It will take Casey Stoner less than two years to run at the front of MotoGP - that's the verdict of Honda Pons team boss, Sito Pons, after the young Australian's impressive RCV debut at Valencia on Wednesday.

Stoner finished a head turning fourth fastest - and top rookie - on his MotoGP debut at a cold and windy Valencia; the 20-year-old lapping just 0.6secs from fastest man Nicky Hayden after his first 69 laps on Honda's V5 prototype.

Stoner further underlined his talent by outpacing fellow Pons rider Carlos Checa - who has just completed his tenth season of racing in the premier-class - by 0.1secs. Unlike the Spaniard, who fell on his third lap, Stoner's run was also mistake free.

"Casey is fast and calm and he showed today that within two-years he can challenge to be at the top of the sport," Australia's The Advertiser newspaper reports Pons as saying. "He has a big talent for MotoGP."

To put that time span into perspective, Hayden and Marco Melandri - Valentino Rossi's nearest title challengers this season - were well into their third season of MotoGP competition before they won a race.

Stoner has reportedly signed a dream three-year deal to join the likes of Hayden and Melandri on Honda machinery, and is all but certain to spend the first year of that agreement at the Pons team - with Checa as his team-mate - although no official 2006 Pons line-up has yet been announced.

Meanwhile, as well as outpacing the likes of Checa and new Ducati signing Sete Gibernau, Stoner was also quicker than arch-rival Dani Pedrosa - the man whom Stoner lost out to in the 2005 250cc world championship.

Triple world champion Pedrosa will ride for the factory Repsol Honda team next season, and is the most high profile rookie to enter the class since Valentino Rossi in 2000, but on Wednesday he was left half a second behind Stoner - a result which Casey admitted drawing pleasure from.

"It was pretty cool going out on the track on the same bike, at the same time, as Dani," confirmed Stoner, who won five races with Aprilia this season. "There is a little bit of rivalry between us and I think we both have the goal of beating each other."



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