Two-time MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner will start his four-wheeled racing career this weekend in his native Australia, racing in the developmental series for the V8 Supercars circuit.
Stoner will race a Red Bull-sponsored Holden Commodore - featuring his customary No. 27 - on the street circuit at Adelaide for the powerful Triple 8 team. He decided to go auto racing after his shock retirement from MotoGP after last season.
2007 and 2011 World Champion Stoner is entering auto racing ice cold, with no prior experience outside of his shifter kart days. So he admitted the climb into the Dunlop Series was a far bigger leap than his debut in MotoGP in 2006 after racing in 125cc and 250cc World Championship events from 2001-05.
"It's very different," Stoner said. "Back then, I'd been racing bikes my whole life, and of course I was a little bit nervous. When you step up the different classes, because it's all generally the same on two wheels, it's not a big thing, but for me moving from two wheels to four wheels is something I've never done before.
"I'll be a little more nervous, for sure, than I was going into MotoGP. But I'm also very excited. It's something that's a new challenge."
What are the reasonable expectations for Stoner's foray into car racing? He'll probably do pretty well and be up to speed quickly. Car racing is certainly complex and difficult, however, initially, almost every experienced motorcycle racer--Eddie Lawson, Kevin Schwantz, Jeff Ward, John Surtees--slipped into the role of a car racer easily. There's a lot of power, a tire contact patch equal to the size of a medium-sized watermelon, great brakes and making a big mistake only means a destroyed race car, not months of asking your wife to wipe your bottom after you shatter both wrists in a nasty highside. The list of successful car racers who were once bike aces is lengthy--'90s Superbike man Dale Quarterley races a NASCAR development series today while Yvon DuHamel finished tenth in a NASCAR race in 1973 (winner: Richard Petty).
That early idyllic period when a bike guy goes four-wheeled-racing should be enjoyed. Because, later, being a bike guy in a race car can really start to, ah, suck. Motorcycles are wonderful extensions of the human mind and frame--a good rider can force a bike to do his bidding. Stoner, at Phillip Island last year, displayed this so well, he forced the Honda to do things that made his grid rivals shake their heads when they watched him. It's just that in car racing, generally, it doesn't really work that way. In car racing, being a talented driver is just a small part of the package that equals wins. You have to be spot-on when selecting set-up, save everything you can for the end of the race and be patient. It's as much a tired yet true adage today as it was when Freddie Spencer tested for Toyota--a good driver in a great car will beat a great driver in a good car nearly every time. It's frustrating.
The notoriously prickly Stoner claimed last year one of the reasons he was leaving MotoGP at age 27 was the political, back-stabbing nature of the Grand Prix paddock. So he couldn't resist taking another shot at the sport that made him rich and famous as he prepared for the next phase of his career.
"Here (V8 racing) the atmosphere is more friendly than in MotoGP," Stoner said. "We can be opponents on Sunday and friends on Monday."
That begs the question: Was Casey Stoner ever friends with any of his fellow MotoGP competitors the last seven years?