In October it will be ten years since Casey Stoner won his second MotoGP World Championship, a success he followed six months later by announcing he was quitting, while at the top of his game.
The Australian is rated as one of the greatest MotoGP riders of all time, so his two world titles and 38 victories don’t really do justice to his talent. However, the fact that he won his first title – in 2007 – with Ducati offers some insight into his riding skills.
Ducati has been in MotoGP since 2003, but Stoner remains the only rider to have won the crown for the Bologna marque. The company’s hugely powerful Desmosedici has never been easy to handle and has befuddled many a world champion, most famously Valentino Rossi.
Stoner’s otherworldly skills allowed him to ride around the Desmosedici’s problems as if they weren’t there. He was probably the first rider to overlay the front brake and throttle, using both at the same time in corners to increase front grip and turn the bike.
Most of all he was adaptable, adjusting his technique corner by corner, to get the best out of a machine in any given circumstance. Some of this ability was hardwired into him from the age of four, when he started racing Aussie dirt track. This discipline takes place on an oiled dirt surface, which changes constantly, so the rider needs to fine-tune what he’s doing every lap.
“I think a lot of riders fit their one style and they want to do the same thing each week,” he says. “But each track is different, each corner is different, so you need to react differently.
“I didn’t have one style. I was more adaptable than most – that’s why conditions didn’t matter and circuits didn’t matter. During practice I’d always try to get the bike doing exactly what I wanted, but when it came to crunch time I adapted to what I had and made the difference myself. You’ve got to forget everything you think you know. You can’t be proud in the slightest about what you think you can do and you have to ride the bike how it needs to be ridden. You’ve got to succumb to the bike.”
Stoner won his second MotoGP championship with Honda in 2011, taking 10 wins from 17 starts. The following season when he told them he was planning to retire the company offered to double his salary. He said no and doesn’t regret it. Much.
“I’m not going to lie,” he grins. “The last offer I got, maybe I was stupid to turn it down, but you’re either someone who does it for the love or someone who does it for the money. I made more money than I ever imagined, so I’ve been very happy with my decision.”
Nine years after he retired Stoner still takes an interest in MotoGP, even though he doesn’t like what he sees. Indeed one reason he quit was because he didn’t appreciate what rightsholder Dorna was doing to the championship.
Most of all he hated a swathe of cost-cutting regulations written in the wake of the global financial crisis, including the introduction of MotoGP bikes powered by superbike engines. “It’s like putting touring cars in Formula 1,” he sneers.
“MotoGP doesn’t need wings. It seems to be going in the F1 direction”
He also objected to a rule that banned Moto2 and Moto3 riders from using campervans in the paddock, to make room for corporate hospitality units. Overnight the paddock was transformed from bustling global village to glitzy marketing mall.
“I still don’t like the direction MotoGP has taken,” he continues. “I’d like to see the purity come back, rather than the electronics controlling the bikes on the gas and the winglets controlling the front end. All the bikes are basically clones of each other which is why they run so close together.”
Never one to shy away from controversy, Stoner has a particular dislike for the latest version of Ducati’s Desmosedici, with its huge F1-inspired aerodynamic wings.
“It’s a monstrosity, that bike. I’d love to get some of the regulations changed to get half the stuff that’s on MotoGP bikes ripped off. MotoGP doesn’t need wings and everything – it seems to be going in the F1 direction.”
Sadly, Stoner has bigger things to worry about now. Three years ago he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), otherwise known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). The illness has had a huge impact on his life.
“I didn’t believe CFS existed but it’s been terrible,” says the 35-year-old, who lives on Australia’s Gold Coast with wife Adriana and their two daughters. “It started after I had my injured shoulder reconstructed in 2018. When I started training after the operation I was collapsing halfway through gym sessions. I spent six months never getting any further than from the bedroom to the couch. That was it, that was my day.
“For two years I was completely useless, even with my kids. I had no energy to do anything with them; I was just trying to survive. Then I’d have a few good days and think I was coming out of it, so I’d do a few things and then I’d spend another few weeks on the couch. I’ve learned to accept it – but I’m not going through cancer. It’s debilitating but it’s not the end of the world.”
This year, finally, Ducati may win its second MotoGP crown. At the time of writing Ducati riders Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco are all in the title hunt aboard 2021 Desmosedicis, a much easier ride than the 2007 iteration.
Mat Oxley has covered motorcycle racing for many years – and also has the distinction of being an Isle of Man TT winner
Follow Mat on Twitter @matoxley