Right at the beginning of this article let us make one thing very clear. The writer of the piece positively dislikes the idea of Casey Stoner winning races. So this is not a piece written by a fan, but it is also not written from the point of view of Casey Stoner haters of which there are plenty. The idea is to be as objective as possible in understanding Casey Stoner the rider and Casey Stoner the man.
Perhaps when one is writing articles of this nature the very best way to begin is by going to the beginning which is not always available but in this case it is, and that is a relief. By now anyone who is interested in MotoGP knows that Casey Stoner was a prodigious talent that came out of the Gold Coast of Australia. People also know that Stoner made his career in Europe by racing in Britain and in Spain. Casey Stoner’s passion for two wheeled racing was such that he raced in 35 races in one day and won 32 of them. The total number of prizes that were available were 5 and all of them went to young Casey Stoner who was barely fourteen. He had been riding bikes from the age of four and was racing from the age of nine. However, in Australia the legal age limit for racing is sixteen and in Britain it is fourteen. S0 Casey Stoner was taken to Britain by his father Colin Stoner who packed up everything he had and took the entire family to Britain where Casey Stoner began his racing. In the beginning it was in the 125cc category in local events and Stoner even went to Spain to race against better competition.
One not so well known fact about Casey Stoner is that he was mentored by Alberto Puig, the Spanish 500cc racer who also mentored Toni Elias and continues to mentor Daniel Pedrosa. If you see the numbers that these riders use even today you will get the story. Toni Elias uses the number twenty four while Dani Pedrosa uses twenty six and Casey Stoner uses the number twenty seven. These numbers were chosen for his wards by Puig. Apologies to our readers for not remembering the rider who was assigned number twenty five by Alberto Puig. While Dani Pedrosa remained with Alberto Puig till date Toni Elias and Casey Stoner went their way. Casey Stoner entered into the Grand Prix racing world on a 125cc Aprilia with Lucio Cecchinello who himself was a 125cc rider. Casey Stoner rode brilliantly, but did not win anything substantial for the world to talk about him. When KTM decided to come into 125cc World Championship Grand Prix racing, they chose Stoner who brought moderate success to himself and KTM.
When Casey Stoner decided to step up to the 250cc class he again did so with Lucio Cecchinello who had retired from racing to become a full time team manager. Cecchinello managed to get a competitive Aprilia for Stoner who challenged Dani Pedrosa for the 250cc world championship. Pedrosa was riding a Honda and it was alleged that Honda had developed a 250cc bike keeping in view Pedrosa’s physical smallness. Roberto Rolfo who was riding 250cc bikes for Honda complained about this since he was much bigger in size and therefore was not comfortable on the small and light Honda. Stoner pushed Pedrosa but finally a couple of falls in races tilted the balance in Pedrosa’s favour and he went on to win the title.
The following year Dani Pedrosa stepped up to the MotoGP class on the 990cc Honda RC 211V on the Repsol sponsored bike. Lucio Cecchinello also stepped up to the MotoGP class and formed a single man team comprising of Casey Stoner who would ride a satellite spec RC211V. While all eyes were on Pedrosa, Stoner was riding incredibly fast on the Honda but sadly was crashing too frequently to be of any consequence in the championship. Some simply saw him as an inconsistent rider with good speed, while some just ignored him but Livio Suppo at Ducati saw something in Stoner that no one else did and so for the year 2007 signed Stoner to ride the Ducati. In 2007 MotoGP rules changed to bring in 800cc engines along with a rationing of petrol, 21 litres only.
Ducati had been around for a couple years in the MotoGP class with their 990cc Desmosedici and Loris Capirossi was their lead rider who impressed on a couple of occasions, but did nothing spectacular. Kawasaki also came into MotoGP but did not perform as well as Ducati even though the latter’s performance itself was not something to feel great about. The year 2007 turned out to be the most memorable for Ducati and for Stoner. It was the year when Stoner arrived and brought a whole lot of controversy with him.
Casey Stoner took to the 800cc Ducati like fish to water. He rode it like a shining knight and the Ducati looked like it had an extra 1000cc and left every other bike for dead. The first race of 2007 people thought was a one off for Stoner and Ducati and most people said that as the season progressed, Stoner would regress. But that wasn’t to be. Conspiracy theories started doing the rounds. Some said that the Ducati engine was actually running with a higher capacity and that was the reason why Stoner was winning. The FIM and Dorna even conducted a random test to see if Ducati were cheating. They found much to their chagrin that everything that Ducati was doing was legal. Valentino Rossi who was the king of MotoGP did not take all this too well. He had lost the title in 2006 to Nicky Hayden mainly because of reliability problems with his Yamaha in a couple of races and also due to crashing when he had a few points lead by pushing too hard. Everyone had believed that Nicky Hayden’s World Championship victory was a one off and they were right in that. Everyone also thought that 2007 would see the return of Rossi as champion but Casey Stoner was confounding not just Rossi but his fans as well.
Rossi complained that the reason why Stoner was winning was because of the tyres. Michelin has traditionally been the company to supply tyres to the premier category while the lower categories such as the 125cc and 250cc had tyres supplied to them by Dunlop. But Bridgestone entered MotoGP along with Dunlop to challenge the dominance of Michelin. Dunlop never achieved anything significant while Bridgestone with Casey Stoner and Ducati were winning races comfortably. Rossi complained about the quality of Michelin tyres and more importantly issued an ultimatum to Yamaha. Masao Furusawa who was responsible for the teams in MotoGP had stopped coming to every race. Rossi insisted that Furusawa come to every race.
Rossi also twisted the arms of Dorna Chief Carmelo Ezpaleta and the FIM Chief Vito Ippolito and broke a contract with Michelin for Bridgestone tyres. The following year World 250cc champion Jorge Lorenzo was entering the MotoGP category with the factory Yamaha team. Rossi told Yamaha that Lorenzo who would be on Michelin tyres should not get the data from Rossi’s side of the pit garage and so Rossi insisted there be a wall between his side and Lorenzo’s side. In the year 2007 Casey Stoner won the World Championship handsomely by winning a total of ten races that season. He rode his bike like a master, he slid it when necessary, he used rear wheel steering and made the Ducati do everything at his bidding. Rossi for the first time was rattled and rattled like never before. He and his supporters said that Stoner was winning only because of superior machinery. Stoner for the first time perhaps said something controversial. He said “Why is it that when Valentino Rossi wins that people say it is due his superior riding skills and when I win it is due to a superior motorcycle or a better tyre? The poignancy of Stoner’s statement could be seen from the results of the other Ducati rider Loris Capirossi who was not even a patch on the dominant Stoner. So a rivalry had begun and Rossi wanted to crush Stoner and prove that he was king.
Yamaha came under pressure from Rossi and Masao Furusawa and his team of engineers decided to make the growler engine or the big bang engine by using a cross plane crank shaft which facilitated an uneven firing order that gave some respite to the rear tyre and therefore better grip. Yamaha also overcame their problems of fuel efficiency and Masao Furusawa was there through out the season at every race. Rossi did not get off to a flier in 2008. Casey Stoner did. He seemed unstoppable but gradually Rossi clawed back into the championship and started playing mind games with Stoner. That was seen most clearly at Laguna Seca when Rossi put a frightening pass on Stoner which led to Stoner crashing. But Stoner is made of Aussie grit. He remounted and took second place in the race. What was rivalry till then became a war.
The war spilled over from the track to the fans. For years, from his 125cc days to his MotoGP race years Valentino Rossi was a fun character. He had unique ways of celebrating his wins and they all seemed good natured, unlike Jorge Lorenzo’s celebrations which initially involved simulation of guitar playing and stepping on to the podium with a lollipop in his mouth and later involved the disgusting practice of planting Lorenzo land flags. Everybody loved Rossi and Rossi was being beaten by Stoner, a man who hardly communicated with MotoGP audiences. He was quite happy to hang around with riders from the Red Bull Riders class and maintaining a reticent media silence. In the pits and on the race track prior to the race it was his wife who was with him, even holding the umbrella. This ensured that the fans took a dislike to a person who was aloof and did not show too much emotion or share anything with them. So whenever he beat Rossi he was booed but Stoner is made of very strong stuff. It seemed that he enjoyed the negativity of the fans and relished in making them even more angry. Stoner was fuelling the anger of the fans and feeding of it.
Yamaha’s reclamation of the title in 2008 meant that Stoner demanded from Ducati that they too should do something to beat the Yamaha. This lead to the creation of a carbon fibre chassis for the Ducati Desmosedici instead of the trellis frame that Ducati are famous for. Fillipo Preziosi, the engineering genius at Ducati who built the MotoGP bikes decided that a carbon fibre chassis which would be more rigid than even aluminium would be the ideal for a racing bike. The carbon fibre chassis idea meant that the bike would not have the traditional frame that all motorcycles have. Preziosi came up with an idea where he connected the rear swing arm straight to the engine and the front of the bike had a complex setting where the front fork and tank were again connected to the front of the engine. So the engine became a stressed member in the bike. The use of carbon fibre while having advantages also had disadvantages. The almost complete absence of flex meant that the rear was so stiff and did not allow for too many adjustments and in 2009 Stoner found the front of the Ducati a little difficult to deal with since it had a tendency to low side if there was not enough grip or friction. Stoner started crashing but was also winning races when not crashing. Stoner seemed like a contender for the 2009 title before being struck by a mysterious illness that sapped him of his strength and he found it difficult to ride, but still completed races, most times on the podium. But when he was unable to go to the podium ceremonies, he decided that he needed to take off. At this time Mika Kallio was brought into replace Stoner and to ride alongside Nicky Hayden who replaced Loris Capirossi that same year. Neither Hayden or Kallio looked like winners on the Ducati. After missing some races Stoner came back and won three races on the Ducati.
In the meanwhile some interesting developments were happening at Ducati. Ducati did not seem to have believed that Stoner was really ill and wanted to sign Jorge Lorenzo for 2010 for a very high price. Lorenzo was sensible enough to not fall for the lucre that was offered. Stoner’s mentor and strong supporter Livio Suppo went to Honda for 2010. Stoner was hurt with the attitude of Ducati and in the beginning of 2010 itself signed a deal with Honda thanks to Livio Suppo, to ride for the HRC Repsol Honda team in 2011. Stoner worked hard on the Ducati that tried bringing in the growler or big bang engine to iron out the problems of the bike. Nicky Hayden again failed miserably while Stoner had an on and off season. He crashed a few times but won quite a few times. Rossi broke his leg and Mugello and when he was taking rest, Ducati approached him and asked him to sign for them from 2011 onward. Rossi’s relationship with Jorge Lorenzo hit a low point and he gave an ultimatum to Yamaha “its either me or him”. After weighing the pros and cons Yamaha decided that it had to be “him” (Lorenzo) because he was young and showed steely determination and maturity in the races of 2010. This meant that Rossi had no choice but to go to Ducati in 2011.
The 2011 season has been one of the most anticipated MotoGP seasons. On the one hand was the euphoria of an all Italian team featuring the legend called Valentino Rossi on the legendary Ducati designed by Fillipo Preziosi. All of them were Italians. The Italians were cock a hoop. Time to show what Italy was. The one test that Rossi had on the Ducati at the end of the 2010 season saw him setting the fifteenth fastest time, while Casey Stoner on the Honda set the fastest bettering existing Honda riders such as Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. The start of testing in 2011 showed Casey Stoner riding the wheels of the Honda while Rossi was struggling at the bottom of the time sheets. Now a new war was brewing.
Dani Pedrosa’s cantankerous and insecure mentor Alberto Puig feared for his ward. He went to Honda to try and get the newest developments for Pedrosa but Suppo quietly brought Stoner into the picture for the new parts. He impressed on the HRC management that Honda had not won a single 800cc MotoGP title. Dani Pedrosa had been there through out but did not produce the results. Since 2011 is the last time that the 800cc bikes will be raced before being replaced by 1000cc machines in 2012, 2011 was the only time left for Honda to win the world title in that category. He stressed upon the abilities of Stoner and Honda saw his speed which was there straight away without testing and asking for changes in the bike. Honda’s philosophy always has been to give a bike to a rider and only make small adjustments on it, no large scale changes. It was this attitude that led to Rossi leaving Honda and going to Yamaha who did whatever he wanted them to do.
In 2011 another rivalry came out into the open, the Rossi vs Lorenzo rivalry. Rossi and his crew chief Jeremy Burgess who was originally Mick Doohan’s crew chief claimed that Rossi and Burgess did all the development of the bike and that Jorge Lorenzo was only enjoying the fruits of that development. It seems they were right since both Ben Spies and Lorenzo won the latest Assen TT race and the Italian GP at Mugello using the frames from 2010. Rossi was quick to point this out by not only congratulating Spies on his first victory but also patting the bike that he was riding, the same one that Rossi rode last year. While this maybe a small victory for Rossi the more complex game has been seeing him falling farther and farther behind Stoner. Stoner has been toying with the Honda making it do whatever he wanted it to, while Rossi struggled with the Ducati which wasn’t improving even with his and Burgess’ inputs. In fact, Ducati – actually Filippo Preziosi took advantage of a loop hole in the testing regulations for this season. The regulations state that only next years 1000cc bikes can be tested during this season ten times. Preziosi decided that he would use the chassis parts of next years Ducati this year and mate them to the 800cc engine, since Rossi had expressed happiness at the way in which next years bike was going.
But to achieve this Preziosi had to surmount a serious problem. The mounting points of the 800cc would not be same for the chassis for next year. He overcame this problem by destroking the 1000cc engine for next year to 800cc. So not only is Rossi using next year’s chassis but also next year’s engine in a destroked form. Cheating? Some have said so, but others have said it is a clever exploitation of the loopholes in the rules. Whatever it maybe Rossi is still as slow on the new bike as he was on the older bike. He is usually anywhere between one second to two seconds behind Stoner. So don’t read too much into his 4th and 5th places finishes. Those were due to the misfortunes of others and not because his Ducati or he were fast.
This was the ideal opportunity for the Stoner to hit back at Rossi and his fans who boo Stoner. Rossi tried to put the blame for his bad performance on the Ducati on Stoner, saying that Stoner did not know how to develop a bike. Stoner pointed out that he won races on that bike despite it having no development while Rossi was struggling even after getting everything he asks for. Stoner’s other opponent Dani Pedrosa has had a poor season falling of his bike and injuring himself mostly on his own but once with the help of Marco Simoncelli. Even when Pedrosa was fit and riding he could keep up with Stoner till the half way point in a race and then would begin fading away. He too has been second best only.
So what is Casey Stoner? First of all he is an Australian, with the steely determination and never say die spirit that is so associated with the Aussies. Behind his almost shy demeanour is a competitor who wants to win and nothing else. He is irreverent and does not believe in paying respects to reputations. He is also a private person, almost a recluse who is happy to be with Adriana his wife whom he had married in January 2007 and who is with him all the time. Stoner is also anti technology in real life and prefers spending his time hunting with a bow and arrow on the Gold Coast of Australia and avoiding social networking sites such as Twitter (for micro blogging) and Facebook. Even his celebrations after victory are very matter of fact and lacking in exuberance, deliberately. After winning races, Stoner rides straight back to the paddock and just hugs his mechanics and wife. On the podium too Stoner is restrained.
In the lower categories of Grand Prix racing Stoner was not someone who attracted attention. It was in MotoGP with Ducati that Stoner has become a legend. Yes a legend. When the 800cc Ducati was introduced, he just got onto the bike rode away into the distance and won races. Nobody heard of any talk of how he was trying to develop the bike and make rideable etc., the stuff that one has been hearing from Rossi and getting sick of it. In MotoGP, Casey Stoner is the worthy successor to Mick Doohan in the Aussie line of riders. There have been riders like Daryl Beattie during Mick Doohan’s time from Australia and showed a lot of promise but faded away in no time. Then there have been contemporaries of Stoner such as Chris Vermeulen and Anthony West who did not make any significant impact on MotoGP. Casey Stoner is now among the greatest ever Aussie riders in GP racing after riders such as Barry Sheene, Wayne Gardner and the legendary Mick Doohan. He is not just an Aussie legend, he is a world legend who brought the great Rossi down to earth and on to his knees. Stoner won three races towards the end of the last season on the Ducati and the same Ducati is what Valentino Rossi rode in the beginning to be at the bottom of time sheets. Whatever changes he has made have not made too much difference. So has Stoner put the issue beyond doubt? Yes, he has. Even if Rossi develops a bike that will start winning there is no disputing the raw and natural talent that Casey Stoner has. With him it is just riding the wheels of a machine, no wasting of time developing and all that.
We started by saying that the writer of this article does not like Stoner. That statement stands. The writer seems to be a fan of Stoner but does not like him at all, so what is this?Is this a new kind of fan? You tell us.