Stoner's farewell no easy ride
CHALLENGING FAREWELL: Casey Stoner was honoured in Australia, getting a corner named "Stoner Corner", but more challenges are yet to come for the retiring Honda rider.
Author: Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Australia - Record crowds are expected to hail Casey Stoner at Phillip Island circuit as he bids for a record sixth consecutive title in his pre-retirement MotoGP but injury and Jorge Lorenzo could spoil the farewell party.
Twice MotoGP champion, Stoner's title defence has already been dashed after damaging ankle ligaments during the US Grand Prix in July, 2012. The Honda rider will carry the injury onto the tricky coastal circuit in Australia where typically wet and gusty conditions are certain to prevail.
The circuit's owners have honoured the Australian by naming Turn 3 "Stoner's corner" and the rider has vowed to attack the track with his trademark aggression.
The injury, however, has worsened since his return at the 2012 Japan Grand Prix, where he finished a laudable fifth behind his team mate Dani Pedrosa.
Stoner said: "We're having a lot more trouble with it day-to-day, just getting around on it at all.
"But I don't think it will affect me any differently on the bike. The biggest problem I'm having at the moment is flexibility on the bike trying to get it working.
"Fortunately on this track there are not too many right hand corners that are so critical, so we should be a little more comfortable riding around here. The main fitness problem I'm having at the moment is endurance."
Despite a career marred by injury and illness, Stoner has enjoyed a long, uninterrupted reign at Phillip Island, and he underlined his mastery of the track on Friday, October 26, 2012, by finishing top of the time-sheets after the first round of practice.
Stoner's time of 01min 30.374sec was almost a second faster than Yamaha's championship leader Lorenzo, who is locked in a two-horse race for the title with fellow Spaniard Pedrosa.
Lorenzo has had a checkered history at Phillip Island, and endured a nightmare weekend last year when he crashed in morning practice before the race and was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery on a mangled finger.
Lorenzo talked of a cautious approach to the weekend but cannot afford to be too cautious with Pedrosa only 23 points behind in the title race and 25 up for grabs with a race win.
Lorenzo said: "It's only two races until the end, so more than ever we must be really focused on not making any mistakes.
"Anyway, we have the opportunity to arrive in Valencia with the possibility to be world champion. We'll try to finish on the podium this time.”
Pedrosa, third fastest in the first round of practice, looked forward to the prospect of hunting down Lorenzo to set up a Spanish battle royale back home in Valencia, Spain.
Pedrosa said: "Riding here is always very special, there are many corners where you can steer the bike with the gas. There are some times when it's really cold, but sometimes it's wonderful to be here with this horsepower, especially into the last corner going onto the main straight and up the hill.
"It would be good (to have a title battle in Valencia), as there are two Spaniards fighting for the championship and the final round is in Spain. It's been a long time since I've been in this position, fighting until the end."