It is hard to upstage Valentino Rossi. It takes something large, significant, to take the limelight away from the nine-time World Champion, and the man who has been the charismatic heart of MotoGP for the best part of 15 years. To do that, you have to “Go big or go home,” as British road racer Guy Martin likes to put it.

At Le Mans, Casey Stoner upstaged Rossi. The press conference – usually a rather staid affair, with the usual niceties about the track, each rider’s chances at the circuit and a couple of witticisms – started unusually, with Nick Harris, the veteran commentator who leads the official press conferences, saying that Stoner would like to make a statement to the press. Stoner then proceeded to press the big red button that set Twitter, the internet and newswires ablaze. In the process, he did not so much ignite the 2013 MotoGP Silly Season, as douse it in liquid oxygen and set a flame thrower to it.

Stoner’s announcement that he will retire at the end of this season has been covered in depth just about everywhere – see transcripts of his statement to the press here, and his detailed responses to questions here – but the question is, what happened to the Australian’s denials exactly two weeks ago at Estoril of the stories that emerged in the Spanish press? Was the report in Solo Moto correct, and had Stoner already decided to retire at Jerez, or was Stoner being truthful when he denied any decision had been made. Piecing together the puzzle of what happened over the past few weeks, the following picture emerges.

At Jerez, according to the Spanish magazine Solo Moto, Stoner told HRC that he intended to retire at the end of the 2012 season. At Estoril, Stoner denied this, saying to the journalist who wrote the Solo Moto story “Don’t read what you publish”. The two stories appear to be incompatible, but was there any smoke without fire? What seems to have happened is that Stoner had a conversation with HRC in which he raised the possibility of retirement, and said he was considering it as a serious option. Honda, meanwhile, was trying to get Stoner to sign a two-year deal, though Stoner was only prepared to consider signing on for a single season.

In the week after Jerez, the story of Stoner’s retirement appeared in Solo Moto, and at Estoril, there was much speculation as to who could have been the source of the story. The rumors centered on Livio Suppo as being involved in the leak – though they remained rumors, with nothing to substantiate them. Certainly, Suppo would have been privy to any such conversations about retirement, and given his close relationship with the Australian, would surely have been among the first to have been told by Stoner. But why leak such news to the press, especially if Stoner’s decision was not yet final?

Presumably – and this is merely conjecture, with no chance of any confirmation ever being obtained until all this has long since blown over – someone in HRC decided to leak the news in an attempt to pressure Stoner into making a decision. The hope must have been that by forcing the Australian to issue a denial, he would be forced to think seriously about the consequences of retiring, and that that prospect would have brought him back into the fold.

That appears to have backfired, badly. The media storm which it unleashed merely reminded Stoner of all of the things he hated about MotoGP – everything except the actual racing, basically – and made his decision final. At Le Mans, he made his announcement, and the rest is history.

His answers to the questions put to him by journalists revealed the underlying disappointment Stoner has faced in MotoGP. His talent was immediately obvious once he climbed aboard a MotoGP bike in 2006. After missing most of the preseason due to surgery, he finished 6th in the season opener at Jerez, then qualified on pole at Qatar, and finished on the podium at Istanbul. On the lowly satellite LCR Honda, last in the queue for parts from Honda, and last in the queue for tires from Michelin, Stoner never finished worse than 8th, and got close to the podium a couple more times. But the Michelins he was using were unpredictable, and he found himself picking his bike out of the gravel on too many occasions in his first year, and gaining a reputation as a crasher. The reaction to his transformation into a race winner and World Champion once he switched to Ducati was one of incredulity, rather than the accolades that he himself – quite rightly – had expected. It was put down to the bike, not his ability.

In 2008, things got worse, when Stoner lost the title to Valentino Rossi again. In one of the greatest races of the last decade, Rossi beat Stoner at Laguna Seca by using all of the guile at his disposal to get ahead and disrupt the Australian’s race. In the end, Stoner ran wide at the final corner, eventually toppling over in the gravel, and the race was lost. Later, Rossi’s crew chief Jeremy Burgess would tell me that Stoner lost that race because he “didn’t have a plan B.” With crashes in the races that followed, at Brno and Misano, the press and the fans wrote Stoner off as being mentally fragile, as crumbling at the first sign of pressure. Once Rossi climbed aboard the Ducati, he would discover the reason why there was no plan B: if you didn’t ride the bike as hard as possible from the off, the tires would cease to grip.

The events of 2009 merely confirmed the fans’ and the media’s perception of Stoner. After he decided to sit out three races in the middle of the season to find a diagnosis for the problems of extreme fatigue which had been troubling him since the beginning of the year, he was once again labeled as mentally weak, with reports of poor dietary habits and a strange approach to exercise causing his problems. Rumors that he would retire surfaced for the first time, and even though Stoner explained upon his return at Estoril that he had been diagnosed with and treated for late onset lactose intolerance, media reports continued to speak of his “mystery illness”. Another dismal start to 2010, where Stoner kept losing the front end of the Ducati Desmosedici, reaffirmed his reputation as a crasher in the minds of the fans, despite the Australian going on to win three of the last six races once his crew, led by Cristian Gabarrini, found a solution to his problems at Aragon.

A crasher. Mentally weak. Not a serious racer. The man who only won the 2007 title because he had the best bike. And a rider who relied solely on traction control to be fast. That was Casey Stoner’s reputation at the end of 2010.

Valencia, November 2010. Casey Stoner steps onto the Honda and devastates the field on his very first time out on the bike, with only Jorge Lorenzo capable of matching his times. Meanwhile, Valentino Rossi, the man who was believed to have single-handedly transformed the Yamaha from a basket case to championship winner, who had reaffirmed the belief that the rider is far more important than the bike, stepped onto the bike that Stoner had left behind and was nowhere. An embarrassment; 15th position, 1.749 seconds off the pace.

At last, Stoner’s reputation could be placed in some perspective. Rossi – a rider renowned for not crashing – became a regular visitor to the gravel trap. The reputation of being a crasher seemed to belong more to the bike than to Stoner. Ducati went nowhere with Rossi aboard, with the Italian himself conceding that the only way to go fast on the bike was to sail right at the limit of the machine, saving crashes several times a lap, on every lap. He was asked the same question over and over again, and he gave the same answer every time: “Casey rode this bike in a very special way. I cannot ride it like this.”

Surely it was just a matter of time before Stoner crumbled under the pressure, then? In 2011, Casey Stoner finished off the podium just once, when he got taken out in an overly ambitious attempted pass by Valentino Rossi at a damp Jerez, spawning a host of jokes about how Stoner, despite having switched to Honda, was still being plagued by front end problems on the Ducati. But despite Stoner’s utter dominance of 2011, his resilience, his fortitude, his ability to win when possible while settling for a podium when he couldn’t, his detractors once again claimed that Stoner had only won because he was on a vastly superior bike.

Five years of that treatment have taken their toll on Casey Stoner. He still loves riding, and the ambition and desire to compete still burns within him, but he is tired of dealing with all of the crap that surrounds racing in MotoGP, while the work gets ever harder. At Estoril, I asked him if it was the riding or the racing that he enjoyed. His reply was extremely informative: “The riding in this championship, it’s not fun. You’re out there risking your arse every lap, trying things on the bike that aren’t really great, but you have to try them, and you have got to go out there and test all these things that you don’t really want to test and go out in conditions that you don’t really want to be out in.

So a lot of the time, riding isn’t fun. And this year, conditions haven’t been good for us, so it hasn’t been any part of fun. So the racing is the only thing that really gets you going. I still enjoy my racing, but unfortunately, racing is the smallest part of the job, and that’s disappointing. The most important part in one aspect is the thing we do the least. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good racer, you’ve got to do all this other stuff, and that’s the part that ruins it for me. ”

And why does he hate his media commitments quite so vehemently? The truth is that Casey Stoner was never forgiven for the cardinal sin of beating Valentino Rossi in a straight fight. Where Yamaha, Rossi and Michelin made so many obvious mistakes in 2006, allowing Nicky Hayden to become World Champion – a title Hayden fully deserved, because of the work he and his team, led by Pete Benson, put in – that Hayden’s title was grudgingly accepted by the fans, but when Stoner beat the World’s Favorite Rider, there were no easy excuses.

Looking back, though the Ducati GP7 was clearly the most powerful bike, it was not necessarily the best. Over the years that followed, the true shape of the Ducati was revealed: though the custom-made Bridgestones helped Ducati in the early years, once the spec tire was introduced, they struggled, with Marco Melandri in 2008 and Valentino Rossi in 2011 providing the real measure of the bike’s competitiveness. Casey Stoner’s raw talent – greater than any seen on track since Freddie Spencer, or maybe even Kenny Roberts – was the only thing that had made that bike competitive, and without Stoner, Ducati was lost.

Stoner’s legacy will not outshine Valentino Rossi’s, though I would argue that his talent does. Rossi is the most important rider ever to compete in MotoGP, because of the way he raised the profile of the sport, and the way he realized that motorcycle racing at this level is just as much entertainment as it is sport. While Rossi toyed with his competition – if you do not believe this is the case, go back and watch Phillip Island in 2003, when the Italian dropped his pace by seven tenths of a second a lap to compensate for a time penalty imposed for overtaking under a yellow flag – something Stoner could not have done on the Ducati, and dared not on the Honda, when up against close competitors like Jorge Lorenzo.

If Stoner had no Plan B on the Ducati, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa would not allow him a plan B on the Honda. The game had changed, probably in 2009 once Lorenzo had proved himself competitive. Now, all races were done flat out, any mistake punished mercilessly, any ground lost never to be made up again. So Valentino Rossi will go into the record books as a candidate for the greatest of all time, especially once you look at his numbers. But anyone who saw Casey Stoner ride knew they were seeing something very special indeed. His record will not reflect his ability, but that, too, is typical of Stoner: not in it for records, not in it for the money, only in it to win as many races as possible while he is still having fun. The fun is now gone.

It is easy to imagine that if things had gone slightly differently, Stoner may not have retired after all. If the weather had been better in the early part of the season for the past couple of years, Stoner may have enjoyed the riding just as much as the racing, and decided to stay. If the leak at HRC had caused Stoner to think about missing the riding, instead of missing everything that wasn’t riding, he may have decided to stay. If it was not Valentino Rossi he had beaten, but someone else, the fans and media may have appreciated him for the riding genius he was, rather than the man who rained on Rossi’s parade, and Stoner may have decided to stay. But that’s not how it happened. Once again, Harold McMillan’s greatest fear (“Events, dear boy, events”) determines the course of history, and we lose an astounding talent.

It was fitting that his retirement should have upstaged Valentino Rossi, the bitterest rival he has faced in his years in MotoGP. Rossi had come to the press conference to clear up the reports that he, too, was considering retiring, and had hoped to make a splash with the announcement that he intends to spend two more years in MotoGP. But Stoner put a stop to that with his retirement bombshell.

Casey Stoner went big, and at the end of the year, he’s going home.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Spamtasticus

    I can sympathize with Stoner’s position but wish he would take a page from the Ricky Carmichael book. The same thing happened when RC started winning in Supercross and finally beat the series darling Jeremy McGrath. Jeremy got his ass handed to him by the ugly redheaded stepson kiddie from Havana Florida and the fans and the press hated him for it. They actually booed him a few times when he won. The fact that Showtime McGrath retired shortly after having his knees knocked out from under him by RC did not help. Ricky stuck to it and showed he was in fact the Greatest of all Time by winning two outdoor seasons without loosing or missing a single race. Something nobody has ever done and will likely never do. Now he is retired but he became as popular if not more so than McGrath before doing so. I’m not saying that Stoner should look for popularity as it is not his thing and that is fine. I am saying that he should not allow the hate to kill his passion and just ignore the fluff that is the media. My grandfather (the diplomat) said it best, “The press is nothing but a coach class passenger with a first class upgrade”. That is not to detract from the importance of the media as they are very important. It is just that when the press begin to affect the reality they are supposed to be reporting on then they have over extended their use and have, in fact, become a problem.

  • SBPilot

    Spamtasticus: That is good insight indeed but in Supercross the racing is still close. Stoner says he enjoys the racing but I fear he said that just to save the slightest amount of face for Dorna. Fact of the matter is he barely has to race anyone but himself and we all know MotoGP is a snooze-fest when Stoner is on it. And when he’s not it’s a 3, max 4 rider race. He already stated he enjoys nothing else, and the only part he “enjoys” is the least important part. I’m afraid he also doesn’t enjoy the racing any more either hence ultimately retiring.

    Wish he would make a switch to WSBK or BSB, cause there is some serious racing going on there these days with much less PR and media bs.

  • Westward

    @ SBPilot

    I beg to differ…

    If Stoner is not racing, then Lorenzo is the champion. Even Pedrosa on the same bike as Stoner, can’t beat Lorenzo consistently enough to win the title. It would take someone completely off the radar with talent to affect the outcome, or Rossi on a competitive machine (ie. M1, RC213V, or a sorted D16).

    Marquez is a question Marc, like Simoncelli was, and may need a couple of years to get settled, as Marco seem to be coming along. By their third seasons, they could have been or be champions again.

    I honestly believe, if Rossi were still at Yamaha, or if Preziosi had actually listened to Rossi’s idea’s instead of trying to prove his design, then a 3 way battle for supremacy between Stoner, Lorenzo, and Rossi would have ensued by now, and Stoner would not be thinking about retirement. Cause the excitement of competition would be enough to keep him hooked.

    But right now, he knows he is going to win and proving it seems a formality, and everyone knows it too. The combination of Stoner +HRC is unbeatable. Like Biaggi use to complain about with Rossi & HRC.

    Unfortunately for Stoner, he will always be in the shadow of Rossi, and it is pointless for him to race and win, waiting for Rossi and company sort their issues out, or get on a competitive machine. The only season they may have been on equal enough terms was 2008. After that, Ducati started on a downward spiral.

    In 2009, if Stoner had been healthy, I think it would have been him to fight to the end with Rossi, and Lorenzo finishing 3rd. In 2010 if the D16 could have been sorted before Aragon, Stoner would be 3 time champion already not including this season…

  • Odie

    I haven’t really been that big a Stoner fan. In fact, initially, I didn’t really like him that much. I thought he complained too much. But as time went on, I did realize that his ability is staggering. If anything he was almost too talented…it was easier for him to just ride around the Duc’s egregious shortcomings than try and convince anyone at Ducati their bike sucked. Probably did Ducati a disservice in that he kinda enabled their hubris.

    The reason why Rossi wears the title The G.O.A.T is because he mastered all aspects of the sport, most poignantly, the press. Stoner just isn’t that kind of champion.

    I don’t disagree with SBPilot in that the press has made MotoGP kind of a circus…please forgive this reference: a bit like NASCAR. They are threatening to making it just a farce.

    Stoner is, obviously, a level above everyone out there. I think even Rossi would probably concede that he vastly underestimated Stoner. After a disastrous season on the Duc, Rossi must realize how good Stoner must have been to even put the Duc on the podium.

    I’m kinda bummed that Stoner is retiring, but it’s not like the writing wasn’t on the wall. He’s just done with it.

    The only problem with Stoner racing WSBK is that it would be ridiculously easy for him. Remember Spies stunning last season in WSBK? He was on another level. Stoner would be able to win WSBK on a bone stock Kawi.

  • smiler

    Interesting article as usual. To be a great racer or competitor takes more than some talent and in a way Stoner proves this. The press have given him a hard time precisely for the reasons mentioned. He whinges, does not really like competing and after his criticism of the 07 Ducati, Ducati make a bike for him with a consistent frame and less flex. It was a disaster. With this bike he managed 4th place in 09 and 10 then bails and goes to the best bike on the grid. So many of his comments clearly indicate that the 07/08 bike was alright for a company that had come from WSB, much better than the others who have tried this (CRT’s) and could win races. The 09 bike was not and he knew it from day 1.
    Clarkson the bombast made an interesting comment about Senna and Villenerve. The point he made was that each and every time Senna went racing he gave it his all, Villenerve did not and that won him over.
    This is Stoner for me. Rossi, Lorenzo, Simoncelli, Edwards always do no matter the situation. He is just much too precious and Doohan will now have to eat his words, he has left Hhhhonda in the lurch and annoyed all his fans and dumped on MotoGP precisely when they need talent like Stoner to keep it going through difficult times.

  • M


    Stoner should take a page from nothing else but himself. Do whatever the fuck he wants to do.

  • Bucks Miaggi

    He should give the ultimate proof that it’s the rider, not the bike, by winning a championship with Yamaha!

  • @smiler: Clarkson’s comment was along the line of, “I was never a Senna fan. I always thought Gilles Villeneuve was the greatest driver of them all, but to make this film, I’ve watched hours and hours of footage and the thing is, Villeneuve was spectacular on a number of occasions. Senna, he was spectacular every single time he got in a car.”

    Clarkson did not state that Villeneuve didn’t give his all, only that Senna was always spectacular.

    On topic: I think Stoner is a great rider. I’ll miss watching his huge slides.

  • Spamtasticus


    Your eloquence has left me speachless…

  • Dan

    We all do things for different reasons, I’m amazed that so many of these racers can stay in it for so long, in all classes. I get itchy feet in any job after a couple of years and want to do something different and I don’t have a host of media guys flashing me and asking what colour my shit was everyday.

    @Odie – Totally, WSBK would be a yawn, remember when Sic wildcarded for Aprillia and dominated, these top guys are literally in another league, watching Vermulen at Le Man; his style has definitely changed since going back, he’s all elbows just like spies and before Crutchlow GP-ified his style.

    @M – You got it, the world will keep turning and hopefully one day soon Dorna will get it right.

  • Soul

    This article is not for Stoner, its show how the editor hates Rossi….he made a lot of comparison instead on Stoner’s retirement. I believe the most accurate title of this article is “Why I hate Valentino Rossi”

  • Rob749

    No problem with Rossi, it’s his fan club that are a bunch of asshats.

  • MikeD



    I’ll miss seeing the guy doing his thing. Im pretty sure Rossi has new found respect for him after putting his pretty little Italian ass on the Duc for the first time and not going anywhere near the front.

  • jake

    That is the best article i have read about motorcycling, i am still yet to understand the reason for most peoples missed placed hate for casey. If you love motorcycles, or even just motorsport for that matter, watch him slide the bike through turn 3 at phillip island, best part of 300km/h and side ways. how can you not respect that kind of tallent.

  • Tim C

    I think here is even more going on here than is reported or spoken of and that is what will happen in 2013, with many riders like spies not living up to all the hype and rossi wanting to win another championship, it is possible that honda and yamaha are trying to recrut rossi may have pushed casey to his decision, only time will tell, no way would casey stay with honda if they recruted rossi for 2013, no way will rossi return to yamaha while lorenzo is still there..this is the kind of b.s. that casey hates, it’s all the manuvering for rossi while his talents go unapreceated. but the crt rules are making moto gp less than what it should be and with rev limiters comming to help the crt teams be competitive it really makes it all about the show and not the skills of the rider.

  • Dave

    It took a perfect storm–economy crashed causing the CRT idea to happen, the press obligations, dealing with that godzilla-like creature (the little dictators at Honda), having a kid, and let’s be honest a good amount of Stoner taking himself way too seriously.

    Every person who’s retired too soon in the sports world has returned (except for Barry Sanders and Jim Brown). Actually, I’ll revise it–everyone from motorsports who’s retired too soon…wait, who would that be?

    Anyway,…let him try auto racing. Let him fail at that. Let him discover that waaaay more people (ie the press) have no clue or care about who he than he realized, let him return to the bubble of fame that is motorcycle racing.

    Motorsports racers are like boxers. He’ll be back.

  • Adam

    David, can you and Jensen dive more into this at the next few rounds? there seems to be more going on then just his un-contentment with rule changes. My un biased look at first glance, Rossi not happy at all with Ducati he will never win a champion ship with them. Casey not happy at Honda they aren’t fixing the chatter that is plaguing him, he has demanded it be changed and they are not listen. Nore is he happy with the tires. the big lot of them are up on contracts this year, Rossi is buying for a Honda return to push for a 2013/14 comback… and he is in talks with Honda (why go back to Yamaha when Jorge is there). he probably believes he can beat Jorge on a Honda. Casey wants to be the number one with Honda and Pedrosa second but again Honda not listening and talks with Rossi mean even more to Casey again Honda probably not listening. am I crazy in thinking this? every guy out there wants to be number one on the team, it would make sense that everyone of them would try to block someone from joining the team.. No hate here just really want to know the real truth behind it, the more questions that are asked of more people usually details come out and a story could be put together, 2012 is turning out to be a intresting year.

  • M


    Forget eloquence. That’s what it comes down to. Doing whatever he wants. Not doing whatever pleases others.

    Likewise as someone else then says above, the rest of the world carries on… There’s just too much expectations from others. Just let everyone do whatever they please, and make the best of whatever happens. Life is good.

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  • Jimmyboy

    Another completely deluded journo with zero clue as too why many fans dislike casey… Nothing to do with beating Vale, Jorge nor Dani get the stick… It is down to caseys comment sin 2007 and 2008 where the guy showed a total lack of respect for possibly the greatest rider of all time there has always been grudging respect for the best no matter what and caseys long animostiy and almost obssesion with Rossi was started by casey back then… Nothing to do with beating… caseys a great rider and great to watch if your an anorak but he ain’t a rossi. If he was he wouldn’t have spent 3 years going backwards.. Now if casey was racing jorge and Rossi and they were on all th ehonda then it would be remiscent of Rossi early years and worthy but right now the honda is th ebest bike by soe way meanig he only really has Dani for competition and that ain;t such a big deal for me…Suspect he might really be leaving becasue Dorna want Rossi on a honda nd that’s a little too much competiton for him… After all Rossi and Jorge had zero trouble form v=casey when he was on the duke.. All his results coming at the end of th eyear when the riders fighting for the title had used up their bikes, casey not being one of them..The irnoy that rossi worst results have come on a biek he inherited from caseys long term development is not lost on all of us..

  • shirt tail

    Running scared, Ezpeleta had asked Honda for a bike for Rossi and that is why Casey has threatened to quit.

  • john baotest

    and don’t forget the tyres changing, it’s no secret that the bs tyres were originally designed around casey and the duke and everyone has been using aversion of that rubber ever since, in reality the tyres have favoured casey since 2007, with the changes coming in the tyres are apparently better for everyone except casey and possibly dani(caseys honda?).
    With casey losing the tyre advantage he’s always had and then Rossi possibly on a honda next year it could put a serious dent in his reputation, though the competition has been woeful the last two seasons with one of the top 3 riders stuck on the ducati(yes it apparently was when casey was on the duke too but at least two of the top 3 where on the same bike!),. Don’t underestimate the hammering caseys rep took after 2007… Could so easily happen again if things go the way they look at the mo.. His entire reputation is on the line.. it is no coincidence that the only people who don’t rate the honda are casey and his fans everyone else thinks it’s the best bike by so way most importantly even Jorge and he should know better than anyone… and one final note when casey jumped on the duke it had tyres and power over the rest, from that season on it went backwards every year. Rossi got on it at the arse end of a steep downard spiral, if it had better tyres than everyone else and more hp, I reckon he wouldn’t do too badly and lets be honest the honda and yamaha were crap in 2007 the honda was crap until midway through 2010. It ain’t comparing apples with apples..

  • spamtasticus

    My comment at the top of this thread was about how Ricky did not allow other’s opinions to taint his passion for the sport like Stoner is doing. Stoner, like most intelligent people, should not only learn from his own experiences but also from those of others. I am a little confused by your replies as you seem to agree with my point but with a tone of disagreement. If you don’t completely agree with my point I think I will retire and no longer comment because I just can’t live with the though of others not agreeing with me.

    M says:
    May 18, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    Stoner should take a page from nothing else but himself. Do whatever the fuck he wants to do.

    M says:
    May 22, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    Forget eloquence. That’s what it comes down to. Doing whatever he wants. Not doing whatever pleases others.

    Likewise as someone else then says above, the rest of the world carries on… There’s just too much expectations from others. Just let everyone do whatever they please, and make the best of whatever happens. Life is good.