On July 6th, 2001, Casey Stoner began his first Grand Prix event. 4146 days, 115 races and later, he will end his last. Needless to say, a lot has changed since the 2001 125cc British Grand Prix that he entered as a wild card and, love him or hate him, it is an undeniable shame to see the man who became perhaps the fastest racer on two wheels head off into the sunset. Phillip Island 2012 is the most recent memory that Stoner leaves for MotoGP fans - the final demonstration of his dominance at his home track - but there are plenty more classic Stoner performances to treasure from his time in the premier class.
Take Qatar 2006, for example. A maiden pole at a track with which Stoner immediately clicked, after arriving late from a delayed flight and suffering from a nasty bout of flu, this was the race at which the Australian announced his arrival. It was also a first chance to see something that has been sadly infrequent in recent history: the Stoner-Rossi battle that would rage on and off the track for the next seven years.
The Ducati years were, of course, the turning point for Stoner. 23 wins and the 2007 title speak for themselves, and on occasions even the very best in the world admitted that there was nothing that they could do to stop him. That's not to say that he was invincible on the big red bike, but he was a force to be reckoned with every time he went out on track. The modus operandi was always the same: short, sharp stints in qualifying and then looking to lead from the front. Simple? Seemingly so. Effective? Undoubtedly.
The pair of seasons with Repsol Honda were the beginning of the end - in the best possible way. Once you've won the title with two different manufacturers and emulated your hero, where else is there to go? When you've got your health and achieved almost every possible honour in grand prix racing, and the passion has gone, it's probably time to get out.
So he leaves, having won MotoGP races at every single track on the current calendar and with nothing left to prove. Will he return one day? Forever is a long time, especially when still only 27, and equally 11 years and one's entire adult life in one profession will make 'normal life' hard to adjust to in early retirement.
Money shouldn't be a problem, racing kicks will likely be found in the V8 Supercars series and if he ever fancies a spin on a GP bike, every single factory would jump at the chance to have him test out their 1000cc prototype. Fellow Aussie Troy Bayliss did the same thing after his retirement up until earlier this year, after all. For the moment, not even Stoner knows what he will be doing in the near future, beyond plenty of fishing and hunting.
One man who does know what awaits is Valentino Rossi, who still has the fire burning inside of him and has some pending business in the premier class. Expect a sigh of relief when he steps off the Ducati on Sunday afternoon, finally able to end those two years of unfathomable lows and unsuccessful developmental directions.
Stoner will be hard to forget, but a return to winning ways for The Doctor - if it happens - will be the most popular occurrence in MotoGP in many a season: there's a spotlight on standby for Rossi.
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