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GP Week : Issue 59
>>MotoGPNEWS Stoner: MotoGP world waits and wonders C ASEY Stoner’s shock absence from last weekend’s and the next two GPs has left the MotoGP fraternity amazed and confused – with a big question mark over the whole affair. Will the 2007 World Champion make his planned return date at the Portuguese GP at Estoril on October 4? Will he be back at all? Stoner’s withdrawal, the result of the mystery ailment that struck at the sixth round at Catalunya, also left Ducati in some disarray, and once again threw open the game of “Whogoes-where” musical chairs (see separate news story). It also triggered speculation that a career that started when he was four years old may have left him burned out (he suggested as much himself at the German GP), and that the post-viral fatigue syndrome currently blamed for the problems may finish his career. His withdrawal was announced last Monday, shortly after last week’s GPWeek went live, and took everyone by surprise. The Marlboro Ducati team had been told during the previous week, though chief Livio Suppo would not reveal exactly when. Stoner led on points with two wins before his problems started at the Catalunyan GP. Although he finished third he was physically wrecked, and had dry-retched in his helmet during the event. From then on, he found himself suffering from mysterious fatigue. Although he did manage third and two fourths at the next races, it was against the odds, and a far cry from his usual race-winning potential. After the US round, a full range of medical tests could find no serious problems; at the British GP Stoner was 14th, his worst finish in the class, after a highly eccentric choice of wet tyres on a drying track. In the two-weekend break thereafter he returned to Australia, to see the doctors who had cared for him throughout his career. His statement described the diagnosis that “during the Barcelona race I was suffering from a virus, and that I subsequently pushed my body too hard, leading to problems that have caused my fatigue since then.” This is a classic description of post-viral fatigue, which is classed with ME (yuppy ‘flu) and chronic fatigue syndrome. Hard to diagnose, there is no specific treatment, and while some victims recover within months, it can take years, and some sufferers are never cured. Reaction in the paddock has been mainly sympathetic, but seldom optimistic. Only Ducati chief Suppo remained perforce upbeat: “Casey will be back in Estoril. I know him quite well, and I am sure he will recover,” he said. Rossi described it as “a bad surprise and big pity – for racing, for the fans, and for Ducati.” The stress of racing was particularly severe for an Australian, away from the support systems of home. “My advice is to come back as soon as possible,” he added. “These bikes are difficult to ride to the limit, and it is difficult to recover the gap.” Team-mate Hayden said: “It seems bizarre. I don’t know what he is going through, but I hope he gets right.” 1993 World Champion and everlasting racing hero Kevin Schwantz, at the track in a Red Bull Rookies role, famously rode on through sundry physical problems before retiring mid-season in 1995, when his mind and body could take no more: “I don’t know the long-term implications, but “it’s the middle of the championship. I think he should try and work through it.” 5