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During MotoGP™ Warm Up at the 2021 Algarve Grand Prix, watchers and listeners were treated to something a little bit special. Motogp.com pitlane reporter and Grand Prix winner Simon Crafar was able to catch up with MotoGP™ Legend Casey Stoner, who was back in the paddock for the final two races of the season.
Stoner, a two-time MotoGP™ World Champion, went into fascinating detail about plenty of topics. It really was – and is – a must-listen, watch or read. Below is the full interview with Stoner during Warm Up in Portugal, with the Australian revealing what his greatest strength was in racing, who he learned the most from, what life lessons he picked up while racing, the best bike he ever rode, his favourite career moments – one will be a surprise to most – and much, much more.
Crafar, talking about seeing Stoner do something on the bike in Aragon that blew his mind:
Stoner: “I’m blushing to start with. Thank you for the compliment, it often doesn’t come up on TV the small little details and small things that we do out on track. We’re able to see the big saves that Marc does, but it’s the small ones that are constantly happening that you wouldn’t see, those small details. I would do that from time to time at different circuits on corners, basically because I couldn’t get the bike to rotate as much, so I wanted a bit more stability in the front and as soon as you get that, you can’t get it to turn as well.
“So basically I would use that sometimes, that is why I used to like the throttle in hand, I don’t like these electronics to cut in straight away because I couldn’t rotate the bike. So if I could rotate it a little bit, as soon as that happened you just kind of wait for the bike to sit itself up, as soon as it sits itself up on the fatter part of the tyre I could get out of there because it wasn’t a particularly easy corner, it was a big long entrance into it, tightens up a lot and you have to fire it down. It’s a long enough straight and you can gain a bit of time down there.”
Crafar: What were your strength, on or off the bike?
Stoner: “Probably not a lot of strengths off the bike. My strength would be my lack of pride. I think quite a few too many riders have, it’s what I call the pride, in that they don’t want to change, they don’t want to adapt, they want the bike to suit them, they’re always talking about ‘it doesn’t suit my style, I can’t get a good feeling’, if it’s not happened, make it happen. If the bike isn’t working for you, make you work with the bike. There’s always a way to get around things.
“That’s why I was always quick in conditions straight away, I was able to adapt to things quickly, is because of my lack of pride on the bike. I was the first to admit back in the box when I’d made a mistake rather than to blame the bike for things, that allowed us to go further too. But yeah, rather than watching another bike or rider and going ‘the only reason they can do that is because of the bike’ or anything like that, it was never greener on the other side of the garage, it was like ‘right, what do we have to do to match them through that bit’. Not necessarily beat them, but at least match them in the points where I was weak. I was always willing to learn from others, and things like that. And that for me is pride. If you have too much pride then you’re not able to learn, able to adapt and I think you’ll find a bit of a roadblock.”
Crafar: What would you say the traits you admired in your competition were, their strong points?
Stoner: “I think there were strong points in everyone I competed against. No two riders are the same, no two bikes are the same, no two corners really are the same. There’s always a different way to approach everything. As the old saying [goes], there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s a lot of ways to get the job done. And that’s what the beauty of this sport is, it’s not like car racing, in particular F1, where everyone is dictated by the aero and they all kind of run the same line. Here we’ve got a lot of options, a lot of different ways to attack a very similar situation.
“Jorge [Lorenzo] had plenty of things I would have wanted, Valentino’s [Rossi] fighting ability and the way that he read races, especially when it started getting a bit busy. But the person I learnt the most from in my career, because I raced him my entire career, was Dani Pedrosa. The way he was able to find speed and things sometimes would blow your mind, you’d be like ‘how the hell is he doing this?’
“When I became his teammate in 2011, it was the best thing that ever happened to me because the previous several years in Ducati, as much as I don’t want to come across the wrong way, I could never look at my teammate’s data to know how to go faster. So that’s a negative for me because I’ve got no one helping me going ‘ok, you can improve that little bit there because they’re able to be quicker than you at that point’, and that’s a massive benefit.
“With Dani, again not having pride, I was able to see what he was able to do on some parts of the track, on the same bike; he was able to absolutely destroy me. And you’re just going like ‘right, what’s he doing, what’s he doing differently?’ I didn’t follow him with set-up, because I go my own direction with set-up and things like that, but he attacked things a little different sometimes and I was able to learn a lot from that, and I so that gave me a lot more strengths, knowing I had someone that fast to iron out some of my weaknesses with.”
Crafar: MotoGP™ is a brutal sport, the ups and downs are extreme, so are there any life lessons you learned from being in the paddock – positive or negative?
Stoner: “Unfortunately I’ve probably learnt, more in a negative way, what to expect from people. What people are capable of, let’s say. That was my biggest thing because I was always the sort of person that would penalise myself, when tarmac run offs came into the corners, when I ran across because I’d made a mistake, I let a couple of riders through because like I’m sorry, there was gravel there before and I would have lost a lot of time. I remember my team being angry that I’d lost that time and not gone straight onto the back of where I was, but I was like ‘no, I made a big mistake, I need to be kind of penalised for that.’
“But seeing what other people were capable of and that they only thought of themselves, especially when you’re racing, and I understand you have to think of yourself, but you have to respect your competitors out there. As we’ve seen it's life and death, people do die doing this, and I think people forget that a little too quickly. So respecting your fellow competitors I think is a very, very important thing that maybe we’ve lost a little bit. During my racing days, I learnt to never underestimate what humans are capable of when they want something badly. I learnt to keep my eyes in the back of my head and on a swivel, and make sure I knew where every attack was coming from.
Crafar: If you could go back and change anything career-wise, is there anything you’d change?
Stoner: “I don’t think so because you need to have those life lessons let’s say. As much as it would be great to go through your career and have no issues and everything run smoothly, at the same time you don’t learn from things. The biggest thing you learn from is your mistakes. You don’t learn from victories and when you’re doing everything correct, you learn from when you make mistakes. It’s what I was talking about before from learning from my competitors.
“I needed to go through it all. There’s a couple of things I probably wish I didn’t happen in terms of my fatigue in 2009, my injury in 2012, a couple of other things in the early years, in 125s and 250s that I would have liked to have gone a little smoother, but at the same time they got me to where I am today, they helped me to learn as much as I did so at the same time I can’t really regret anything that happened and I have a pretty fortunate career.”
Crafar: What bike in your career has been your favourite to ride?
Stoner: “My favourite bike would be the 2012 Honda MotoGP bike but with the 2011 tyres. When they brought out the new tyres for the new season, they did not work with the new bike. We had incredible amounts of chatter, we’ve got slow-motion footage of the rear tyre bouncing 3/4 inches off the ground each time, just hopping. Every right-hand corner it was like that on the throttle. And the majority of the tracks in the World Championship go round to the right so when we went left we generally won, but when we went to the right we were struggling like hell.
“It was all to do with the tyre compound and the frequency the tyre compound causes. The compound and construction versus the, I suppose the rubber compound inside the push drive of the wheel. And unfortunately it didn’t work well together and it was basically springing off each other, especially in right hand corners. Now the left was ok, because of the way we had chain forces on one side, so the chain forces on one side were ok but you go over to the other side the chain forces coming from a different direction, different torque and everything going through the swingarm, and it would just create incredible chattering.
“The bike with 2011 tyres when we first started testing was without a doubt the best bike I rode, it was great under breaks, it turned, it drove, I had a ball on it. But yeah by the time we got to 2012 and they changed the tyre compounds and the construction it absolutely ruined our season.”
Crafar: What’s your favourite moment in your career – is there a standout that you’ll never forget?
Stoner: “I can’t go past winning the Championship in 2011 at Phillip Island. It didn’t look like it was going to happen until that morning when unfortunately Jorge crashed and injured his finger. But so many things lined up in that day; on my birthday, I think it was my fifth [win] in a row at Phillip Island, my home Grand Prix, second World Championship, we just had some many things line up that day it was just incredible. Not many people get to win a World Championship at their home race on their birthday, and all these things that lined up so it was really fantastic.
“Probably a couple of other moments that not many people would think of. One was 2010 Motegi. That was a real achievement for me because there was no way we should have won that race. Dovi and both of the Yamahas of Valentino and Jorge were so much faster than us, we were struggling on the Ducati. We pushed like hell. It’s probably the only race I’ve ever done where I was [doing a] qualifying lap, lap after lap after lap. And it’s hard to explain to people, they go ‘ah well you push every race’ you don’t, you have to keep margin.
“Only in qualifying you go and push out your skin, your heart rate goes through the roof, you can only do a couple of qualifying laps in a row before you have to slow down and try to gather yourself a bit. So that race I was lap after lap, qualifying lap, to try and stay ahead of Dovi who was quick all weekend, and I just rode absolutely out of my skin and to win that race was just huge for us. As far as an achievement goes, that was one that no one is even going to realise but to max out every lap apart from the last three or four where we’d pulled a big enough gap to back off, that was quite something for me.”
Crafar: What do you think about MotoGP as it is today – the riders and machines out there, what impresses you?
Stoner: “The thing I’m impressed with the most is how tight all the machines are. Quite honestly with the right rider you can win on any machine at the moment. Aprilia have probably been the slight exception, they still need to have a little bit of work but sometimes their pace is fantastic. I think quite honestly it wouldn’t matter what bike you’re on at the moment, you’ve got a good chance of making a real impression at the front.
“Again it’s just taking that pride out the way and getting to work on whatever you’ve got. But all of them have proved to be race winners. Suzuki World Champions last year, Ducati have pushed it until the end, Yamaha we know are good year after year, the Honda is always going to be good and competitive, it’s only the Aprilia that is a little bit, let’s say unproven, but hopefully we can see something from Maverick in the next year. Maybe it wouldn’t really matter what bike you’re on, you’ve got a good chance of winning races.”