News of Casey Stoner's withdrawal continues to reverberate around the internet. More and more sources are confirming that Stoner will not be present at Brno, and could be gone for several races: The usually extremely reliable GPOne.com is stating that official confirmation will be coming very shortly, while Speed TV's Dennis Noyes has apparently had confirmation from a source inside Italy that the Bologna factory is currently working on a press release.
The consensus seems to be that Stoner has been advised by doctors to take more rest, probably missing the next three races, at Brno, Indianapolis and Misano. With the Hungarian round at the Balatonring already canceled, this would give Stoner a further two months to recover, in time for the grueling run of four races in six weekends, spread over three continents, which caps the MotoGP season in October and November. Two more months would give Stoner a chance to rest and his medical advisors an opportunity to get to the bottom of his mystery illness.
That mystery has naturally led to a veritable tsunami of speculation. Current favorite is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a disease which is linked to stress, anemia, a number of viral infections, as well as several other causes. The disease is poorly understood, but certainly the symptoms bear a striking resemblance to what we know of Stoner's condition: a sudden onset after a flu-like illness, exhaustion after physical exertion, stomach problems, and a failure to recover. So far, though, this is based solely on speculation and armchair diagnosis, and cannot be regarded as in any way accurate or reliable.
If Stoner is to miss out on three races, then Ducati face an immediate problem of finding a replacement. GPOne.com is reporting that current Pramac Ducati rider Mika Kallio will be drafted in to take Stoner's place for the next three Grand Prix, which could be a prelude to a future promotion to the factory team. The options to fill Kallio's empty seat are less clear. Ducati World Superbike rider Michel Fabrizio is one name that is being bandied about, though if Fabrizio were to replace Kallio, the Italian would miss the next round of World Superbikes at the Nurburgring in Germany, which clashes with the Misano round of MotoGP. With Fabrizio still theoretically in with a chance of second, or even first in the World Superbike championship, that would be a risky gamble to take, especially with Fabrizio one of the only men looking capable of taking points away from Ben Spies, and helping the cause of his team mate and championship leader Noriyuki Haga.
If Fabrizio does not replace Kallio, Ducati's other options include current test rider Vittoriano Guareschi, who, though fast, is not believed to be keen to race, or more likely Mattia Pasini. Ducati are said to be very keen on Pasini, and as the Italian's current 250 team, the Hungarian squad Team Toth, have struggled financially recently, the deal could help both Pramac and Team Toth.
The final, and perhaps least likely option, is yet another return by Sete Gibernau. The Spanish veteran was forced to withdraw after Francisco Hernando, the controversial property tycoon, pulled all financial backing for Gibernau's GFH team. But Gibernau has been bitter in the press about the whole affair, and his injured collarbone may still not be sufficiently healed for Gibernau to be competitive.
But of course, we are still awaiting official confirmation from Borgo Panigale, where the Ducati press office are said to be preparing a press release as we speak. Once we receive that official confirmation, then at least some of the speculation will come to an end.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport is reporting that Ducati boss Livio Suppo has confirmed Stoner's withdrawal from the next three rounds of MotoGP. Suppo is reported as saying that Stoner was "very unhappy to take such a painful decision, but it is necessary to protect his health."
~~~ UPDATE 2 ~~~
Livio Suppo has now confirmed Stoner's withdrawal for at least three races to Spanish national broadcaster RTVE. Speaking on the phone to RTVE, Suppo said "He is not well, and the best thing to do is to stop." Suppo emphasized that Stoner did not take this decision lightly. "This has been a very difficult decision which we have taken together with all the team. We're very upset, but it's the best thing for Casey," Suppo said.