The 2010 Iveco Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be Australian fans’ last chance to enjoy one of the most successful partnerships in modern motorcycle racing: Casey Stoner on the Ducati Desmosedici MotoGP machine.
Stoner, who will turn 25 on the Saturday of race weekend, is leaving to join the Honda factory squad in 2011, while current Yamaha ace Valentino Rossi moves in the opposite direction to take the Australian’s place at Ducati.
Stoner was just 20 when he switched from Honda to the Italian squad for the start of the 2007 season, only his second in the premier class of world championship racing. He won his very first race for them in Qatar, which was also the inaugural race in the 800cc specification.
At Motegi two weeks ago Stoner claimed his 22nd victory in the class – all won on the Ducati in four extraordinary seasons, a tally that puts him equal with two-wheeled legends such as Geoff Duke, John Surtees and Kenny Roberts Sr. and in the top 10 winners in the 62-year history of the series.
“I could never have imagined when I began my first season in grand prix at 16 years of age that I would reach this level and all I can say is that it is an honour to be alongside such great names,” said Stoner after his Motegi victory.
“I have taken all my MotoGP wins with Ducati and it is down to their fantastic support, hard work and above all their belief in me that this has been possible.”
The depth of Stoner’s achievement with Ducati can be measured by the performance of other riders on the difficult-to-master Desmosedici machines over recent years.
Ducati returned to the premier class in 2003, when Loris Capirossi and Australian Troy Bayliss teamed up on the red bikes. Over their first two seasons there was just one Grand Prix victory, earned by Capirossi in Barcelona at a time when a certain Valentino Rossi and Honda held sway.
Things improved in the next two years – Capirossi won in Japan and Malaysia in 2005 and took three more victories in 2006 while Bayliss returned briefly to finish his Ducati MotoGP career with a flourish, winning in Valencia at the end of that year.
But nothing could have prepared the MotoGP world for the explosion that occurred when Stoner and Ducati joined forces for 2007.
It was a gutsy move by both sides. Stoner was a 21-year-old veteran of just one season in the top flight, which he finished in eighth place overall on a Honda, while the Desmosedici was yet to fulfill its high-speed potential.
The 2007 season changed all that. Ducati won 11 Grands Prix, but just one of those – Japan – went to Capirossi as the young Australian swept to 10 race wins and a title-winning total of 367 points – 125 more than runner-up Dani Pedrosa on his factory Honda.
Stoner has gone on to stun teammates like Marco Melandri (2008) and Nicky Hayden (2009-10) with his ability to bring the best out of a motorcycle that no-one else has mastered to the same degree.
In 2008, defending his title, Stoner won six times and finished runner-up to the peerless Rossi with the highest points total (280) ever achieved by a rider who failed to win the title.
Then came two difficult seasons: in 2009 Stoner suffered a mysterious and debilitating physical slump that saw him miss races, lose form and slip back to fourth overall, while this year the Ducati has failed to match its rivals – until recently, that is.
Successive victories at Aragon and Motegi marked a thrilling return to form for the partnership, although the last round in Malaysia brought a first-lap disaster when Stoner was caught out on cold tyres and parted company with the red machine at the final corner of the opening lap.
Stoner said he was “bitterly disappointed” with his Sepang weekend.
“Going into that race we were confident of a good result,” he added. “We knew we would be at the front challenging for the win and watching the race confirmed that – I knew I had the pace to be up there.”
At Phillip Island he has the chance to make amends – and his recent record here suggests he will still be the man to beat. Since joining Ducati Stoner has started from the front row in each of his three visits home, including pole position in the last two; he has won all three races, including last year’s sensational race-long scrap with seven-time Island winner Rossi himself.
“We haven’t had the best of seasons,” he admits. “and I haven’t really been able to give Jorge [Lorenzo] or Dani [Pedrosa] a run for their money, but we will keep working…”
When the Ducati Desmosedici and Stoner work together, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off their Phillip Island perch.