Casey Stoner returned to the MotoGP paddock at Estoril amidst a blaze of the publicity he so obviously loathes. The eyes of the motorcycle racing world were upon him, and the question was just how would he hold up once he got back on the bike?
The answer was emphatic: remarkably well, actually. The 2007 MotoGP World Champion taking a podium at his first attempt, comfortably beating both Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa, and only a broken footpeg preventing him from running with Jorge Lorenzo and challenging for victory. After the race, Stoner spoke to the press about the race, his time away, and some of the criticism he has faced, and as so often, he had some fairly pithy things to say about the press and his critics. A transcript of what he said follows below:
Q: You said yesterday after practice, you knew the problem was gone. Was there no point in the race that you worried?
Casey Stoner: No, because this morning in warmup I went out and did some laps, and because it had been so consistent over the past five races, in my head I knew that I was going to get to that point and go, OK that's it, I'm buggered again, I have to come in. And then I felt just that little bit of tiredness come on, but it didn't increase. So I was just like, that's it, it's gone, it's finished, and so we continued through the warm up competitively, and still set my quickest lap at the end and we knew we were rid of it then.
For the race, we knew it as going to be difficult, my arms have been hurting all weekend. Trying to get back into race mode and still have all these problems with my arms, it's not the best. But I think at the end of the race, whether I had the problems with arms or not, Jorge was just slowly pulling away, a little bit too much from me. I think in the early stages of the race I should have put up a little bit more of a fight, but like I said I snapped the footrest on the 2nd lap of the race. It really made some problems, some laps when I was catching a lot, I'd run wide in the corner because I had nowhere to put my foot to use the rear brake. Without this mistake, I think the race would have been more competitive, but maybe the same outcome.
Q: You will have a central role in the battle for the championship, do you have a preference for who wins? And how do you see your role in this championship?
CS: Like I said, if it was my team mate, my role would be different, but I have my own team, my own career to worry about. I'm sure those riders don't care about me, as I know by the way some of them ride against me, they don't care, so I don't think I should either.
Q: You wanted to prove something to your critics, but you got a great reception on Thursday and today. Does that give you any good feeling, or mixed feelings?
CS: No it was nice, but it makes you question why the critics were saying what they were saying and doing what they were doing, it's just black and white. You know they're saying one thing in the period I was gone, and I come back and it's like normal again. Everyone's saying we never expected you to be gone, and yet after day 3 of Brno I heard I was retired and all sorts of things.
You know something that really upset me a lot and I've lost a lot of respect for him is Kevin Schwantz. After what he said, I had a lot of respect for that guy, he's been one of my favorite riders and probably one of the most exciting riders to watch throughout my career. When somebody like that says something like that, it shows you that experience counts for nothing, which is what I've been trying to tell people for a long time now. They're always looking to the older riders to give their points of view, but unfortunately, their points of view are very hard and there's no changing them. And things that maybe happened in the past, and they stick to this, and they think that's the way it's going to go. You know it frustrates me that even people I know weren't sure if I was coming back. We took three races off to try and figure this out, they couldn't see that I was sick after every race, you know, we had an issue, we had a problem, and we had to fix it. And it's nice to come back and show people that we've fixed it, and we did have a problem, and now we're back.
Q: What's your feeling now that you're back at a competitive level?
CS: A little bit of everything. A small part of relief, but we knew we weren't going to lose the speed, as the old saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike. With my wrist at the end of the year, I came back and I was still second at the end of the first day of testing. There's too many people with with too many opinions, and it was just nice to come back and really put it all to rest, and keep everyone quiet. And especially all the rumors between myself and Ducati, like I said, everyone knows the relationship we have with Ducati and yet they still chose to make something up and make a big hooha out of nothing. You know for myself, for the team, for everyone, to silence everyone, there's a lot of emotions that are feeling really good right now.
Q: After the problems you had with not being able to race, now that you can again, it must have been a fun race. You must have enjoyed being back out there again?
CS: One of the most enjoyable things with proving people wrong was the fitness one. So many people were telling me I just wasn't fit enough, that I wasn't training enough. I haven't trained in five months, and in those five races, we weren't really doing proper races, we weren't really doing race simulations and making myself work physically, and then I have over two months off without anything, nothing at all, and I come back and I'm better than ever. It was nice to be able to do this. Just being competitive again is a really really good feeling.
Q: Was it a matter of being overtrained?
CS: No, a lot of people said it was overtraining. You know, I train enough, people say it's overtraining, undertraining, all sorts of things went around, and it wasn't overtraining. You know, if you overtrain yourself, you feel tired every day. People were saying, oh they know what the problem is, I feel tired all the time, no, I didn't feel tired all the time, I felt tired only when I started doing physical exercise.
And it was a very strange case, and that's why everyone was basically saying that it was in my head, or there's no reason for it, he's making it up, and all these sort of things. Because some doctors couldn't figure it out, they just completely dismissed it, it wasn't a problem, it was all in my head, anemia and all this sort of crap. It was just ridiculous. We've had a lot of doctors in Australia give their points of view and give their tests to me, and they all-cleared it, but at the same time, they didn't say, no, you haven't got a problem. They want to find out what this is. I believe one of the doctors definitely put us on the right track, and two doctors definitely have the same opinion, so that was very nice.
Q: So what happens now, you say the problems gone, hopefully...
Hopefully. I want to go back and start training properly again and see if my level starts coming up, and stays flat. I just had some blood tests a few days before I came back, so they're already being studied again now to make sure the levels are coming better.
Q: Has it been hard for you to sit in silence and not to respond to the criticism that has been leveled at you in the time you've been away?
CS: I don't have TV where we live in Australia, and we have some of the slowest internet you can imagine, so I didn't really look at anything. I brought it up one day, I think, out of the whole nine weeks I was gone. One day I brought it up and just went, wow, I saw the Kevin Schwantz thing and things like that, and it really made me laugh. It pissed me off at the same time, because I had a lot of respect for those riders, Jeremy McWilliams as well, I mean, what the hell do they know? Really, what do they know? Everyone's sitting their with an opinion when they know nothing, and they don't know the situation, so it was very nice this weekend to come back on Friday and know that things were definitely going to be better.
Q: Having got this race out of the way now, you're heading down to Phillip Island, a track you love and go well at, what are your thoughts now heading home?
CS: We took those three races off basically to get the most time off we could missing the least amount of races. We were always planning to come back for this one, and get out ready for Phillip Island. We didn't know how competitive we would be here, but everything worked out really well, and now we can go to Phillip Island. I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully put up a fight.
Q: Do you think you're capable of winning and getting the hat trick down there?
CS: I could have won today. With a little bit more, we could have won today. I think if I hadn't made that mistake on the second lap and ruined my footrest, I might have been able to catch up with Jorge and maybe we could have fought a little bit. But I just made a few mistakes without a footrest, and it just put this gap back to what it was. So without that I think it may have been more of a fight, and I could have pushed through to the end. But anyway, Jorge was very good, very consistent and impressive today.
Q: You said you reached a point where you started to feel tired, but you realized that it wasn't that same intense fatigue. Was that a sense of liberation when you realized that things had changed?
CS: Basically. Like I said, you always get to that point every time when you just start feeling that little bit of fatigue, and you go, OK, from now on you've got to ride easy and not so aggressive. And normally once I got to that point, that was it, that was my limit, and we'd just drop off after that. I got to that, and kept going through it, and that was a bloody good feeling, it made me smile inside my helmet. Because now we could just keep going through it, I could do more than two laps at a time without being completely buggered. You know, I hope this track's quite physical, from what I've seen from everyone's condition, Valentino and Jorge looked pretty tired yesterday afternoon. And to be honest, I actually felt better than they looked. Considering I haven't trained for five months, that's a good sign.