With four victories under his belt, reigning MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner is still hoping to sign out in style.
The latest of Stoner's four wins came in the Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. The triumph put the Repsol Honda Team rider third in the overall standings.
Here he is reflecting on the first half of his final season in the sport…
Now that we're just past the season's halfway point, how do you rate things so far?
"To be honest, I'm pretty happy with my level. We made a couple of small errors in Mugello and Sachsenring, which unfortunately left us far behind in the standings. If the weather had been better at some of the races and if we hadn't made those mistakes, then we would be in a good position. As we are now, we've lost a lot of ground on where we should be."
At this stage last year, you were leading the championship and had 20 points more than you do now. What's changed?
"If we had raced at Le Mans in the dry, then I have to think that we would've been in a good position to win; and if I'd won at Sachsenring then we'd probably be leading the championship now. Unfortunately, I made those mistakes and things didn't go as planned. In Qatar, I had arm pump when our pace was clearly the fastest. Things haven't been perfect. The new rule with the tyres has been a disaster for us and it's become very difficult to make the bike work."
Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and you are the current frontrunners. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
"I think it changes every week. Jorge is always up there, always looking very strong and consistent, because he is very happy with this new tyre. That compound is what they preferred in pre-season testing, but me and Dani were the ones who didn’t like it at all. Your strengths and weaknesses change at every race and you have to evaluate that over a weekend, which is never easy.”
The three of you have shared the podium more times than any other group of riders. Is the field stronger than ever?
"I think so. It's been getting better year after year. The first four from last year have always competed together. We rose up through the lower classes together and I think this season the level has been increasing in strength. It's a great feeling to have been on the podium so many times with Jorge and Dani. We respect each other, we enjoy good battles, and I'm very happy to be taking so many podiums alongside them in my final season.”
Except for in the Netherlands, Lorenzo has always placed first or second this year. Can he keep this up for the entire season?
"There's no reason to think otherwise. He's maintained this level until now and can keep it up until the end of the season. He's been very consistent, always there or thereabouts. Sometimes he hasn't had enough speed, but he is still always up there and if he doesn’t finish first, then he places second. It will be very difficult to finish the season ahead of him, but we have to try."
In Germany it was all or nothing…
"No, it really wasn’t. To be honest, I was very happy with the position that I was in. I was planning my attack for the last corner, where I was much better at braking than Dani, and when I released the brake a little early on the previous corner to go easy on the tyre, I was too soft and didn’t load the front enough. I crashed and I was very surprised about that because I was confident about overtaking. In the end, I messed up our championship in that one moment. It wasn’t the best way to finish off a weekend.”
Does the zero carry a lot of weight?
"No. I can only do what I can and mistakes happen. Quite simply, we will do everything we can until the end of the season."
Do you think that after that crash and the result in Italy, people wrote you off prematurely?
"They always do, even last year. When we weren't ahead in the championship, they forgot about us. Every year I have a couple of bad races and people forget too quickly. You must remember what we do, that I'm world champion and I don't give up so easily."
What is your strategy for the second half of the season?
"There is no strategy, ever. During the season you have to try to be the fastest at each race and in each session, try to run the bike and tyres as best you can, and get more points than any other rider. It's the best that we can do."
You have always spoken well of Marc Márquez. How do you see him doing next year on your bike?
"I don’t know. I'm not sure about the level of Moto2. We can see that he is at a much higher level than the other riders, but I’m not sure about the level of his rivals. We haven't seen a Moto2 rider come up to this championship with much success; Stefan Bradl has had a couple of decent results, but I made mistakes in those races so maybe things have looked a little better than they really are. We've yet to see a Moto2 rider triumph in MotoGP, but if anyone can do it, Marc can."
If Marquez asked you for advice on how to approach the premier class, what would you say?
"I think every rider has their own opinion and I don’t think Marc will ask me for any advice. In fact, he probably considers himself a little better than I am. He has a lot of confidence in his abilities. I think he may need to relax a little, because this category is not so easy."
There are nine races to go before you end your career in MotoGP. Do you sometimes think, "I’m not going to ride here again,” when you go to circuits? What will you miss the most?
"I don’t really think about not riding at any track. I can come back whenever I want. Perhaps not to compete, but I can take a ride at tracks. I'll miss racing, but unfortunately it is only a small part of the sport. I'll really miss the people I work with and who I enjoy spending time with. It will be very sad not to see them anymore."
Following the race at Laguna Seca there's a two-week break. Will you relax, or train to the maximum?
"Both. I'll try to fish a little, and I have some friends who've come to see us, so we’re going to spend some time together and relax. But I will also try to train to be fit for Indianapolis."
- Repsol Honda team page
- Casey Stoner profile at motogp.com
- Highlights from the Red Bull US Grand Prix
- Half-term report from Dani Pedrosa