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 that 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.
This, it appears, seems to have been the trigger for Stoner to make the switch to Ducati as a test rider. The Australian had always retained good ties with the Italian factory, and the arrival of Gigi Dall’Igna as the head of Ducati Corse made a return to Ducati even more attractive.
Stoner knows Dall’Igna well from his time racing an Aprilia in 125s and 250s, a period in which he finished as runner up in the 250 championship to Dani Pedrosa.
As the only rider to have brought Ducati a MotoGP title, and after five long years since their last victory in the premier class – Stoner also being the last race winner on a Ducati – the Bologna factory have a lot of good reasons to sign the Australian.
Stoner will no doubt also be well acquainted with the situation at Ducati through his good friend Chaz Davies, factory rider for Ducati’s World Superbike team.
Though Stoner has made it clear he has no intention of returning to racing full time, he still enjoys riding MotoGP machines, and the chance to ride a Desmosedici more often than just two or three days a year will have been reason enough for him to leave.
The Australian reportedly felt underutilized at HRC, due in part to the role of Marc Marquez as lead rider. According to German-language website Speedweek, Marquez felt threatened by Stoner’s presence as a test rider, and criticized the input Stoner had given on the project.
Marquez claimed he had to test everything Stoner had already tested, to check Stoner’s feedback. HRC sources also let slip that Stoner had been over a second off the pace during his most recent test, at Sepang at the beginning of 2015, and so the combination of resistance from Marquez and slow times had made HRC reluctant to use the Australian.
Stoner’s lack of pace was also a factor in HRC not asking Stoner to replace Dani Pedrosa when the Spaniard was out with injury, something which Stoner had taken badly.
There are no such qualms at Ducati. Though the Desmosedici GP15 is a huge step forward over the previous bikes from the Bologna factory, the machine still has several weaknesses, mostly concentrated in the chassis.
Andrea Iannone has been a revelation in 2015, maturing into a real threat for the podium every race, while Andrea Dovizioso is a solid and technically sound rider capable of giving very clear feedback.
They still need help, though, to turn the GP16 from a contender into a winner, and this is precisely where Stoner should be able to help, especially alongside Michele Pirro, who has proven to be a talented and very quick test rider.
For the moment, it seems that Stoner will mainly concentrate on private tests, not riding in any of the official 2016 preseason tests at Sepang, Phillip Island or Qatar.
However, as Stoner gets some miles under his belt, and particularly once he picks up some of the speed being away from racing tends to remove, the Australian could well make appearances at public tests, and possibly even as a wildcard at races.
For 2016, the earliest Stoner could race would be the Mugello round on 22nd May, but a much more likely scenario would be Stoner racing at Phillip Island on 23rd October.
That would also help boost attendance at the Phillip Island round, which has fallen by up to 20,000 since Stoner’s retirement, the crowd on race day being just over 35,000.
One place where fans can be sure of seeing Casey Stoner on track is during next year’s World Ducati Week at Misano, due to take place from 1st – 3rd July.
Source: Ducati Corse & HRC; Photo: Ducati Corse
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.