Racing to third ... Arthur Sissis. Photo: Getty Images
AUSTRALIA'S post-Stoner MotoGP hope isn't in plain sight yet, but Adelaide teenager Arthur Sissis started auditioning for the role at Phillip Island yesterday.
In a fitting warm-up act for the Casey Stoner Show, Sissus starred in the Moto3 support race, finishing a fighting third to score his first podium placing in his rookie season on the world championship circuit.
Double world champion Stoner will retire from motorcycle racing after the last race of the MotoGP season in Valencia, Spain, on November 11, so the search for the next Australian two-wheeled star has begun.
At the moment, there aren't many coming up through the ranks - and none who is an obvious successor to Stoner, who followed five-time world champion Mick Doohan and 1987 champion Wayne Gardner.
Sissis, 17, is the most obvious candidate. Sponsor Red Bull is grooming him for success and he is in the first stage of a career path that will take him to MotoGP if he continues to progress.
His third place yesterday, holding off Spain's Alex Rins in a slipstreaming duel to the finish line, was a timely result that primed the Casey-crazy crowd for the afternoon's main event, the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Although he has a two-year contract with the Red Bull KTM team, Sissis's future had been questioned because of his poor qualifying and, until yesterday, lack of a podium finish.
Although he benefited from three front-runners incurring pit lane ride-through penalties for jumping the start, he fought through from seventh on the grid to third in the closing stages, aggressively defending his position over the last of 23 laps.
Sissis, making his Phillip Island debut after cutting his racing teeth in Europe, was overjoyed - and relieved - to score his first podium in Moto3, the new 250cc single-cylinder four-stroke entry level class in motorcycle grand prix competition.
''It feels really good,'' he said. ''I wasn't expecting to do it here. In the last lap, I just tried to block all the doors and I did it.''
At the prospect of being viewed as the next Casey Stoner, Sissis visibly blanched as he addressed the sudden burden of expectation. ''It's going to be hard,'' he said. ''If I keep going, keep progressing, hopefully, I can be like Stoner [a world champion]. If not, I want to get at least get into MotoGP.''
To do that, Sissis will have to spend at least another year in Moto3 and then, if he's good enough to move up the next rung, probably another two seasons in Moto2 before even thinking of graduating to MotoGP.
At least he has secured another year in Moto3, having so far followed the same overseas racing path as Stoner. ''I'm in the same team next year,'' he said. ''I don't think I did the best job I could this year, but I still did enough to keep the ride.''
The other Australian prospect is Jack Miller, a wild-haired 17-year-old from Townsville who is also in his rookie Moto3 season.