MOTOGP » Casey Stoner
As a toddler Casey Stoner displayed a passion and talent for motorbike riding that was extraordinary, even by the standards of his bike-mad family. By the age of three he'd already graduated from pushing his older sister's (Kelly) 50cc Peewee around the yard to taking his first ride on his own.
At four years of age Casey competed in his first race in the under 9s category at the Hatchers dirt racing track on the Gold Coast. By the age of six he had won his first Australia title. Many, many hours of riding, travelling and long nights working on bikes followed. Between the ages of 6 and 14 Casey raced all over Australia, travelling with his father (Colin), mother (Bronwyn) and sister (Kelly).
In that time Casey won 41 Australian dirt and long track titles and over 70 State titles, riding up to 5 bikes at a meeting in different capacity categories.
When he was twelve Casey raced the Australian Long Track Titles on the NSW Central Coast in 5 different categories with seven rounds in each capacity; a total of 35 races over the one weekend! He won 32 out of those 35 races and took five out of five Australian titles in the one meet.
Just after his 14th birthday Casey and his parents decided to make the move overseas and packed up and headed to England to start his road racing career. Casey could not legally road race in Australia until he was 16, but had decided he was ready for the challenge. So the decision was made to move to England where Casey was already of legal age to race. A big risk to take, but it paid off.
Casey was lucky enough and talented enough to attract immediate sponsorship after just one race in England. He went on to take out the English 125cc Aprilia Championship in 2000, in his first year of road racing.
In that year he also raced two rounds of the Spanish 125cc Championship. It was there he was noticed by GP great Alberto Puig. Alberto was impressed by Casey's determination and skill and invited him to race for the Telefonica Movistar Team in the 125cc Spanish Championships the next year.
In 2001 Casey raced in both the English and Spanish championships in the same year. Despite missing some English races due to clashes with Spanish rounds, he still managed to come second in both championships. In that same year he was also granted wildcard entries into the MotoGP 125cc world series, in both England and Australia. He placed 18th and 12th respectively and as a result was offered a ride in the Grand Prix world series the next year for the Safilo Oxydo LCR team.
Straight onto a 250cc machine in his rookie year, and at only 16 years of age, Casey demonstrated his ability and speed with results. His best result for the year was a 5th at Brno as well as several 6th place finishes.
In 2003 he went on to ride for Lucio and Safilo Oxydo LCR in the 125cc GP series and took four podium finishes and his first race win, in Valencia, at the end of the season. His first win in a GP race was a huge turning point for Casey and his career.
In 2004, at 18 years of age, Casey moved to KTM for a season where he helped to develop the team's 125cc bike into a winning machine. That year he made it to the podium six times and took KTM's first ever win in a GP class.
2005 saw Casey once again come back under the welcoming umbrella of Lucio Cecchinello's team, this time riding an official 250cc Aprilia. He spent 2005 battling it out with Dani Pedrosa for the championship, visiting the podium ten times in the process and taking wins in Portugal, Shanghai, Qatar, Sepang, and Istanbul.
Finally in 2006, at twenty years of age, Casey accomplished his long held ambition of racing in MotoGP, the fastest and most prestigious of the classes. He set pole position in his second MotoGP race in Qatar and battled for the win until the final corner in the GP of Turkey, finishing runner-up just a fraction behind winner Melandri. Too many errors conditioned the second part of the year, but Casey, in finishing eighth overall in his rookie MotoGP season, demonstrated that he was in amongst the elite group, of which he is the youngest rider.
In 2007 Casey Stoner has joined the Ducati Marlboro Team alongside Loris Capirossi, with whom he has struck up a good friendship. In winter testing he has often been amongst the pacesetters and has proved to have rapidly adapted to the Desmosedici GP7 and Bridgestone tyres.
On March 10, 2007, at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, Stoner won the first grand prix of the season, the first ever 800cc grand prix, and had his first win in the MotoGP class. After that the young Australian took other nine wins, four further podium finished and scored five pole positions.
On September 23rd, in Japan, Stoner secured Ducati’s first MotoGP World Championship becoming the first rider in over 30 years to win the MotoGP title on a European made bike and the second youngest premier-class World Champion, after American legend Freddie Spencer who won his title in 1983, and at the time was 84 days younger than the 21 year old Stoner.
The following year Stoner set out to defend his title and began his quest with a fantastic victory in the first GP to be held at night, in Qatar, but this was followed by a series of highs and lows that saw him lose ground in the classification.
Nevertheless Stoner continued to work tirelessly with his team until a breakthrough came during the tests following the Catalunya GP when the Ducati technicians identified a method to maximise the potential of the GP8. Three consecutive victories followed in the UK, The Netherlands and Germany but then, after the hard-fought podium at Laguna Seca, two falls at Brno and Misano, and a physical problem caused by the reopening of an old fracture to his left wrist, the defense of the title seemed impossible.
Improvement towards the end of the season with two podiums and another two convincing wins, in Australia and at the final round in Valencia, meant that Stoner closed the season as the vice-champion of 2008 with the highest ever points score.
Ducati is the manufacturer to have taken the most victories thus far in the 800cc class, with 17 wins in 36 races. The day after the Valencia GP, and immediately before undergoing surgery for his fractured scaphoid, Casey Stoner participated in the first winter tests alongside his new team-mate Nicky Hayden, beginning preparation for the 2009 World Championship on board the Desmosedici GP9 with new carbon fibre chassis.
In 2009 Stoner is again involved in the fight for the MotoGP title, in a season that is characterized by both successes and difficult moments. The Australian rider, after the success of the opening race and his first podium at Jerez with Ducati, also awards the Italian manufacturer with its first ever win at Mugello. Stoner seemed ready to battle it out until the end against Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, who together are the four riders that demonstrate a superiority over the rest of the pack throughout the 2009 season.
Unfortunately for Casey, he is hindered by a mystery fatigue problem that forces him to sit out three races mid-season, missing the Brno, Indianapolis and Misano GP rounds. It is a very difficult decision for the Australian, which eliminates his chances of winning the title but he is able to return for the Portuguese GP in October, back in shape and ready to demonstrate once more his full potential on board the GP9.
Stoner steps onto the podium at Estoril and then wins the next two races in Australian and Malaysia. In Valencia he is extremely fast but then falls in the warm-up lap prior to the race, thus losing third position in the overall standings.
Fully recovered from the illnesses that tainted his 2009 campaign, Casey begins the season as a title favourite, but a series of nondescript results in the opening rounds swiftly rules him out of the running. Complaining of set-up woes on the GP10, Casey doesn’t reach the podium until the sixth round at Assen and doesn’t top it until round 13 at Motorland Aragon. Though it leads to another two wins over the next three races, Stoner can’t lift himself higher than fourth in the standings.
Even so, Casey’s future is already assured having confirmed much discussed rumours that he is defecting to Honda for 2011, while arch-rival Rossi assumes his place at Ducati.
Mated with the RC212V, Casey swiftly gels with the machine and promptly demolishes the opposition over the course of the 2011 season, winning on his Honda debut at Qatar and repeating the feat on a further ten occasions.
Missing the podium just once, at Jerez when he is wiped out by Rossi, Casey seals his second MotoGP World Championship title by a mammoth 90 points, cementing his status as a pretender to the Italian’s hallowed crown.
With the return of the 1000cc machines, many wondered whether Stoner could replicate his dominant 2011 form in 2012. As it happens, Stoner had no problem adapting to the RC213V, but a more competitive Yamaha YZF-M1 in the hands of Lorenzo keeps things even during the opening rounds.
Complaining that the Bridgestone tyres don’t work so well with the new bike, Stoner rode around his misgivings to post wins at Jerez, Estoril, Assen and Laguna Seca, but things remained fairly open at the mid-way point of the season.
By this stage, however, Stoner’s title challenge had taken on an entirely different poignancy after announcing at Le Mans that the 2012 season would be his last, the Australia shocking the MotoGP paddock by announcing his retirement at just 27-years-old.
With many expecting Stoner to conclude a remarkable career on the ultimate high, his fans were ultimately left disappointed when a spectacular crash during qualifying for the Indianapolis Grand Prix left him with a leg injury that would sideline him for three rounds and nix any attempt at retaining his crown.
Returning for the final four rounds, Stoner adds one more win to his tally – fittingly enough – at Phillip Island to secure third in the overall standings. It meant Stoner would walk away from MotoGP (after just 115 starts in seven seasons) with 38 wins, 69 podiums and two title wins – a ratio of winning one in every three races.
With Rossi returning to Yamaha, while many feel Stoner has deprived fans the chance to see MotoGP’s two most publicised (and controversial) on relatively equal-footing, there is little denying that the Australian has walked away with his legendary status intact in what became a relatively short career…