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.
Asked via email by MotoMatters.com whether Honda had had discussions with Stoner over replacing Pedrosa, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo confirmed that they had. "We spoke about the possibility for Casey to replace Dani," Suppo admitted. But Stoner would have faced major challenges replacing Pedrosa for the next two MotoGP rounds. The Australian has never raced at either Austin or Termas de Rio Hondo, the two tracks having been added to the MotoGP calendar after Stoner retired from MotoGP. He has also had only very limited testing, having spent three days on the factory Honda RC213V ahead of the first Sepang test, while the rest of the MotoGP grid has had eight days of full testing plus the first round of racing at Qatar.
Suppo cited the lack of preparation, and the undoubted weight of expectation from the fans as factors in the decision. "Overall, we believe that a comeback of Casey in MotoGP would be something to properly prepare, as the expectation would be huge," Suppo said. Fans would expect Stoner to be battling at the front straight away, ignoring the disadvantages he had from a lack of testing and racing. "We are sorry for the fans, who would have loved to see Casey back, but overall, we think this is the right choice," Suppo added.
The comparison with the return of Troy Bayliss is easily drawn. When the legendary Australian stepped in to replace the injured Davide Giugliano in the Ducati World Superbike team, fans were expecting him to immediately be on the podium and challenging for the win. The fact that Bayliss had been out of racing since 2009, and the Ducati Panigale R has not been a fully competitive package in recent years was conveniently ignored. Bayliss only once managed to finish inside the top ten, falling short of expectations, but still adored by the fans.
The news that Casey Stoner actively considered racing again in MotoGP can be seen at the very least as something of a surprise. Since retiring from full-time racing at the end of 2012, Stoner has made it very clear in interviews that he has no intention of making a return to the series. My own research, talking to friends of Stoner's, corroborated this. Nobody felt that Stoner had any desire whatsoever to race in MotoGP again. Both the politics and the excessive and increasing influence of electronics on the MotoGP bikes were factors which soured him to the sport. Testing seemed to fulfill his need for speed, and RC model car racing scratched his competitive itch.
Perhaps the news that Casey Stoner is to race at the Suzuka 8 Hour race in July, was a sign that the Australian is ready to make some small, limited return to motorcycle racing. At just 29 years of age, he is still young enough to start racing again, should he so desire. Given all that Stoner has said, the chances of the Australian making a full-time return to MotoGP seem extremely unlikely, if not impossible. But coming in as a substitute rider, or who knows, even a wildcard, now seems a very real possibility.
On a personal note, Stoner's return has clearly proven me wrong, and not for the first time. I have always believed that Stoner was done with MotoGP altogether. I remember the look of barely suppressed irritation whenever he had to speak to journalists like us, especially the ones who had written him off in the past, attributing his success on the Ducati to electronics, and casting aspersions at his absence due to lactose intolerance. I caught a glimpse of Stoner as he drove out of the paddock for the last time, on the Monday of the Valencia test in 2012, after he had said his goodbyes to his team. The look of relief was palpable. Perhaps, now that he has had time away from the paddock and from racing, the sport is a little easier for the Australian to bear.