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.
The first inklings that Stoner might try his hand at another form of motorcycle racing came when Stoner tested the Honda CBR1000RR bike HRC is preparing for Suzuka. He rode the bike while testing Honda's RC213V MotoGP bike, in his capacity as official test rider for HRC. In a press release afterwards, he was very positive about the experience, saying, "in general it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed being able to feel the rear of the bike step out!".
In early March, in a blog on the website of Italian broadcaster Sportmediaset, Italian journalist Max Temporali claimed that Stoner was preparing to enter the Suzuka 8 hour race. Three weeks later, Temporali has been proved right.
Having Stoner race in the Suzuka 8 Hour once again raises the profile of this classic meeting. The race has always been very important to the Japanese factories, who in the past sent their top factory GP riders to compete. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Colin Edwards, Dajiro Katoh, Tohru Ukawa and Valentino Rossi have all competed in the event. The problem with the race is that it falls in the middle of the season, as it is traditionally held in July. As the importance of the MotoGP championship has increased, the factories have been loath to risk their top riders getting injured at the race, and potentially damage their championship chances. As the World Superbike series has a longer summer break, WSBK riders such as Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Carlos Checa, and Michael van der Mark have all competed there in recent years.
In a press release issued by Honda, Stoner says that this was one factor which had prevented him from racing at the event in the past. "It's always been an event I wanted to do and something I was never able to consider when I was racing in MotoGP, due to our busy schedules." Now freed of any racing commitments, he has the opportunity to compete in the event. Stoner's participation will draw a lot of media attention to the race, and with the Australian riding with last year's winners Takahashi and Van der Mark, HRC will be hoping to win this race.
Stoner's decision to race at Suzuka does not presage a return to MotoGP. His comments in the press release mark this out as a bucket list item he is now able to tick off. Though now independently wealthy from his MotoGP career, appearances such as this, and his attempt to break the lap record at Eastern Creek in Australia during the Top Gear Festival weekend, supplement his income from the money he earned while racing. Stoner made it explicitly clear he had no intention of returning to MotoGP in a long interview with Adam Wheeler of On Track Off Road magazine.
The press release from Honda appears below:
Casey Stoner returns to racing in 2015 Suzuka 8hr
Honda Racing Corporation are pleased to announce Casey Stoner’s return to competition racing. The two-time MotoGP Champion (2007 and 2011) will form part of Honda’s MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO three person team at this year’s Suzuka 8hr race, taking place on Sunday 26th July.
Casey, together with Honda’s World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark and MFJ All Japan Road Race JSB1000 Championship and HRC test rider Takumi Takahashi, will be looking to clinch Honda’s sixth consecutive win in the prestigious endurance event which runs for eight hours consecutively where entrants (composed of two or more riders) alternate during pit stops.
Having recently renewed his testing contract with HRC, Casey tested the Suzuka CBR1000RR machine during January’s Sepang test, reporting positively on the machine to Honda engineers.
Casey will have further opportunities to test the Honda machine on the 7th/8th and 14th/15th July.
“After riding the bike in Sepang a few months ago, I’ve been speaking closely with Honda about the possibility to take part in Suzuka. It’s always been an event I wanted to do and something I was never able to consider when I was racing in MotoGP, due to our busy schedules, so I’m really looking forward to taking part! The bike is very different to a MotoGP machine, but it will be a new challenge and a chance for me to try something new and unlike what I’ve been used to in my racing to this point. I’ve been impressed with Michael van der Mark this season and Takumi Takahashi has a lot of experience on this machine, so I’m looking forward to hearing their comments and working together with them in preparation for the July race. Now I need to concentrate on my training to be ready for the race!”
Shuhei Nakamoto – HRC Executive Vice President:
“We are very happy that Casey agreed to take part in the 8hr with Honda. It will be great to see him back on a bike in a racing environment and I’m sure he will enjoy it. Together with van der Mark and Takahashi they form a strong team to compete in this endurance race – I’m excited to see how they will do.”
Shigeki Honda – Team Principal MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO:
“This year, MuSASHi Racing Team HARC-PRO is aiming to win the Suzuka 8hr for the third consecutive year. In addition to our riders, Michael van der Mark and Takumi Takahashi, who together have celebrated the past two victories , we are very happy to invite the legendary Casey Stoner to join our team. Casey has an enjoyed an incredible career and achieved a huge amount of success. We believe that with his fantastic experience, coupled with our team’s know how after many years of involvement at this event, we can make our dreams come true.”
Michael van der Mark:
“The Suzuka 8 Hour race is such a special event for all the fans and the Japanese people and not many riders get the chance to take part, even though many would like to. I also know what an important event it is for Honda so it’s a greathonorfor me to be asked to race the CBR1000RR once more, and this time with Casey as our teammate! The testing and race schedule is quite tough to combine with the World Superbike Championship but I really enjoy riding at Suzuka so I’m very happy to make time for it. The bike is very different to my World Superbike CBR but it’s easy to ride so it’s not big problem to change. I’ve had two fantastic years with a great team and it would be really nice and something quite special to get a hat-trick of wins.”
“The Suzuka 8hr this year means a lot to me and my team since our goal is to win for a third consecutive year, and I’m even more excited to take part together with Casey. Nonetheless, we know our rivals are all set to beat us, so I know it will not be easy to accomplish this goal. I will try to get the best out of the remaining few tests so that we will be able to run the 8hr race as fast as possible without any mistakes. We guarantee to demonstrate our extreme professionalism and excitement to those who will come to Suzuka to support us!”