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Season so far: Casey Stoner

Season so far: Casey Stoner

Ducati Marlboro’s Australian former World Champion is preparing to return to action after a break in racing due to his physical problems.

Casey Stoner’s superb start to the 2009 MotoGP World Championship at the spectacular floodlit Losail International Circuit gave no indication of the disrupted season which awaited him in the months to follow.

The young Australian hit the ground running, with pole position secured in the first qualifying session of the season and a hat-trick of consecutive Qatar wins completed in the first ever Monday night MotoGP race, after torrential rain prevented the scheduled Sunday night contest.

At round two in Japan, meanwhile, Stoner was unable to repeat his Qatari success story and after making a poor start to the race from second on the grid he could only fight back sufficiently enough to achieve fourth place, thus conceding his early championship lead to Jorge Lorenzo.

At the Gran Premio de España the factory Ducati man crossed the finishing line in third place for his first ever Jerez podium, but at the following round in France he battled hard in the rain at Le Mans only to end up fifth in a complicated contest. Those results left Stoner tied on points with Valentino Rossi in second place in the standings, behind Lorenzo.

Up next was a trip to Mugello, the home of Ducati and previously a circuit where no-one had been able to beat Italian hero Rossi since 2001. In another wet-dry battle the riders again had to change machines mid-race and this time it was Stoner who got it right, to hand Ducati their first ever premier class victory at the beautiful Tuscan venue.

Round six at Catalunya was a key weekend in the story of Stoner’s season and unfortunately for the wrong reason. An incredibly hard-fought race saw Rossi beat Lorenzo on the very last corner, with an exhausted Stoner coming home in third place and just holding Andrea Dovizioso off for the final podium slot.

The rostrum positions tied Rossi, Lorenzo and Stoner up in a three-way draw for top spot in the championship, but the latter was affected by a virus all weekend and pushed his body so hard during the race that he required medical attention before stepping onto the podium.

The alarm bells were ringing at Assen a fortnight later when Stoner finished third again behind Rossi and Lorenzo, once more suffering from severe exhaustion, as he slipped to third in the standings. The 23 year-old went straight from the podium to his motorhome where Dr Claudio Macchiagodena from the Clinica Mobile attempted to rehydrate him and help him recover in time for the Atlantic crossing to California’s demanding Laguna Seca track.

In the first American visit of the year, Stoner was again affected by his illness in the last third of the race and was unable to compete to his usual elite standard. Behind race-winner Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha pair Rossi and Lorenzo, Stoner faded in the final stages and finished in fourth place.

With the rest of the paddock heading back to Europe in the direction of Sachsenring Stoner stayed in California for a series of medical tests, but doctors were unable to find a remedy for what was diagnosed as slight gastritis and mild anemia.

Producing another valiant effort in Germany, as he attempted to force his way back into the title fight, Stoner held the race lead for ten laps but this time it appeared to be tyre deterioration rather than his physical condition which prevented an eventual victory. He was fourth again behind the same trio of riders as at Laguna.

Things could not really have gone much worse than they did the following weekend, however. As MotoGP visited Donington Park for the final time, some typical British summer weather and another wet-dry track meant that tyre choice was crucial but Ducati got it wrong as Stoner and his team-mate Nicky Hayden both went with ‘wets’ whilst the rest of the grid started on dry tyres. The track never got wet enough to warrant the selection and Stoner completed the race in 14th position.

Following the British Grand Prix, Ducati announced that it had been decided to give Stoner a complete rest, after consultation with doctors in Australia, and that he would miss the three races at Brno, Indianapolis and Misano in order to give his body a complete rest.

He has subsequently dropped to fourth in the general standings, seven points behind Pedrosa, but with four rounds remaining he will return to action at the Grande Premio de Portugal determined to rediscover full competitiveness – and he is sure to get a warm reception from his fellow riders and the rest of the MotoGP paddock.

MotoGP, 2009, Casey Stoner, Ducati Marlboro Team

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