Converted: Casey Stoner says he is a competitor who's not in it for the money. Photo: Getty Images
THE world of sport provides plenty of examples of champions in one discipline who switched to another sport. In motor sport, the change from two wheels to four might look straightforward, but history proves it is not.
Casey Stoner is the latest Australian Grand Prix motorcycle champion (following in the tyre marks of Wayne Gardner) to make the jump.
Stoner will begin his new career in Adelaide when he climbs into his Red Bull Racing V8 Supercar on Thursday for his first practice laps in the Dunlop Series, the second tier championship for up-and-coming V8 racers.
The 27-year-old stunned the bike world when he announced last year that he would quit the MotoGP championship. He was, it was said, disillusioned with the constant travel, fed up with the goldfish bowl world he was forced to live in and tired of the demands on his time.
On Wednesday, as he unveiled his new ride in a press call in Adelaide, Stoner seemed relaxed, happy and genuinely excited at this new chapter in his life, admitting he felt a bit nervous and had no idea of how things might develop when he gets out on the tricky, wall-lined Adelaide street circuit for the first time.
Stoner had planned to take more time out, but when an offer came from the Triple Eight Racing Team he felt it was too good to say no, especially as he knew he wanted to come back to the sport at some time.
The skills he learnt and the experience he had on two wheels will not, he suggests, be all that applicable to his new career. Riding a GP motorbike is a sensory experience requiring bravery, balance and skill. Car racing requires the same elements, but in a different way.
‘‘On a bike you could feel someone coming up the inside of you. We are pushing such a rate of air and if your air is disturbed behind you, you can tell because you almost get sucked back. You can feel them, even if they are not in your vision, because you can feel your leg out being pushed by the air. In a car I am surrounded.’’
In fact, he says, there is little that is directly transferable.
‘‘I suppose my understanding of grip, that’s about it. With these cars there’s only a certain amount of grip you can get, with the bike you can change position slightly and do more to get more grip. Much of it is your brake control, your turn through a corner. Those are the things I am going to be behind everyone else.’’
Not many choose to go out at the top as Stoner did. But he is delighted with his move.
It is no secret that he had frosty relationships with the media and it often seemed as though he was ill at ease with the Euro-centric world in which he lived.
‘‘I am a private person, I like just having friends and not having people stare at me ... a lot of people don’t understand that and I cop a lot of flak for it, but it’s a decision I made.’’
With maturity he has changed, at least a little. But he stresses that first and foremost he is a competitor. Everything else is secondary – including wealth and celebrity.
‘‘I am a race-car driver now. I am blatantly not in it for the money, and people need to understand that. I am not in it for the fame and fortune and what comes with it. I was never that interested in it.’’
He knows that the V8 challenge is different, but he is not, at least initially, expecting cars to give him the same high as bikes once did.
‘‘Most people who grew up doing both would normally choose bikes anyway. They give you more of a thrill. They are more dangerous, more scary, for the weight they are more powerful. They are a machine, a beast. I think when you are growing up and you can do both well, people tend to choose the bike route because of that feeling it gives them.
‘‘I will still be riding my bikes, I will go out on track days. I have got a 1000cc from Honda now and I will get out on as many track days as I can just to have fun.
"I might even enjoy it more ... rather than be under pressure.’’