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GP Week : Issue 154
With a knack for making history, Casey Stoner has added another ‘first’ to his portfolio. He is the first rider in the modern era to quit voluntarily while reigning champion, at the top of the sport. Doesn’t enjoy racing, so he’s off. In a reversal of the comment he made to Rossi after the Italian knocked him off at Jerez last year, it turns out his talent outweighs his ambition. There are two historical precedents of reigning champions who walked away while still at the top: Gary Hocking and John Surtees. Both of these were for quite different reasons. Casey’s pioneering decision, announced before his last-ever MotoGP season is even a quarter way over, shook the paddock. Clearly courageous and independent- minded, but deeply puzzling, and with clear overtones (to at least one ex-rider) of being a quitter. Quite simply, those who love racing beyond all else simply couldn’t understand it. With a talent like that, how could anyone bear not to use it? The surprised reaction of his top-table companions at the pre-race Press conference had one other thing in common: Lorenzo and Rossi both said it would be “bad for MotoGP” . This is definitely true for the business side, already in some decline in a number of areas. The perceived nightmare-to-come has always been the impending departure of Rossi. Stoner has never courted popularity like Valentino, but for true fans the premature loss of a truly great riding talent will result in another telling blow to Dorna’s income. Is it bad for the sport? The answer is less clear-cut. Early retirement will do nothing to mar the respect and admiration Stoner has earned for his extraordinary riding and racing spirit. Might even enhance it: a variation of the James Dean effect, without the inconvenient intervention of sudden death. As we have heard many times for many reasons, racing is bigger than any individual. Riders come and riders go, for all sorts of reasons. This is not to belittle them in any way: racing wouldn’t be much fun without them. But riders are a renewable resource. In the end, “bad for the sport” doesn’t apply. It’s simply part of the sport. And part of it also that we’ll miss him like heck. At least until the next one comes along. Footnote: John Surtees left bike racing somewhat unwillingly at the end of 1960 when MV Agusta stopped him from doing non-championship races on his own bikes. He concentrated on cars, where he won the F1 championship. Hocking quit unexpectedly mid-1962, after the death of friend Tom Phillis at the TT proved the last straw. Hocking lived less than six months before crashing a F1 Lotus fatally at Westmead, near Durban in South Africa. OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor LIFE AFTER CASEY – Bad for business; good for the sport? OPINION 20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: