Laguna Seca has witnessed some of Casey Stoner's greatest races.
In 2007 he dominated the entire weekend from start to finish, in 2008 he engaged in an epic battle with Valentino Rossi – one which has gone down in history as one of the most exciting races of recent years – and last year he pulled off one of the overtakes of the season on Jorge Lorenzo to take victory on his way to the 2011 MotoGP title.
This weekend the Repsol Honda rider arrives at the Red Bull US Grand Prix trailing Championship leader Lorenzo by 37 points however, as he seeks to reel in the 2010 Champion and get his title defence back on track.
After starting the season with two wins from the first three races Stoner appeared to be well on course, but the persistence of a chatter issue combined with Lorenzo's consistently hot form has seen a substantial gap open up between the two.
Ahead of the opening practice session redbull.com caught up with the Australian to chat over a range of topics which included his season so far, his decision to retire at the end of 2012, MotoGP rules, his future plans and his opinion on Marc Márquez, the talented youngster who will replace him in the Repsol Honda team.
Casey, how would you review the opening half of the season and how things have gone for you so far in 2012?
“It hasn't gone perfectly to be honest. It started very early on in the season with the tyre changes in the Championship. The compounds were changed from what we developed the bike on and with which we were quite happy and immediately we started to run into some issues. Unfortunately those issues haven't been able to be resolved yet.
“Then they changed the front tyre again one-third of the way through the season, and that just created more problems again. So every problem we were trying to get on top of has just become worse and it's making our season quite hellish to be honest. We're trying to deal with all these problems instead of trying to get out there and just race as hard as we can. We're just trying to discover what's wrong.”
The main problem we've been hearing about has been the chatter issue, but have there been any other factors that have really held you back aside from that?
“The chatter issue is unfortunately just about all the problem. We've got front tyre stability, we've got a lot more movement on the rear of the bike because of the construction of the new tyre so chatter is the biggest problem. That's why we're focusing so much on that.
“But yes we do have other issues; with stability in the tyres and the way our bike's trying to use those tyres. At some circuits we're not able to get enough temperature into the harder compound which seems to now be by rule the one that we must use. So even if our bike can run the softer tyre we're not allowed to by the rule of the sport, and that's disappointing. They just seem to keep changing the rules throughout and it seems to be against us constantly.”
You've decided this weekend to go with the new engine rolled out at the Mugello test but to stick with the existing chassis. What was the main reason behind that because your team-mate Dani [Pedrosa] has gone with the whole new package?
“Well the new chassis is actually more similar to my bike that I have now than what Dani's was, so I think Dani has gone with a chassis that's similar to mine now. We just didn't find it was enough of a step, it was actually too close to the other chassis we tried earlier in the season and didn't really like. We didn't find any positives compared to the chassis we use now, so we decided to just leave that as we are.
“We have changed a couple of things around the front of the bike with the triple clamps, and it seemed to make a small difference. With the engine it was just a lot softer off the bottom, we had a lot of mid-range power, and off the slow corners we had a lot more feeling and were able to get on the throttle a little bit earlier. So we found positives with that but unfortunately we didn't find any good points to the new chassis.”
How much do you enjoy riding at Laguna Seca, both as a Grand Prix and as a track?
“As a GP I love it, it's one where we can get overseas. We have so many races in Europe and so many races in even the same countries in Europe that you don't really get a broad spectrum of people and different cultures. So coming to the US it's a little bit more like home, I like the people around here and always have a lot of fun, I love it here.
“The track is very technical, it's tricky, I like the ups and downs to it and it's a very nice track. It could have a longer straightaway, or a couple of faster corners would be very good at this circuit. It's so unique that it has its own personality and I enjoy riding every lap here.”
On the subject of your retirement you have explained the reasons behind it, but do you ever see enough of a shift in any of the factors that contributed to that decision for you to reconsider it in the future?
“I see a shift happening but maybe too far down the line, to the point where I probably would have been retired anyway if things had been going well up until then. I just see so many other things that are important in life than this.
“The way the sport is going I see it being very much a European sport, it's not for the British, Americans, Australians. We're very much the outsiders, we're not given the opportunities the Europeans are, and even when we are there we're very much made to feel like we're outsiders and decisions are made against us and for a lot of different reasons. It just just makes things harder.
“All the reasons [for retirement] have been covered, there's not just one big reason why I'm retiring but it's also not been a decision that came lightly.”
What are your future plans on and off the track? You've spoken about V8 supercars, but do you ever see yourself being involved in something like rider development or a school?
“A riding school is a business, so it's not just about giving opportunities to people. It is to a certain degree, but it's also a business. I don't really see myself doing riding schools. I have tried to give some young riders opportunities, unfortunately we had the parents interfering so much that we had to cancel everything.
“If the right people come along with a good attitude, then we can give them quite a lot of help but so far we have tried to do that in the past and have been burnt badly. We put a lot of money into it and it didn't work out. I'll still keep a lookout for the right people with the right attitude, and to me that's a lot what racing is about and I don't care if a kid is super fast, it's not about that. If you have the right attitude and you have got the talent you can go a long way, but if you haven't got the right attitude I don't want to have to deal with that day in, day out. Hopefully we'll come across one or two kids that we can help out and things go a lot more smoother than they have done.”
Speaking about kids, Marc Márquez steps into the factory Honda team next year to take your place. You've expressed your admiration for him before, but what do you think is a realistic target for him to achieve next year? Some riders have already tipped him as a podium threat from the very start...
“People need to realise that you do need to challenge for podiums in your first season, immediately if you are going to amount to anything. I myself will be out of the Championship so that's another position that should be a little bit easier for him to obtain.
“You know, Dani [Pedrosa] was second in his first ever MotoGP race, Jorge [Lorenzo] was second in his first ever race and won his second, I was on pole in my second race and almost won my third and finished second in that. If you don't show speed quite early on then things can be difficult.
“We have no doubt that Márquez has got the talent, but in saying that we're not too sure where the level of Moto2 or Moto3 is right now so it's very hard to judge it as no one coming from those classes has made anything of themselves up until this point.”
Everybody knows Márquez is fast, but what do you see that you really admire or that stands out?
“I've known him quite a long time now and since he was younger he was always a very friendly guy, has always had the right attitude to racing and that's mainly what it's about. He isn't putting on a huge show and isn't putting on things for these results that don't deserve it. When he wins races he's allowed to celebrate, but you see many people not even getting on podiums and they celebrate like they just won the race. It's things like that which I admire from him.
“He has a very cool, level head and if he calms things down a little bit – this past year he has been a little bit over-aggressive in my own opinion – then there's no reason why he can't succeed.”
In terms of your impact or legacy on the sport, what will you look back on once you've retired at the end of the year and hope will be the thing people see as your major contribution to the sport?
“I don't know to be honest. I think the sport needs to take a different direction. As I have said many times, number one they need to stop changing the rules. Once they stop changing them the bikes we're riding this year can get passed down to satellite teams next year. With situations like that we would have a grid full of extremely competitive and race-winning machines.
“The way the Championship is turning and directed they're constantly changing rules, the prices go up hugely because of development. It's not cheap for these factories to completely redevelop something and that's why they have to charge so much to satellite teams for their bikes. I think that really needs to stop.”
What's been your personal career highlight and what will you look back on as your fondest moment in the sport?
“I think the last five or six years have been fantastic for me. We had a tough time at the beginning and the last five or six years we've had some great ups and downs, but the downs have never been too low. We've been competitive the whole way.
“We struggled in 2009 when I had lactose intolerance and it very nearly finished my career then, and I've kind of enjoyed my last few seasons. At the same time that period made me realise what the sport is about and it's not something I want to be involved in any more.
“We finished out the contract with Ducati [at the end of 2010], followed our dream and said we wanted to go with Honda, so I think these last two years have been my fondest. Actually being in a team that started my goals, started my passion. I wanted to be where Mick Doohan was and doing what he did, and to finally be here was something very special.”
And finally, who's been your favourite team-mate during your GP career?
“I've had a few. I think Loris [Capirossi] was fantastic when I was there [at Ducati]. I think Dani and Andrea [Dovizioso] were really good team-mates last year [at Repsol Honda].
“Out of those three it would be difficult to pick just one, I enjoyed all of their company and they were always good to talk to. Away from the racing it was really easy to get along with them, so I would say definitely those three.”