When Casey Stoner won the Jerez and Estoril races to ignite the defence of his MotoGP crown, talk of his retirement was already filling plenty of column inches. The Aussie was at pains to deny the speculation was true, so when the media filed into the pre-event press conference ahead of the Le Mans race in France, only those in Stoner’s inner circle knew of the bombshell he was about to drop.
At 26, Stoner had fallen out of love with racing, his passion for the sport he once loved slowly sucked out of him to the point where he felt retirement at the peak of his powers was the best option.
In an exclusive interview with MCN in Le Mans, he divulged in detail some of his reasons for quitting.
He said: “I'm permanently retiring from full time racing. I don't see sport going in the right direction and if I came back it might be a CRT bike by then and no way am I riding that. They need to stop changing the rules. That's most important thing they need to do. Find a set of rules that will balance everyone and stick to it.
It is very hard to give up something that you have worked your whole life for and put so much effort into. But it is the right time. I can't say it is the right time in my age and career being as strong as I am. But I'm afraid if I do one more year I might lose my passion for bikes completely and I don't really want that. I've been saying for a long time that the money doesn't interest me and when I do stop enjoying it I will retire.
I am not enjoying it. There are many things that have slowly but surely sapped the enjoyment out of it for me. There is no real reason for me to be here. It has lost its flavour for me to the point where it starts becoming bitter. I don't want this sport, which has been my whole life, to become something I dislike when I leave. If I did one more year I may just lose all the passion I have for racing and not want to ride any more. I want to go home and enjoy time on any bike."
It later became obvious just how much Stoner’s love affair with racing was over.
HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto confirmed towards the end of the season that the Japanese factory had offered him a mega money deal worth around £500,000 per race to stay.
Nakamoto said: “If Casey had accepted our record offer he would easily have been Honda's highest-paid employee. Honda offered Casey more than we ever paid any of our Formula One drivers, including Jenson Button. When I went to the Honda board for approval they said to me, 'Are you crazy?' But I told them we had to try to keep Casey for one more season.”
HRC was willing to break the bank to keep Stoner after he captured Honda’s first world title since 2006 with 10 victories in 2011.
Nakamoto said: “I wanted him to stay at least one more year. One of the main reasons was because since he joined Honda, Casey had done a fantastic job of motivating our engineers to build a better bike. Now we have that bike. Before he joined, many HRC engineers were doing a good job but sometimes they were asleep, Casey woke them up and a rider like Casey can motivate engineers to build a faster bike. He gave Honda some belief that we could win.”
Stoner’s final season in MotoGP was littered with spellbinding performances that proved why he will be so missed.
But his hopes of bowing out as world champion were destroyed by a high speed qualifying crash in Indianapolis that left him with serious injuries in his right ankle.
Stoner had been warned that further injury to the internally mangled ankle could be potentially life changing in the near future.
But he raced in the last four rounds and delighted a record home crowd at Phillip Island to win a sixth successive race on home soil.