and set a blistering pace - but Rossi was able to match it.

Rossi stalked Stoner throughout. Stoner had Rossi's favourite passing place at MG covered so the Italian repeatedly tried to get great drive out of Turn 1 and plunge up the inside at the Southern Loop.

He attempted this several times only for Stoner to defend gallantly. On lap 19 of 27 he attempted again somewhat wildly, only to run wide with Stoner powering through again.

Stoner and Ducati won by 1.9s from Rossi, making it the closest of Stoner's Phillip Island wins. Pedrosa was over 20-seconds behind in third.

“We were on the limit for the entire race,” Rossi said. “I tried in places but Casey was a bit faster than me. I didn't give up until the end, but Casey really deserved this win.”

“Of all my victories this is perhaps the most special,” said Stoner at the time.

Number 2: 2009 Italian MotoGP, Mugello - Round 5: Ducati may have won races ever since their debut 2003 MotoGP season, but were made to wait under 2009 for a home Italian Grand Prix victory.

Sure, Stoner won at Misano in 2007, in the Italian-based 'San Marino Grand Prix', but those associated with the Bologna Factory longed for success at the official Italian round, held at the team's designated test track of Mugello.

Capirossi had delivered a debut Mugello podium in 2003, then an epic ride through the field to finish second to Rossi by 0.575s in 2006. Mugello legend Rossi then continued to keep Ducati and new star Stoner off the top step in both 2007 and 2008.

In 2009 Ducati had introduced a radical carbon-fibre chassis, but were having difficulty keeping pace with Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo's Yamahas. Entering Mugello, Rossi was thus favourite for an amazing eighth consecutive home win.

Rain had been a hassle throughout race day. The 250cc grand prix was held in terrible conditions and the track was still wet when MotoGP bikes went to the grid, forcing riders to start on wets. All were aware they would potentially have to switch bikes in pit lane at some stage and revert to dry tyres.

Drama began before they had even completed their sighting lap. Pole man Lorenzo crashed and manically rushed back to the pits to get his spare bike while his team scrambled to make repairs.

Lorenzo made it to the grid, with Stoner starting from second and Rossi having qualified fourth - but just 0.161s from pole.

The race was bedlam. Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen and Hayate's Marco Melandri were unlikely early front runners, but when the front men pitted on lap ten because of the drying track, Stoner emerged two seconds behind Dovizioso.

Avoiding the wet patches he reeled him in and determinedly warded off, firstly Capirossi, then Lorenzo to finish just over a second up on the Mallorcan. Stoner's risk to push to the maximum on cold tyres had paid off and set him apart from his Yamaha rivals.

“This was the one I really wanted,” smiled Stoner afterwards. “We've struggled to find a great setting here for the past two years, but today was our day.”

Two weeks later saw Rossi and Lorenzo's epic duel at Catalunya. An exhausted Stoner took third, marking the first obvious signs of the physical problems that would cause him to miss three races - making the Mugello win even more worthy of respect.

Number 1: 2007 Catalan MotoGP, Catalunya - Round 7: It was always going to be difficult for the new 800cc MotoGP era to match the marvellous conclusion of 990cc racing - and the new format, after five races for 2007, seemed a little tame by comparison.

It had however produced a genuine surprise at the top of the table.

Stoner was only Ducati's fourth choice of rider after Gibernau, Melandri and Hayden at the beginning of the year. The young Australian then won convincingly on his Ducati debut in Qatar, followed by further wins in Turkey and China.

But none of those races had produced an out and out battle.

The brilliance of Stoner's early season performances had been aided by the Desmosedici's top speed advantage and Bridgestone's new generation of tyre. But with Honda, Yamaha and Michelin working flat out to close the gap, critics maintained Stoner wouldn't be able to sustain his form over an entire season. Or have the necessary aggression in a fairing-to-fairing battle.

At Catalunya, Stoner got the chance to prove them wrong.

During qualifying, Stoner's Ducati was still 12 kilometres faster down the straight than Rossi's M1. But overall, Stoner was only fourth on the grid - behind Rossi, Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet and Honda's Pedrosa - with the next best Ducati starting tenth.

Stoner was soon up front in the race, with only Rossi and Pedrosa staying in touch.

A pattern quickly established itself: Stoner could gain a few tenths on the main straight, before Rossi made most of it back on the brakes and around the infield.

The Italian continued to press, showing Stoner his front wheel to try and rattle the young Australian. But Stoner remained unfazed, matching Rossi blow-for-blow, with Pedrosa witnessing the battle at first hand, less than half a second back (pictured).

With three laps left Rossi made a scintillating move at the 120mph final corner. But again Stoner kept his composure and overtook him a lap later.

Stoner then defended his lead resolutely throughout a frantic last lap, sliding his Ducati out of the final corner to claim his most impressive victory to date by just 0.069s.

At the time, defeating Rossi in a final lap showdown was almost unheard of - there had always been a sense of inevitability about Rossi's last-lap battles with Gibernau - but at Catalunya 2007 Stoner proved he was a far more formidable opponent.

"Today Stoner rode like a god," declared Rossi.


End.


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