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Oz braces for Stoner-free era

2013-10-15 14:14

JUST WON'T BE THE SAME: Australia is getting ready to face the first MotoGP without their local, retired World champion Casey Stoner racing on track this Sunday at the 2013 Phillip Island MotoGP. Image: AFP

Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE, Australia - Casey Stoner's retirement from MotoGP will be keenly felt at Sunday's Australian meeting where the double World champion's domination was a guarantee of solid crowds and a comfort to organisers under pressure to rein in costs.

Stoner, who pushed his Honda to a record sixth consecutive victory at Phillip Island in 2012 before bowing out of the sport at the age of 27, will hit the bucolic seaside circuit again but only for an honorary lap with fellow Australian title-winners Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner.

Stoner's valedictory appearance lured a bumper race-day crowd of 55 000 a year earlier with leather-clad enthusiasts riding thousands of miles from distant states to say farewell the local hero whose family sold their farm to finance his boyhood dream.


Organisers will be happy with 40 000 for 2013, pinning their hopes on 20-year-old Marc Marquez's bid to become the youngest World champion - and a forecast of sunshine for Phillip Island's notoriously changeable weather.

"It'll be tougher without Casey here," Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO Andrew Westacott told Reuters on Tuesday. "Revenue growth from his decision to retire will be difficult to match."

Australia's appetite for world-class sport and major events has seen motorcycling's premier championship make a stop Down Under since 1989, Phillip Island hosting a race for all but six of those years. Like the higher-profile Formula 1 race held at Albert Park, a two-hour drive to Melbourne, the MotoGP has long been subsidised by taxpayers, albeit far less controversially than F1 which has posted losses of more than the equivalent of R471.6-million in recent years.

Westacott, as boss of both races, has one of the toughest jobs in Australian sport. He's caught between government officials determined to reap political capital from hosting prestigious events while demanding organisers cut costs. The AGPC managed to trim the loss for 2012's Australian MotoGP - which it termed "government investment" in its annual report - to the equivalent of R62.5-million from the previous year's equivalent of R69.1-million, a cut of about 10%.

Both Gardner, Australia's first premier-class champion in 1987, and five-times champion Doohan have speculated Stoner return to MotoGP. Doohan told an Australian MotoGP podcast: "He could be on a bike as early as next year if he wanted to be. He still knows how to ride and he's still young enough.

"He's an immensely talented rider so anything's possible - but if he were going to come back, 2015 would have to be the year. Anything beyond that, it's going to get more difficult."

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