Sepang MotoGP: Casey Stoner third after nearly pulling out

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Casey Stoner made a welcome return to the MotoGP podium in dreadful conditions at the Sepang International Circuit after the reigning world champion had pondered withdrawing from the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Conscious of the consequences should he crash and further damage a slowly recovering right ankle injury, the Aussie came close to pulling out of the scheduled 20-lap race as rain battered the Sepang track.

The Repsol Honda rider did start the race and he secured his first podium since he won the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in July with a hard earned third behind dominant Spanish duo Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo.

Stoner, who is bidding for a sixth straight win on home soil at Phillip Island this weekend, said: “When I saw it was raining I wasn’t feeling overly good about getting on the bike to be honest and I highly considered not doing the race. I know how big of a risk it is if I crash and hurt my ankle again and I am out for the season. In a normal crash you can bash your foot and not have a problem at all but if I do any damage to it is game over for my season and that’s not the way I want to end the season. I was hoping for a dry race until the heavens opened and we decided to go out. I struggled a lot at the beginning of the race getting any feeling and confidence. I haven’t ridden in the wet for a long time, maybe the Sachsenring. To be back on the bike in the wet on a track where there’s not a lot of grip, I was nervous and tense and not riding well and Dani and Jorge rode off into the distance. From that point I just wanted to cover the position I had and trying to stay on the podium. But I got more confident and better feeling and I reduced the gap they kept pulling out. When a bit more rain came this gave me an advantage and I felt more comfortable and if it had continued but not as bad as it was, I think we had a very good chance of fighting for the victory.”

The race was stopped with seven laps remaining as conditions deteriorated and the double MotoGP world champion believes the right decision was taken, even though he had closed right up on Lorenzo in the battle for second.

The Spaniard almost crashed in the braking zone for the last corner just seconds before the red flags were displayed and had the race continued Stoner could have taken four more points away from Lorenzo to help teammate Pedrosa’s bid to capture an elusive first world title.

Stoner said: “I think one or two more laps and it would have been really impossible but before that we didn’t have huge puddles in the corners and we have ridden with this in the past. I’m sure we could not have finished the race distance. To stop the race before it was stopped would not have been correct but the only time I thought it was getting close to dangerous was the last time we crossed the finish line. Then there was quite a lot of aquaplaning but we have ridden in much worse conditions and it has been as bad as this many times before.”

For more from Stoner, see the October 24 issue of Motor Cycle News.

Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt