Could Casey Stoner be tempted to return? Five MotoGP experts have their say.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
Things Casey Stoner has done since walking away from MotoGP as a two-time world champion at age 27 in 2012: driven a V8 Supercar, been a dad and a husband, caught a lot of fish, raced in the Suzuka 8-Hour. Things he’s shown little inclination towards doing since then: resume his MotoGP career. But it doesn’t stop us all wondering, does it?
As test rider at Repsol Honda, Stoner showed interest in temporarily stepping in as an injury replacement for friend Dani Pedrosa last year, but nothing came of it. A crash at Suzuka – his sole competitive bike race since he walked away from MotoGP – left him battered and bruised. But when he signed as a test rider for Ducati last November, it wasn’t hard to feel nostalgic for his 2007 glory days, when he took the world title in emphatic style for the Italian marque. Stoner is the only man who has regularly mastered the red bikes in the modern MotoGP era – could he do it again?
On the surface, it seems we’ll never know. Despite riding alongside Ducati’s regular riders, Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, at the Sepang pre-season test and being faster than both of them, he sat out the second pre-season hit-out at the Phillip Island layout he owned in his native Australia before his latest test, a private affair the day after the MotoGP paddock had packed up and left Qatar 10 days ago.
Will he ever race in MotoGP again? Could he be tempted into the occasional wildcard? Will we ever see Stoner v Marc Marquez v Valentino Rossi v Jorge Lorenzo, a thought to make most two-wheel fans weak at the knees?
In the latest instalment of our ‘Burning Questions’ series, we quizzed our panel of assembled MotoGP insiders.
Nick Harris: the voice of MotoGP on the world TV feed, and a hugely experienced authority on the sport for more than three decades.
Matt Birt: Nick’s offsider on the MotoGP world feed coverage, and a journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the paddock.
Chris Vermeulen: the MotoGP race-winner now excels in his off-track role as a MotoGP analyst for Fox Sports in his native Australia.
Dylan Gray: MotoGP’s premier pit-lane reporter and on-the-ground newshound.
David Emmett: editor of motomatters.com and one of the sport’s most prolific and authoritative voices.
The Burning Question: How many races will Casey Stoner compete in as a wildcard this year, and how many would you like to see him compete in?
Nick Harris: It will depend so much on the state of the championship if he gets any wildcard entries at all. It’s a tricky situation for Ducati. Personally, I want him back for all 18 …
David Emmett: I’d love to see Casey race a whole season, but I don’t think he will do any wildcards. I don’t believe it is part of his plan. However, I don’t think he realises just how much pressure he is about to come under from Ducati, from Dorna, and from the Australian GP organisation to race at Phillip Island. Clearly, he is fast enough to get on the podium. The question is whether he still has the desire to race. He says he doesn’t, and we must take him at his word.
Matt Birt: I think Casey showed when he rode against the MotoGP field in Sepang that his retirement was a massive loss to MotoGP. MotoGP has prospered since he walked away, but imagine some of the epic racing we’ve seen of late between Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa with Casey Stoner thrown in the mix? There’s no doubt we would be talking about a golden era. Seeing him ride in Malaysia made me wish he could be tempted back full-time and not just for the odd wildcard appearance. My romantic side thinks he’s lining up a fairytale return to Ducati in 2017 to win back the title he won for the Bologna factory 10 years earlier, but sadly, I think reality will win over romance. Stoner still seems adamant that racing a MotoGP bike full-time does not even register on his radar. Personally, if he is to return to racing I’d like to see it in Mugello or Misano, or both. That would be awesome for the Ducatisti. A Phillip Island return is fraught with pitfalls in my opinion and one Ducati I’m sure are aware of. MotoGP though is in the entertainment industry, and nobody could deny Stoner racing at Phillip Island would not draw huge attention on the sport. And I’m sure Ducati is acutely aware that it could attract a season’s worth of publicity in just one weekend.
Dylan Gray: I think he’s going to do zero wildcard appearances. Ducati have said they can’t tell Casey to do them; if Casey wants to do them, he’s invited to. Personally, you’d always like to see him do more if he’s up there at the front. If he does one and he’s up the front, you’d like to see 17 more … but I don’t think you’d necessarily want to see it if you feel he’s struggling, or has the one-off lap pace but not the race pace.
Chris Vermeulen: I’d love to see him do a few – I’d love to see him do the whole season! But honestly, I don’t think he’s going to do any. Ducati would be desperate for him to do some. I know Casey reasonably well and he feels he’s not fit enough to race, and he says he hasn’t done this to race again. If we had the opportunity to pick one though, wouldn’t it be great for him to do Phillip Island …