Across a career at the very pinnacle of international motorsport which spanned just six years and 115 races, Casey Stoner AM forged himself as one of the greatest motorcycle riders to ever grace the track.
Upon his retirement from MotoGP as a 27-year-old in 2012, Stoner had 38 wins, 69 podiums, 39 pole positions and 29 fastest laps to his name.
For many, the diminutive Queenslander will forever be regarded as one of the fastest and most talented riders in history; a man who could push his bike beyond its limits like no one else. The 2008 Young Australian of the Year, a recipient of an Order of Australia for services to his sport, and the 20th legend of the MotoGP Hall of Fame, there are few who have achieved so much in such little time.
Statistically speaking, there is but one man who betters the record of Stoner in MotoGP, and it is fitting that Michael Doohan AM will welcome Casey Stoner AM into the fold as a Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame – the highest honour which can be bestowed upon an Australian sportsperson.
Presented by Etihad Airways, Stoner will feature alongside seven other Inductees on Australian sport’s night of nights and most prestigious awards ceremony on Wednesday 21st October 2015, – the Sport Australia Hall of Fame 31st Induction and Awards Gala Dinner at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
The affinity for speed on two wheels began at an early age for Casey Stoner. Growing up in regional Queensland, his family were passionate about motorsport across the board and it was natural that Stoner would follow suit.
“It’s just a very hard thing to put down when you start riding a bike,” Stoner said.
“It’s a great feeling to ride with skill, and when you’re very comfortable on one, there’s really no better feeling out there.”
His first taste of competition came at the age of four and continued throughout his formative years, with it said on one particular weekend – at the age of twelve – he raced in five different categories across all seven rounds, and won 32 out of 35 races.
The result was five Australian titles over the two days, and whilst he can’t specifically recall the feat he admits the competitive beast inside makes it likely.
“I found I was good at racing and I really loved being competitive as well. I had that competitive edge in me,” Stoner said.
“It wasn’t just going round for the sake of enjoying it. It was always to improve and to better myself.”
“Whether it was against someone else, or just myself or even against the clock, I just always had to improve. It was just always the sport that really gripped me.”
At 14, Stoner was showing tremendous promise. Even at this young age it was evident he had a bright future in motorsport, and his talent led his parents into taking an enormous gamble for their son.
The Stoner family upped and moved from Australia to the United Kingdom, where the legal age for road racing allowed Casey to hone his craft in a fashion his home nation couldn’t allow.
“They took a big punt on me and decided to go over there, but I think it was as much their decision as it was mine,” Stoner said.
“I didn’t ask them or pressure them to go over there and do these things. This is where they believed I needed to go. So it was as much their adventure as mine.”
It was an adventure that threw the young Queenslander into the international spotlight. He worked his way through the 125cc championships in Britain and Spain between 2000 and 2002, before moving to the 125cc GP category in 2003. Two years later he took another step, joining the 250cc class permanently with an air of confidence – having claimed a series of wins as he worked his way up through the ranks.
“But my first year in [250cc] quite honestly shocked me,” Stoner admitted.
“I really thought it was going to be a very tall order to even get to the MotoGP class – where I always wanted to be and always had no doubt that I could go there and get there.”
“It was a hard time to get through, to be honest. All of a sudden there’s a lot of doubt, even though we were getting top five results. It was quite a hard time to fathom.”
Not only did Stoner combat those initial yet persistent doubts, he left some incredibly fast riders in his wake and had future MotoGP championship winner Dani Pedrosa looking over his shoulder in 2005. He would ultimately finish second in the overall standings behind the Spaniard and eventual teammate.
Come 2006, Stoner made his MotoGP debut riding for LCR Honda.
It was an impressive first season at the apex of international motorcycling, and one that gave the Australian confidence.
In just his second race he claimed pole position, and finished second in his third outing. At the Turkish Grand Prix, Stoner looked home for his maiden MotoGP win when Italian Marco Melandri pipped him on the final corner. It mattered little though, as Stoner and his team had begun mounting more than enough evidence to suggest they were here to stay.
“It was a nice feeling to know we were fast enough to run with those front guys,” Stoner said.
“As soon as we knew we were fast enough to do that, there was no rush. No panic to prove myself, as we’d already done enough.”
2007 saw Stoner join Ducati Marlboro – the first seed sown in a season of success. Stoner won the first grand prix of the season at Losali International Circuit in Qatar – his first ever win in the MotoGP class. As the weeks and months progressed, so too did the wins. He won a further nine times in 2007, with four podium finishes and five pole positions on his way to his first MotoGP championship.
The championship was secured in Japan, and was not only Ducati’s first title win, but the first time in more than 30 years a MotoGP championship had been won on a European made bike.
“It was very nice to finally do it, and especially to do it with Ducati was something pretty special after basically both Honda and Yamaha turning me down,” Stoner said.
“All I wanted to do that season was win one or two races if I could, and get a heap of podiums to hopefully make them regret not choosing me.”
From this point onwards, Casey Stoner became one of the biggest names in motorsport and carried Australia with him. He had his critics, but those who could appreciate his genius on the track hailed him as perhaps the fastest and most talented rider to have ever raced. It was said he could push a bike beyond its limits.
Regardless of whether one was a detractor or a supporter though, all agreed Stoner had something special.
“I think the biggest thing I brought to the track and racing with my teams was that I just wasn’t proud,” Stoner reflected.
“I think some riders have the mentality that they need to change the bike to suit them, but that bike may never end up being what they want, that is when you need to adapt yourself.”
“Some of my best ever wins were on tracks that we just shouldn’t have won at, but we did the job. We kept working. We didn’t give up with the bike we had and managed to turn the thing into an unbelievably competitive bike with my team.”
But Stoner’s time as a world champion was short lived in the years following 2007 thanks to a series of unfortunate events.
In 2008 there were mechanical and electrical faults with his bike, compounded by the fact he was forced to race most of the season with a broken wrist. Though limping to the line, he finished second to Valentino Rossi on 280 points – at the time, the highest ever points total to not win the title. Stoner battled lactose intolerance a year later in 2008 – which was initially misdiagnosed – but still managed to finish fourth in the championship. In 2010 he simply wasn’t competitive.
Stoner and those close to him were staring down the barrel of the 2011 season with a decision to make.
“To be honest, we weren’t too far off retiring in 2010. I was highly considering finishing my career,” Stoner admitted.
“We had to make our minds up, and we decided to go elsewhere to see what we could achieve on a bike under a manufacturer and team that was the major reason I decided to go racing in the first place.”
“I went to Honda to ride for a team I’ve always wanted to, to try and rekindle that passion in racing and try to prolong my career.”
Winning three of the first five rounds of the 2011 season, the move to Respol Honda was fruitful early. Stoner became supremely confident in his abilities, and felt as if he could simply pass anyone on his way to the chequered flag.
On his 26th birthday, at his home grand prix at Phillip Island, Stoner secured his second MotoGP championship to cap off an utterly dominant year of racing.
Phillip Island itself had always been a happy hunting ground for Stoner and one he held great affinity for throughout his career – so much so that in 2012 the circuit already bearing the names of Australian motorcycling greats and now fellow Sport Australia Hall of Fame Members Mick Doohan AM and Wayne Gardner AM, renamed turn three in his honour.
Whilst he will be forever defined by his two championship wins, this honour is one which sits just as high on Stoner’s list of personal achievements.
“To have any corner, but especially that corner, named after me is something special,” Stoner said.
“It can be a pretty miserable corner at times, but I sort of learnt to get through there in a certain way that allowed me to carry a lot more speed than anyone else, with a lot more safety. So I never had any risk of crashing through that corner.”
“The track just flowed with me. Everything just worked all the time. Even when the bike wasn’t perfect we’d still go round there quicker than just about everyone. And it always made me very, very comfortable out in front so I could just control those races.”
Unfortunately for motorsport fans across the world, the brilliance of Casey Stoner no longer graces Phillip Island once a year any longer – or any other MotoGP circuit for that matter.
So soon after claiming his second world title in 2011, Stoner officially bowed out from MotoGP as he announced in May 2012 he would retire. It was a decision which many felt was premature given his sheer talent and relatively young age, but one which still sits comfortably with the now 30-year-old.
“A lot of people look at it for different reasons and it’s hard for me to explain them all,” Stoner admitted.
“Nobody expects someone at my age to leave the sport. But I also don’t believe a lot of people are real purists of the sport like myself.”
“There’s a lot that have taken money or fame or fortune and all the rest of it. But that was never interesting for me. It really took away from the life that I was looking forward to enjoying, and it was the right time for me.”
For now, Casey Stoner is simply enjoying his life after motorsport. He is a husband, a father, and enjoys approaching his many passions as if they are the corner bearing his name – at full throttle.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Chairman Rob de Castella AO MBE said Casey Stoner AM is a legend of motorsport on and off the track.
“Casey Stoner is widely regarded as one of the best riders in the history of motorcycling,” de Castella said.
“A two-time championship winner, an icon of international and Australian motorsport, Casey Stoner demonstrated incredible commitment and courage from start to finish, as he embarked on his ultimately fulfilled quest of racing in MotoGP.”