Saturday, October 27

STONER IN GREAT FORM


By MICHAEL ESDAILE

IF YOU did not see Casey Stoner limping noticeably as he walked to his Repsol Honda MotoGP bike, you would never have known he was carrying a serious physical handicap, such was his form in the first day’s practice for the 2012 Air Asia Australian MotoGP race.

Almost equalling the four year old lap record in the first practice session on Friday morning, Stoner continued on where he left off, setting fastest time after fastest time as he kept the V4 Honda at the top of the time sheets in the afternoon.

Most of the time he was more than a second faster than any of his rivals.

Then, with just six minutes to go, Stoner really cut loose, reeling off a 1m 29.999s lap which at that stage was more than a second clear of second fastest man Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha), and under Nicky Hayden’s 2008 lap record of 1m 30.374s, set in the last year of tyre competition on a Michelin-shod Honda 800cc V4.

With three minutes remaining, Stoner’s team-mate Dani Pedrosa had a go at a fast time, but came up short, with a 1m 30.884s effort.

On his fastest lap, Stoner had the rear of the Honda sliding well out of line with the Honda’s front tyre as he kept the throttle open well past the point that mortals would be rolling off.

All this with a right ankle that despite surgery is far from being in good shape.

In the huge highside he took at Indianapolis on August 18, Stoner suffered torn ligaments and fractures to his ankle, tibia and fibula, although he still lined up for the race and finished fourth.

He then returned to Australia and after the swelling subsided, underwent surgery on August 30.

Just 43 days after surgery to attempt to repair the damage in his right foot from his Indianaplolis crash, Stoner was back in action at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.

Against the advice of his doctors, Stoner insisted he wanted to be up to speed for his final home race at his much loved Phillip Island.  He said the thought of ending his career without lining up for a crack at a record sixth consecutive win at the Island would be a disaster.
“It should be easier to ride than to walk, that's what I'm hoping anyway," said Stoner as he prepared for the race at Motegi.
"The doctors warned me it could be six to eight months before my ankle is as good as it can be.
"So two months isn't anywhere near that time frame and they said I was mad to be racing again.  So maybe I'm a little bit greedy. I expected it to heal a little bit quicker.
After finishing fifth in his comeback ride at Motegi on October 14, Stoner raced in the rain-drenched Malaysian GP a week later, and was closing on second-placed Jorge Lorenzo when the race was red-flagged.
In the post-race interview, Stoner admitted he was in two minds about starting the race when he saw how wet the track was.  He knew further injury to his right foot would be a life-changing event, but he eventually decided to start.  Tentative at first, Stoner eventually found his rhythm and pulled away from the chasing pack and settled into a lonely third behind Pedrosa and Lorenzo.  But when heavy rain hit the Sepang circuit, he started catching the leaders at a considerable rate.
Stoner said he goes better in heavy rain than on just a wet track and he started thinking he had a real shot at winning the race when the red flags came out.
Another weekend later, and eight weeks after that ferocious highside crash at Indianapolis, Stoner now faces the challenge of realizing his dream of winning a sixth consecutive Australian Grand Prix.
"The problem is movement in my ankle and trying to get my weight forward on acceleration to counter the wheeling from the front,” he said.
"I can't flex my foot far enough to get my weight forward on the bike."
"These bikes are hard enough to ride at the best of times and when I'm not able to put my body in the right place for weight distribution, it gets difficult.

"But because this circuit goes left, I should have fewer issues and be able to do it a little more comfortably."

“Turn three is probably my favourite one in the world.  I'm almost flat out in fifth gear through there and that is pretty damn fast and it really gets your blood flowing that's for sure,” he said.

"To be honest, I expected more (progress) but the doctors didn't.  The doctors warned me that it's going to be six to eight months before we know it's acceptable," said the 2007 and 2011 world champion who turned 27 the Tuesday before the Australian GP.

But despite those concerns, when he gets on the Repsol Honda, Stoner is focussed on only one thing, being the fastest man at Phillip Island.

Hopefully his injured ankle will bear up for the 27 lap race on Sunday.