Dream home farewell for King Casey
In control ... Casey Stoner on his way to locking in his farewell victory at Phillip Island, his home turf. Photo: AP
CASEY STONER'S coronation as the king of Phillip Island could hardly have gone better, from the royal procession that was the one-sided race to his tumultuous crowning by the rhapsodic crowd after his record-breaking victory.
Much to the delight of the modern record crowd that packed the track, Stoner overcame a late whirlwind of emotions and the constant pressure of expectation to win his sixth consecutive Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
In his farewell appearance before he retires from MotoGP racing in 13 days, the fresh-faced 27-year-old led all but the first one-and-a-third laps on his factory team Honda to score yet another runaway victory at his favourite track.
Just like the previous five wins, Stoner was supreme and unstoppable, racing away to a big lead that he held to the end of the 27-lap, 120-kilometre race, hurling his machine around the 4.4km island circuit's high-speed corners right on the edge of adhesion.
Not a man given to displays of emotion, by his own admission, Stoner was nonetheless overwhelmed by the reception of the huge crowd after the race, with thousands pouring onto the main straight to cheer him up on the podium. "That was something very special and unique," he said. "It was just unreal. It's fantastic and I can't ask for a better way to end my career in Australia.
"Today was something else with the crowd. I knew I had a lot of pressure on me and I felt it the whole way through the race. I couldn't get it out of my head, did not want to make a mistake, didn't want to do anything wrong, so I always kept a lot in reserve to make sure I didn't push past any limits."
Stoner's win capped a mini-Australia Day at Phillip Island, following podium-placing performances by other Aussie riders in the main support races.
Adelaide teenager Arthur Sissis was third in the Moto3 race – his first appearance on the podium in his rookie season in grand prix motorcycle racing – and Queensland veteran Anthony West grabbed a heart-stopping second in the Moto2 event.
"It was fantastic to see so many people out there and especially as the Australian riders gave them so much to cheer about today with a third, a second and a win in the three classes," Stoner said. "I'm sure they were all pumped up before the MotoGP race and then finally we gave them something extra to cheer about and it was just an amazing day."
That it was. Under a clear sky in cool but windless conditions, the track was filled with the biggest race day crowd since the Australian GP return to Phillip Island from a six-year sojourn at Sydney's Eastern Creek, with Stoner's farewell attracting a record attendance estimated at 53,100.
Combined with the record estimated Friday and Saturday crowds, a new three-day record of 122,465 was claimed, up on last year's total of 95,100. Although well short of the all-time Sunday record of around 88,000 at the first Phillip Island motorcycle GP in 1989, yesterday's attendance was big enough to cause traffic problems.
Motorists reported that the trip from Melbourne to the track took up to four hours, with the heavy traffic causing the Premier, Ted Baillieu, to arrive late, although still well before the 4pm start of the big race. Baillieu declined an offer from Andrew Fox, the boss of track owner Linfox Property, to use the company's helicopter for the trip. Police had planned to keep the special traffic system with its extra lanes to the circuit operating until 11am, but the amount of traffic forced them to keep it operating until 1.30pm.
Not that the racegoers seemed to care about the delays. They were in festival mode by the time the big race began, hoping to see "King Casey" crowned. Thousands wore cardboard crowns given away at the entrances bearing the words "All Behold King Casey".
On the eve of his abdication from MotoGP racing, Stoner didn't disappoint them. The only time he was headed was after a slow start that dropped him back from pole position to third briefly behind world title rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. Stoner was into second at the start of lap two and about to pass new leader Pedrosa, his Honda teammate, when the Spaniard lost the front end of his bike and slid off.
Pedrosa's elimination handed Yamaha's Lorenzo his second world title in three years, but the newly crowned champion was never a threat to Stoner, who streaked to a 9.23 seconds win without any sign of his seriously injured right ankle giving him trouble.
"Casey was in another world," Lorenzo said in obvious awe. Third-placed Briton Cal Crutchlow added: "Casey showed why he is the fastest guy in the world."
Like the fans, Lorenzo admitted that Stoner's impending retirement will leave a big hole in the sport to fill. "I have a lot of respect for Casey because he is probably the most talented rider I have ever seen," he said. "We will miss him a lot."
Even Stoner, while emphasising he would have no second thoughts about quitting, admitted that he will be left craving the competition with his main rivals. "The actual racing is something I'm going to miss," he said. "I have so much respect for Dani and Jorge – I've been racing them my whole career – and we've been challenging each other and fighting with each other for many years. So there'll definitely be something missing inside sometimes."
Stoner wasn't willing to reveal just how emotional he had found the experience of winning his last race in Australia in front of such large and adoring crowd but was clearly moved.
"It's fantastic and I can't ask for a better way to end my career in Australia," he said.