Trackside Tuesday: There’s No Place Like Home

10/30/2012 @ 3:06 pm, by Scott Jones12 COMMENTS

This past weekend at Phillip Island was a memorable experience in two distinct but related ways. It was my first visit to this famous track, and I arrived with high expectations, but figured I’d be at least a little disappointed. For all the hyperbole heaped on Phillip Island’s GP course, how could it be that great?

But as I explored the track, which immediately reminded me of one of my favorite courses in the world, Donington Park, I found that once again, TV fails to deliver the full picture. Phillip Island not only has interesting and exciting turns and elevation changes, but is also set in a gorgeous landscape of green and blue.

It has few of the eyesores than usually adorn race tracks. There are no giant wire fences, very little Armco away from the pit lane, few trackside porta-potties or trailers, and from what I saw, no orange cones. Instead there are lush grasses and dense forests of trees, or blue ocean water with sea birds in the air.

Spectators are allowed close and unobstructed views of the track and we photographers are allowed even closer. If a TV stand or food vendor is spoiling your background, you can often move to a different position and make the distration disappear from the shot. When I first arrived I asked in the Media Center for a map of the Red Zones, places around the track they don’t want us to go.

I got a puzzled look and this reply: “Ummm, I don’t think there are any. Just go where you want unless a marshall objects.” There seems to be only one general rule: if you see a row of tires, don’t stand between the those tires and the track. If you can respect that amount of common sense, pretty much anywhere else is available.

So working there was a pleasure and I seemed to be in a land of nearly endless possibilities for images. I can imagine it would take years of shooting there regularly to be confident you’d found most of the really good perspectives.

But sometimes there was no viable perspective on the action and all I could do was watch and be thrilled. Watching Stoner ride through Turn 3, now for very good reason Stoner Corner, is simply one of the most exhilarating experiences a spectator can have at a motorbike race.

But it wasn’t only that corner where Casey was showing the home crowd how bitterly they will miss him. He was sliding his Repsol Honda around at will, quite simply riding on a higher level of skill than anyone else.

This was the second way the weekend was memorable. Casey is always my favorite rider to photograph, but this weekend he seemed to take his usually thrilling style up a notch, as a master giving a final performance for his dearest fans.

And as someone who has followed him around into hostile territory, where rude signs are shown and insults shouted, I was often smiling at how nice it must’ve been for him to feel the good will and love coming his way from the local crowd.

Watching him was inspiring. You could plainly see how badly he wanted to win his final (and sixth in a row) Australian GP. The element of his retirement meant that he was up to his neck in media attention, perhaps more microphones and video cameras in his face than ever before.

Yet he wasn’t playing it safe, relying on his vast knowledge of how to get around this circuit quickly. He was hanging off the bike, sliding it around, laying it all on the line. I was reminded of other riders who wanted badly to perform well in their home GPs but who, alas, were not, in the end, Casey Stoner. He delivered a perfect performance under extreme pressure as only a true champion can.

He has said that he’s retiring because he no longer enjoys MotoGP and has lost his passion for it. But it seemed clear that riding so well in front of 50,000+ Casey Stoner fans brought with it a distinct pleasure and satisfaction.

Being there to see it in person was certainly a pleasure, and as much as I’m looking forward to returning to Phillip Island as regularly as possible, I don’t expect I’ll ever see another weekend like this one.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

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

  • lance

    Thanks for your thoughts on the race and what is was like to be there. Even watching it on you could feel how special it was. But you really brought it to life, and based on your commentary , i have added it onto my must see races live one day.

  • JW

    Casey did say he lost his passion for moto gp, yes, but I do know once he is on his bike he rides like a champion and enjoys this part of his job. it’s the other BS he is sick and tired of when he is off the bike, I hope 2013 will be a better season for the sport. You are right he is one of the most spectacular riders in the world to watch! I will miss him.

  • I, for one, would welcome the return of our fire-breathing, two-stroke overlords. They could conceivably herald the return of Stoner to the MotoGP fold.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Scott. PI is a track I hope to visit someday.

  • TC

    Sums it up nicely, Scott. The Australian MotoGp is a warm and welcoming environment for everybody involved. It bring it home to me how unfair it is to criticise Moto GP, WSBK or even F1 for being boring, whilst watching these events on TV. This race was probably as boring as it gets from that perspective. BUT, being there, the noise, the weather, the anticipation of the crowd, the cheering for Casey, the support for the unfortunate Danny as the crowd showed their appreciatiation for his effort. The awesomeness of Stoner, as he handled the pressure of the day and put on a display of riding/sliding/drifting that must be seen live to appreciate. Remember, you may see it in slo mo on TV but you won’t hear the wail of the motor as the rear tyre (tire) lets go and then fights for grip. Additionally, there were battles right through the pack Rossi/Hayden , Dovi/Bradl/Bautista, etc. I have been to many events and yes Donnington is also a favorite and Irish Road Races. But Stoner’s sixth AGP in a row was something special. I for one was glad I was there and I would suggest that people think long and hard before passing jugment on any or all of these very talented individuals. Don’t worry about the rules, the politics, the personalities etc etc, get to a track and enjoy!

  • Paul McM

    Thanks Scott, for a great report, both from the viewpoint of an ace photographer and that of a fan. I really wanted to make it to Australia, because, like you, I feel that watching Stoner at Philip Island is like seeing Chamberlain score 100, or watching Usain Bolt smash the world record at 200m. I think, with the passage of time, we will recognize that Stoner [was] truly an extraordinary talent — possibly the best rider we have ever seen on the track. And as Ben Spies said, Stoner can do things on a MotoGP bike that astonish even other top riders. Casey may not retire with the most GP wins, or the most championships but that doesn’t diminish his amazing abilities. Stoner may well be the fastest motorcycle road rider who ever lived — and we may not (soon) see his likes again.

    I’m old enough to have seen King Kenny, Gardner, Wayne Rainey, Fast Freddy, Schwantz, Lawson, Doohan, Lorenzo, and Rossi all riding in their prime. If all those greats were to race head to head (in their prime with equal equipment), I think Stoner would lap fastest, if not win outright. People need to understand what an exceptional talent we are losing. I’m glad Stoner got this win on his home turf. He deserves to hear the cheers of his countrymen. I just hope we may see him come back in years ahead, if the MotoGP can rid itself of the BS and politicking, and settle on sensible design rules.




  • pooch

    My 5th visit to the island, my first was 2007, and I missed 2010 cause I was too broke to go :/ It’s not going to be the same without you, Casey. But Moto3 – Sissis! Moto2 – Westy ! What a day for the Aussies!

    But PI never dissapoints. Some people complain about the facilities, the dirt tracks, the toilets, but to complain about these things only shows that maybe, you’re not *that* much of a racing fan – or you’re too old! Watching Casey at PI is the most memorable live sporting experience I have ever had. Riding my bike the 3000k round trip through Australia’s Alpine regions in both New South Wales and Victoria, taking in the mountains and the valleys, then after, The Great Ocean Road, meeting fellow bikers along the way all making the pilgrimage, staying at different places along the way, it’s heaven on a stick.

    This year I was away 6 days in all, and the weather was warm and sunny. It was biking Nirvana, followed by a Racing Sunday Nirvana and a true motorcycle genius showing just why, he is thought of that way.

    To be amongst that 50k crowd, everyone standing cheering during those last laps… it felt like Casey had finally, once and for all, got the monkey off his back. Part of the reason for his retiring is that he felt that he didn’t mean anything to race fans, because of the way he has been treated in the past. Well we showed him what he meant to us. And I think that meant a lot to him.

    What a way to go out. Casey – you are a Legend.

  • JD

    I been saying it since 2007 that Casey is the baddest and the fastest ever. Everytime he passes by you hear that bike is FLAT OUT every single time and you can visually see he is fastest. I think he retiring because of Marco. He got spooked while he was pregnant. I dont blame him he knows he’s a legend, thats enough.

  • rt

    JD- ”while he was pregnant” lol..

  • jimmy smith JR

    I was at Phillip Island in 2001 for the last 500 cc GP. I got a Rossi picture and autograph 2 hrs before he sealed his first and THE last 500 cc world championship. There was a lot of talk about this Australian kid that was riding as a 125cc wild card…hmmm what was his name….Stoner I think. Yep Casey was there and I believe he was 15 or 16 at the time. The announcers were discussing the hardship his parents went through, moving to Europe so he could start racing at an earlier age (14 i think) than what Australia allowed. Looks like his folks made the right choice.

    Good luck in life Casey.

  • MikeD

    Good article (it kept me reading without skipping parts).

    Stoner: He’ll be back, the guy gets his rocks off on a motorcycle in a way most of us could only dream about, that MUST feel too good to just let it “pass by” like is all good…that’s what i like to tell myself anyways…lol.

    Congrats on his home turf win…well deserved…he will be missed.

  • Bruce Monighan

    So many good racers from Australia for sure and most misunderstood for their intensity, i.e. “lack of freiendlyness”. I have always admired Casey and what he put out there, his work ethic, his ability to ride around a bike problem. He is a true racer, one that finds solutions to what the bike and or track is giving him.

    I will miss watching him racing. Not so much because I too was born in Australia but because he always gave more than 100%, suffered no fools, and made a lot of people look really silly. Yes a true champion that a lot of peole willl talk about with reverance for years to come.