New MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner said his first premier class world championship success has still not properly sunk in as he prepares for a rapturous reception in his home race in Phillip Island this weekend.
Ducati’s Casey Stoner made his first public appearance since he won his first world crown in Japan last month at a special fans event in Melbourne’s Federation Square yesterday (Tuesday).
Casey Stoner has been holed up at his farm hideaway in Tamworth for the last two weeks, spending time fishing and hunting with close pal Chaz Davies, who will race the D’Antin Ducati this weekend in Phillip Island.
Hundreds of fans attended the event to see Casey Stoner, who wrapped up the world title for Ducati with three races remaining with sixth place in a rain-hit Twin Ring Motegi race last month.
He also held a press conference prior to a meet and greet with an army of Aussie race fans preparing to cheer on the 21-year-old in Sunday’s Phillip Island MotoGP, which is expected to attract a record crowd following Stoner’s dominant 2007 campaign.
And the Ducati rider said it would probably be after the season before the full impact of his achievement of becoming the second youngest rider in history to win the MotoGP sinks in.
Casey Stoner said: “I kind of have to remind myself pretty much daily what’s happened having reached the goal that I have been aiming at for so long. It still doesn’t seem real and it probably won’t until the season has finished.
“But it was a big relief to finally finish on top and to have such a great season in the championship that I have been aiming for all these years. I’ve had a lot of battles in the lower classes but I’ve found it a bit more comfortable in the bigger class.
“And I’ve finally won the world championship I have been after,” said Casey Stoner, who now seems certain to dump his trademark number 27 to run the number one plate in 2008.
Stoner said his world title success had made him instantly more recognisable on home soil, with the reluctant hero adding: “Definitely I’m getting a bit more noticed everywhere I go.
“Every shop I go into there are people coming up and congratulating me. It definitely helps it sink in a little bit more. It’s been a little bit tough for it to sink in because I have been working so hard for so many years and for it to happen and to finally do it it’s like ‘wow.’
“I’ve just spent a bit of time on the farm though. I did a bit of work with the cattle and things like that so it’s been nice to relax and get away from anything. It’s been very nice and much needed.”
Casey Stoner said clinching the title before he returned home to Australia was a ‘dream come true’, adding that his target for 2007 at the start of the season was only to secure a top five finish in the championship.
“Last year I think we should have been top six in the championship quite easily. Things didn’t go our way in the last part of the season and in the last few rounds I lost a couple of positions in the championship.
“I thought for this season I’d like to try and get into the top five and get some more podiums. And I thought maybe if we are lucky enough I could win a race.
“But by the time I came out of the fourth race I’d already won three of them and things started to look up. We still didn’t expect to win the championship.
“We knew we were coming to the European circuits and we knew it was going to be a lot more difficult. From them on the goal was to try and finish in the top three in the championship but things have just gone better and better.
“We’ve only had a few bad races and my worst result was at the last race in Japan. To win the championship before my home GP is like a dream come true and I think it is going to the least stressful home GP I’ve ever had.
“As the season was going on and everything was going better and better, for me there was less pressure because I didn’t go into the championship with a view to winning it. I was going into it just to do the best job I could.
“I came out on top but as the season went on the pressure was less and less and now that I have won the championship I’m sure there will be a lot less pressure. I can just go out there and enjoy the tracks and not worry too much,” said Casey Stoner, who handed Ducati its first premier class title in 2007.
Casey Stoner said his next priority was to win the championship again to try and emulate the success of Australia’s last world champion Mick Doohan.
Doohan dominated MotoGP for five years before injury prematurely ended his career in 1999, and Casey Stoner said: “It’s definitely not that easy. Mick and Valentino (Rossi) and a lot of other riders year after year have won the title.
“I believe I have got the package and the team behind me to do the job and I know I’m fit and strong enough. Luckily we’ve been fast enough also this year but things have also got to go right.
“I just hope that next year we can be in the same way that we have been this year. Hopefully be just as strong and continue winning world championships.
“I’ve won the class now that I’ve been chasing after for a lot of years. Not as many years as other people but we managed to finally get it done.
“With that pressure off then I can really start to enjoy the racing and maybe even go a little bit faster.”
Casey Stoner said he was proud to have followed in the footsteps of boyhood heroes Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner, who were the only two Australian’s prior to Casey Stoner to conquer the pinnacle of world motorcycling.
“I have been watching those guys for as long as I can remember, since before I could walk.
“I still remember watching them on TV and I’ve actually been watching a few of the old videos again lately. The racing was amazing and it’s nice that now I’ve sort have done what I’ve always wanted to do.
“They were people I’ve looked up to my whole life and people I wanted to be like. Mick won five championships in a row and I’ve still got a long way to go, but feel like my family and I have done a good job,” said the former LCR Honda rider.
With the world championship already wrapped up, Casey Stoner’s attention now turns to triumphing in front of his home crowd on Sunday in what he said would be the perfect icing on the cake to win his first Australian MotoGP.
“I’d like to think I’ve got a chance of winning the next three races but it is going to be very, very hard. Other people are out there that are definitely not going to try and give me the top spot for the rest of the season.
“I believe I have got the package but we will have to see. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m going into my home GP by far the strongest I’ve ever been before and also Chris (Vermeulen) and Anthony (West) have been doing great and getting stronger all of the time.
“All three of us have a very good chance of putting on a good show for the home crowd. Hopefully we can do our job and all start running up front this weekend,” said Casey Stoner, who said he wouldn’t be fazed by the weight of expectation on his shoulders to add to his tally of eight victories on Sunday.
He said: “I think every race there is expectation and pressure. I have raced for a lot of years and don’t really feel that pressure. The only pressure is what you put on yourself.
“The last few years I’ve felt a bit of pressure from people calling me a crasher when they really didn’t understand what was going on. That frustrated me a little bit and it also scared me because I didn’t want to crash so that people couldn’t say things about it.
“But also I don’t like to sit around finishing fifth or sixth. I like to go out and win and do the best job I can. I’m not feeling the pressure.”