Casey Stoner's mid-season MotoGP misery came to a symbolic end at Phillip Island on Sunday, when the Ducati star - who skipped three races to try and cure mystery fatigue problems - returned to the top step of the podium.

It was Stoner's third home victory in a row, his first win since a wet/dry triumph at round five in Italy - the race before Stoner became aware of his illness - and his first 'non-stop' win since the season-opening night race in Qatar.

After a strong second place behind Jorge Lorenzo on his comeback ride at round 14 in Portugal, Stoner insisted he had got the better of his physical problems.

Others were less convinced, but the Australian Grand Prix proved beyond doubt that the 2007 world champion is a changed man, compared to the frustrated figure that faded backwards in the five races before his withdraw.

Stoner absorbed race-long pressure from reigning six time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi on his way to victory down under, the Italian legend only ceasing his relentless pursuit with a few corners to go.

By contrast, Stoner had finished an average of 13.7sec behind victory in the four dry races before his controversial break.

"I'd forgotten how good that winning feeling is and of all my victories this is perhaps the most special," said Stoner, who celebrated his 24th birthday just before the weekend and was riding in a special patriotic livery.

"I can honestly say that from a physical perspective I can't ever remember feeling this strong after a race, which shows that the work we have done and the time we took out has been spot on.

"Physically I was the same from start to finish. Every lap that I kept going past the point where I used to hit my wall made me smile. I enjoyed each lap after that."

Stoner took the lead from Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa on lap two of 27, and was never headed.

"I got a good start and was able to put together the lap times to keep us at the front but quite honestly I felt I could have gone even faster if we'd have been able to find a little more rear traction over the course of the weekend," he said.

"Anyway, I can't complain because the work the guys have done on the bike during the season has been phenomenal, from the swingarm to the new fairing... they just haven't stopped trying to make it better even when I wasn't around.

"Now my aim is to help them as much as I can over the last two races and give Filippo [Preziosi] as much useful data as I can so that he can work his magic and improve the bike even more for next year," Stoner concluded.

"This is a really special day," admitted Ducati MotoGP project director Livio Suppo. "It is Casey's third victory in a row here at Phillip Island but this time it has an extra flavour.

"Casey deserved it - he has gone through a difficult period but he has shown enormous character and determination to come back after two months out and pick up a podium at Estoril and then a win like this today.

"I also have to congratulate Valentino because with the championship almost wrapped up after Jorge's crash he produced a great race.

"They finished 22 seconds ahead of third place with an incredible pace, although Casey had that little bit extra today. We're delighted to see his health improving so much," he added.

Stoner's victory was also the 50th for Bridgestone, which won 35 times during open tyre competition between 2004-2008 and then became the single MotoGP tyre supplier at the start of this season.

"We were the ones who converted everyone to Bridgestone so to mark the 50th win is a nice feeling," said Stoner, who claimed Bridgestone's first MotoGP title in 2007. "Everyone was happy with what they had until we came along and did what we did and all of a sudden everyone wanted Bridgestone tyres so it was quite a proud moment for us."

Third place for Pedrosa means Stoner has retaken third in the world championship by six points with two rounds to go.

The first of those will be at Sepang in Malaysia next weekend, where the tropical heat will once again test Stoner's physical limits - an experience he would have dreaded just a few months ago, but can now face with confidence.



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