Casey Stoner: The man to beat in 2008
The man to beat in 2008, Casey Stoner was without a doubt the rider of the most recent season in MotoGP as he took his first world title in dominant fashion. The 22 year-old this year made the transition from a spectacular -albeit inconsistent- rookie to a mature World Champion unfazed by any challenge.
Having made an impact in both the British and Spanish national championships, Stoner was tipped for success upon making his World Championship debut as a wildcard at Donington Park in 2001. Raised by the same academy system that has seen the likes of Dani Pedrosa and Toni Elias ascend to the heights of MotoGP, Stoner took full advantage of his family’s bold move to Europe to build on a promising national dirt-track career.
Beginning a permanent Grand Prix career in the 250cc class under the guidance of Lucio Cecchinello in 2002, it was when he dropped down to 125cc the following season that the motorcycling world began to take notice, with four podiums and a win at the final round showing the Australian’s quality. In 2004 he battled for the 125cc title with KTM, taking their first ever Grand Prix victory and finishing fifth overall.
A return to the LCR team and the 250cc class in 2005 saw him battle his old stablemate Pedrosa for the quarter liter title, winning five races on an Aprilia, before making the move up to MotoGP with the Italian outfit onboard a Honda RC211V.
His rookie premier class year in 2006 saw flashes of brilliance mixed with a few disappointing crashes, but standout moments included pole position in just his second race at Qatar followed by a battle to the line with Marco Melandri in Turkey, where he was just pipped into second place. His performances saw the Ducati factory come knocking at the door, in the team switch that would lead him to glory just one year later.
A maiden MotoGP victory the first race of 2007 at Qatar was a self-confessed surprise for both rider and team, but further victories at Turkey and China banished any speculation of a fluke. His standout performance at Catalunya, where he battled toe-to-toe with five-time champion Valentino Rossi, will go down as one of the great races in MotoGP history, whilst he dominated the mid-season stage with pole-to-flag victories at three consecutive races at Laguna Seca, Brno and Misano. Title glory was confirmed for the Stoner with a sixth place finish at Motegi, ironically his worst result of the 2007 season. The culmination of a dream that had taken in all four corners of the globe, Stoner took to the podium after the rostrum finishers had exited the scene to be officially crowned 2007 MotoGP World Champion.
There was still some unfinished business for the Australian with four rounds left on the calendar, the most significant of which being his homecoming at Phillip Island. Stoner underlined his title triumph with the first of three victories from the final quartet of races, delighting the record crowd at his famous local track.
The season ended on something of a sour note for the champion in the final post-season test, a crash whilst riding the new Desmosedici GP8 at Jerez bringing the culmination of his racing year forward by a day. Torn shoulder ligaments which, thankfully for the Australian, will not require surgery, mean that Stoner is currently resting up at home before resuming preparations for his title defense.