Casey Stoner had scored a full factory Aprilia for 2005 and the move to competitive machinery had done wonders for the then 19-year-old from Kurri Kurri (NSW). With three rounds down Stoner had won two races and crashed out of another, placing the youngster only three-points behind championship leader Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) as they went in round four at Le Mans.
(the final 250cc championship postcript and points can be found at the bottom of this page)
In the opening round at Jerez Stoner got a terrible start before brilliantly fighting his way through the pack to get up to 3rd place but then slid out of contention with only a few laps remaining. His pace was clear though and while many had dubbed him a ‘crasher’, he had since answered those critics perfectly with near faultless performances in rounds two (Estoril) and three (Shanghai).
After taking the win at Shanghai however Casey had dramas. When stopping off somewhere on his way to the airport and leaving his luggage in the taxi, the driver promptly took off and left him with nothing. Of course the most important thing Casey lost in the theft was his passport and visa for getting out of the country! Frantic ringing around ensued with Casey desperately trying to obtain a temporary passport and a visa but he was destined to spend a little while longer in China as the Monday just happened to be a Chinese public holiday which of course meant making such arrangements virtually impossible! Eventually everything was sorted and Casey was winging his way for a rare visit back to Australia.
I spoke with Casey early this week (16 years ago), before he was due to get on a plane to fly to Le Mans where he would race the fourth round of the World MotoGP Championship and after taking two wins in a row he was understandably keen to race at Le Mans. (where he ultimately finished fourth)
”We couldn’t really have a better preparation for this next race, coming off two wins, so we’re slowly getting there with the bike and the team, we’re all starting to work together better. The last couple of races we haven’t had a dry race. I won both of them being in strange conditions so we’ll just have to wait and see how we go in the dry now.”
We also spoke about the differences between his 125 wins and his more recent 250 race wins, “To tell you the truth it’s actually a lot easier. The two 125 wins I had to basically ride my butt off to try to win them but these last two have come quite easily. That first race in Jerez I think if we had just a little bit better set-up, we don’t know quite what it was with the rear suspension, I think I could have run with the front guys as well in that race so we’re just slowly working there.”
I also asked him about the comparative strengths between his Aprilia and the Honda ridden by his chief rival Andrea Dovizioso, “I’d say we have the edge on the top end and the actual bike acceleration is reasonably similar, I think we’ve got a bit more top end than them and they’ve got more acceleration. They’re probably a little more stable on the brakes – we can still match them but they seem to be a little bit more stable.”
I guess that advantages under brakes could figure highly at Le Mans?
“Yes, that’s pretty much it, it’s just up and back and up and back, it’s like a go kart track so you’ve pretty much got to get the bike set up to go into the corner and out, there’s no going through the corner really.
“There’s a lot of improvement left in the bike; we haven’t got it anywhere near perfect. The last race in China we qualified on pole in the dry and I was actually quite confident for a dry race and when it was wet I was actually less confident because we never had any time in the wet, everybody else did. So to come away with a win, and quite easily, everything couldn’t have gone better. The only problem is I’ve only got one factory bike at the moment whereas everybody else, except my teammate, has two. I was supposed to have two factory bikes and at the moment I’ve only got one so I’m still waiting for my second one. At Estoril we seized the first bike and the second bike, I didn’t want to get used to it because I’m just going to change back to the other bike anyway and the same thing happened in the practice at Shanghai, I had a bit of a slip off in the front end with really bad chatter coming back up and had to use the second bike again when you just need that extra bike.
“The LCR team is now a completely different setup to when I was there last time. We’ve got almost all new mechanics to when I was last riding there and everything. I’m really happy with the setup this year, there’s the chief mechanic we’ve got working well together and the whole team is just really meshing together perfectly so hopefully we can keep this performance up.”
And the main threats this year, “Just the usual, I think. De Puniet, Porto, Pedrosa and probably Andrea this year. That’s probably about it. There will be the odd people up there in the run of the races but they won’t be a huge threat, I don’t think. So far it’s only me and Andrea who are even running in the front, everybody else is struggling. For me to actually jump up to a bike that’s competitive and I can stick it in there with them it’s quite a nice change.”
And your living arrangements this year?
“I finally have got a bit of a base set up in Monaco. The last five years have been travelling around in a motor home and never had anywhere to call home and always packing up and setting up and everything like that all the time so it’s actually quite nice have a base. Flying to each race is also a little bit of a pain so that’s the only thing we have to get really used to. The team drives the motor home to the track that Lucio and I stay in. It’s just a bit better being closer to everything, instead of going to a hotel or something like that. So pretty much we just fly in and get in the motor home. I am living by myself this year and that can get a little bit hard sometimes.”
And what did you think of China?
“Unbelievable, really. It’s by far the best flyaway we go to. There was really good facilities there and everything. Just I think dealing with the Chinese was quite difficult because we had a lot of problems and there were hold-ups to the sessions and races and everything so that needed to be a bit better organised. I don’t know if that was down to the Grand Prix or who but other than that, I was very impressed, the track is good. I’ve heard a lot of the MotoGP riders complaining about it but realistically I don’t know what they see, there was nothing wrong with it to me. I think everybody else enjoyed it. We didn’t really get to see any fans. We stayed in the paddock and if you didn’t have a pass you weren’t allowed in. If you didn’t have a pass you weren’t allowed out. You never really got to see anybody, they were just sitting in the stands and that was it.”
Casey also spoke about his goals for the future which he obviously hopes will involve a step up to the MotoGP category.
“I’ve never raced a four-stroke bike before and I don’t think it will be too difficult to get used to it, it’s only a bike. I don’t really mind how long I stay in the 250s, as long as it’s not too long. I just want to make sure that I’m ready to go up to the MotoGP and make sure that I’m going to be fast enough. I’m going to be lucky enough to even get an offer to ride one so I’ve just got to keep up the results from the 250 and concentrate on that first. My riding style suits a bigger bike. The smaller the bike for me the more difficult it is because I can’t trust it on the side of the tyre like some of the other riders can. Just from all my years in racing dirt track and that’s where most of the good riders have come from, is dirt track or motor cross and learning to slide the bike and learning the feel of the bike, so I don’t think it would be too big a drama. Of course it would take a bit of time to adapt to the MotoGP but I think I can do okay. It’s just a dream to be there; that’s what I’m aiming for and I’m just going to keep going and see if I can get there.”
What if a fantastic offer walked in the door from a world superbike team, what would be your first response to an offer like that?
“Simple as that. Grand Prix is where I’ve always wanted to be in and MotoGP is where I want to go. If I get stuck in the 250s and don’t seem to be going anywhere then maybe I would accept an offer to go to world superbike but only then.”
Casey also touched on the fact that some label him a ‘crasher’. “I’ve had a lot of criticism over the last couple of years of being a crasher and it frustrates me a bit because I know I’m not. I never, ever used to crash when I was racing, it’s only the last couple of few years of Grand Prix, I don’t know, I just haven’t been on the right bike, I’ve been overriding and just pushing too hard basically. And this year it’s so much easier when you’re on a bike that is competitive and you don’t have to push nearly as hard and you can sort of back off a little bit.”
Riders effectively buying rides also came into the conversation. “We’ve never had to bring money to the team, we’ve been very lucky with that, we’ve been lucky to even have a ride each year. You could lose it that easy. It’s not just most riders, it’s only Australian riders. That’s because the only sponsors that Grand Prix have are basically Europeans and all they want is European riders so personally I don’t think it’s very fair because it’s actually the sponsor that chooses the rider, it’s not the rider going to a good team or anything.”
Thanks very much, Casey, and good luck for the rest of the year.
2005 250cc World Championship
Casey Stoner eventually finished second in the 2005 250cc World Championship behind Dani Pedrosa and took five wins that season. After his victories at round two and three, Stoner finished fourth in France and Italy before returning to the podium at Catalunya with a second place finish.
Stoner (Aprilia) went on to win three out of the five final races of the season, but with Pedrosa taking eight victories over the course of the 16-round season, the Honda rider took the prized #1 plate. Stoner did finish 65-points ahead of third placed Dovizioso (Honda). Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) was fourth ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (Honda) and Sebastian Porto (Aprilia).
Honda won the constructors championship by 10-points over Aprilia.
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