“It was quite something to take in,” said Casey Stoner after the 38th victory of his MotoGP career – but then understatement has always been the way for the young Australian.
The place where he does his talking is on the track, and he did it as only Casey Stoner can do. Once you have decided to bow out, after all, you might as well do it in style.
The build-up to the 2012 AirAsia Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had been all about ‘King’ Casey, the local hero who turned 27 the week before the Phillip Island event – and would race for the last time at Phillip Island before retiring at the end of the 2012 season.
Could Stoner live up to the billing? He was, after all, on the comeback trail after sustaining serious ankle injuries in a fall at Indianapolis. Three races missed meant his hopes of leaving as World Champion had gone. But there was still unfinished business at the track he has made his own.
“We always seem to pull something out of the bag down there,” he said as race week began, that gift for understatement coming to the fore: that ‘something’ was five straight wins, the last four of them from pole position.
By the time the King dismounted on Sunday, it was six, the last five from pole position. On a day when the Bass Strait circuit put on its best face, and in front of a record crowd, Stoner simply ran away with the race.
He had already passed his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa before the Spaniard came off at the hairpin; he left new World Champion Jorge Lorenzo in his wake with another display of motorcycle mastery to underline his place among the sport’s greatest names.
Stoner was able to enjoy the moment himself: “I actually took notice in the last few laps to see everyone cheering me on,” he admitted. “It was very important to win a race before I retire and to do it at my home Grand Prix is just a fairytale.”
The day was all the more special because there was an Australian on the podium in all three World Championship classes. Ant West has never been in the spotlight in Australia, his career ebbing and flowing with the years, but at Phillip Island the 31-year-old Queenslander came good – for the second race in a row.
Straight from second place in Malaysia, West on his QMMF Speed Up split the two men vying for the world title, Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez, to claim the unlikeliest of Moto2 podiums in second place. “It’s days like this why I have been fighting for 13 years at this level,” said West.
The first race of the day was the first visit to Bass Strait for the new Moto3 class. Adelaide teenager Arthur Sissis produced the ride of his young life to bring his Red Bull KTM through to third place behind new World Champion Sandro Cortese and Portuguese prodigy Miguel Oliveira – his first World Championship podium.
King Casey may be gone – but is there a new prince waiting in the wings?