Casey Stoner got the first testing miles of his return to Ducati under his belt on Saturday. The Australian started slowly and steadily doing a lot of short runs to get a feel for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, on which he spent most of the day, before upping the pace later in the afternoon. Journalists present at the test said Stoner looked a little stiff in his early laps, not getting either elbow or knee down, but soon started to relax, and look more like his old self.
With Christmas nearly upon us, and very little happening in the world of motorcycle racing, time for a round up of recent news. Here's what's been going on in recent weeks, as well as some recommended reading and listening for over the holiday period.
Brno vs Indy - On or Off?
Casey Stoner will not be making any public appearances on the Ducati Desmosedici any time soon. Although the Australian has been formally announced as test rider for Ducati, he will not be riding at the official tests at Sepang at the beginning of February.
Casey Stoner is to leave Honda and work with Ducati as a test rider and brand ambassador from 2016. Two press releases, one from Honda and one from Ducati, today confirmed the rumor which had emerged at Valencia during the race weekend, and especially after the test. Honda thanked Stoner for five years of collaboration, including two years of racing, during which he won fifteen races and a MotoGP championship. After his retirement, at the end of 2012, Stoner continued as a test rider for HRC, but rode only sporadically, no more than a couple of days a year.
The final day of testing at Valencia was a repeat of the first day: a lot of crashes on the Michelin tires, the factory Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis working on the brand new spec electronics, the satellite bikes and the Suzukis working on their own 2015 electronics. For the Suzukis, that was not such a problem. The new electronics were likely to be an improvement on their own electronics, both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro said, so missing out now was not such a problem.
Casey Stoner is set to make some form of return to MotoGP. The Australian is to switch back from Honda to Ducati, taking on a role as test rider for the Italian firm. There is a chance that Stoner could also be given one or more wildcard rides on Ducati's MotoGP bike.
Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals. The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi. There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season. Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race. The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt. The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider's chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
Gradually, the race fell out of favor, and more and more riders had clauses added to their contract specifically excluding them from being forced to race at Suzuka. Mick Doohan was one of the early absentees. Valentino Rossi did it twice, won it the second time around, and swore never to race at the event again. It was simply too demanding for a rider chancing a championship. In the early years of this century, the race languished in relative obscurity. The name of the event still echoed in the collective memory of race fans, but it passed without much comment. Except in Japan, where it remained the pinnacle of the JSB season, and the battleground for the Japanese manufacturers.
Casey Stoner was a candidate to replace the injured Dani Pedrosa. The Australian had discussions with HRC about stepping in to take Pedrosa's place during his absence. In the end, it was decided that a return would not be possible at such short notice. It was decided that Hiroshi Aoyama would be a better choice of replacement in the circumstances.
Dani Pedrosa's announcement after the Qatar Grand Prix that he would be withdrawing from racing to seek urgent treatment for arm pump immediately triggered an explosion of speculation over who might replace the Spaniard during his absence. Fans and pundits offered a barrage of possible names to take Pedrosa's place: Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, Michael van der Mark, Jack Miller, Nicky Hayden. Coming as it did just before April Fool's day, it even triggered a spate of hoax stories: Casey Stoner, Mick Doohan, Alex Marquez and Fabio Quartararo were all offered in jest.
Casey Stoner is make a brief return to motorcycle racing. The Australian is to compete in the Suzuka 8 Hour race as part of Honda's factory MuSASHI RT HARC-PRO team, racing alongside Pata Honda WSBK rider Michael van der Mark, and Honda test rider Takumi Takahashi.