After two seasons away from motorcycle racing, Casey Stoner is showing all of his old gunfighter bravado in agreeing to race the Suzuka 8 Hours as his return event.
Ideally, if a strategy session were held to plan Stoner’s comeback to racing, he’d jump on an RC213V at one of the tracks that he has historically dominated at in MotoGP. Phillip Island, for example. That way so many of the unknowns are removed–and the familiarity factor would be considerable. He’d be on sort of same bike that he raced, on the same tires that he raced on, and on a track he has enjoyed enormous—if not dominating success—on. If this were a movie script, that’s how you’d write the pivotal third and final chapter, ala Hailwood at the Isle of Man, Kenny Roberts at Daytona in 1984, etc. “Return of the Conquering Champion” et al.
Again, ideally, a strategic planning session on how Casey Will Again Race Motorcycles would not have him racing a machine he has barely tested and never raced (CBR1000RR) on a track he hasn’t raced at since 2003.
Also, ideally, a Stoner comeback would not involve teammates.
As a rider, Stoner’s riding style is as unique as it is aggressive. A list of the riders who have been able to race a motorcycle developed for Casey Stoner’s riding style is pretty short: Marc Marquez is certainly on that list. Others? Maybe, at times, Loris Capirossi, and, at times, Dani Pedrosa. Actually the list of riders who were unable to lap as fast as Stoner on the same motorcycle is probably actually longer. This, potentially, could be a problem.
It’s also a potential political minefield. Honda has won the race for the last half-decade. Stoner’s co-riders, Michael van der Mark and Japanese ace Takumi Takahashi, are returning champions of the Suzuka 8 Hours. That pair are proven, capable riders at the Suzuka 8 Hours; they know what the set up is that is needed to win the race, but they are not in any way Casey Stoner. Do they dictate set up to Stoner? Ideally, yes. Realistically will that happen? Has Stoner ever adapted his riding style to another, less aggressive style and went fast? Maybe he has, but if so, it isn’t that well known. How will Stoner will adapt to sitting in the “less gifted” class?
For a rider, the Suzuka 8 Hours is still probably the hardest race in the world. It’s unbearably hot and humid, the track really does not have a spot where you can kick back and rest for a few moments and the demands of the race and the circuit are seemingly endless. The eight hour long race even taxes riders who whose day job is to race in the Japanese domestic series, who are accustomed to the grueling conditions, and those that have been racing and training–like MotoGP riders–nearly every day of the last twenty-four months. It would be difficult to question Casey Stoner’s fitness level but he hasn’t raced at the top level in two years. As with nearly all things Stoner it will be interesting to watch this part of the Suzuka 8 Hours play out.
Throughout his career Casey Stoner has never been short on balls, and for most of his MotoGP career he has nearly always been able to back that bravado up on the racetrack, proving critics wrong nearly all the way.
A devoted and accomplished contrarian, in hugely typical for Casey fashion, he doesn’t see jumping into the 8 Hours as his first big return race, on a bike he hasn’t ever raced, the hardest physical race in the world, at a circuit he hasn’t raced at in a decade and throwing teammates into the situation as a line of gigantic, LED-bright red flags.
Instead, Stoner told Australian press that he was looking forward to racing the 8 Hours of Suzuka because “… it’s really nice to come back and do this endurance race with a little less stress.”