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Aussie rookies: Vermeulen and Stoner

Aussie rookies: Vermeulen and Stoner

Aussie rookies: Vermeulen and Stoner

Chris Vermeulen and Casey Stoner will try to build on the legacy of Australian MotoGP legends such as Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner as they enter the 2006 MotoGP World Championship with Suzuki and Honda Pons respectively for their rookie seasons in the premier class.

23 year-old Vermeulen learnt his trade, like many of his countrymen, racing dirt bikes before moving onto 250cc and 600cc machines in the Australian Championship. In 2000, the blossoming talent of the Brisbane native was spotted by former World Champion Barry Sheene who encouraged him to continue his career in Europe.

Racing in Great Britain, Vermeulen proved an instant hit, taking victories in both the Supersport and Superstock classes. In 2001, he moved to a bigger stage, riding in the World Supersport series, a Championship he won in 2003 before stepping up to Superbikes. Again, he quickly emerged as a serious contender taking four victories in his first WSBK campaign and he continued his progression in 2005, securing the runner-up spot.

In 2005, Vermeulen also made a couple of appearances in MotoGP subbing for the injured Troy Bayliss at Camel Honda. He missed out on finishing in the top 10 at his home GP at Phillip Island and also in Turkey, but demonstrated that he deserved a ride in the premier class. In 2006, he will team-up with John Hopkins at Suzuki, forming one of the hottest pairings of the MotoGP grid.

His young compatriot Casey Stoner will ride alongside Carlos Checa, one of the most experienced riders in the class for the Honda Pons team. Compared to Vermeulen, he might suffer from his lack of knowledge of 4-stroke machinery, but should make up for it with his knowledge of the tracks and the bravery that has become his hallmark.

Just like Vermeulen he had to move to Europe to chase his Grand Prix dream, first riding in the British and Spanish 125 Championships under the guidance of talent-spotter Alberto Puig, before making his debut in the 250cc World Championship in 2002 with Lucio Cecchinello's team.

He took 12th overall that season, with a fifth at Brno, Czech Republic, as his best result. In 2003, he switched to the 125cc class and took four podium finishes and his first GP win at Valencia. In 2004, he continued his career in the 125cc class but with the Red Bull KTM team, but despite appearing to be one of the hottest prospects in the class he wasn't able to challenge for the title in a year marred by crashes and mechanical failures.

However, 2005 proved to be a key season as he moved back to the quarter-litre class, riding an Aprilia for Cecchinello once again. Stoner added consistency to his undoubted pace to become Dani Pedrosa's main title rival and took five wins during the season, but a high-side in Phillip Island denied him the opportunity to take the title batttle to the last round of the season.

MotoGP, 2005

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