After complete dominance at the second pre-season MotoGP test at Sepang last month, Casey Stoner is optimistic about the final testing session at Losail, Qatar, this weekend (March 13-14).
During the first two tests, Stoner’s switch from the Ducati GP10 to the Repsol Honda RC212V seemed nearly flawless, as the Australian adapted quickly to the new machine. And he hopes this performance on the Honda will carry over into the 2011 MotoGP season, which begins on March 20 at Qatar.
In the following interview from Repsol, Stoner discusses his performance at the pre-season tests, the upcoming season and of course some fellow "aliens": Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa.
Q. Casey, what you did in Malaysia – the last day of the tests – was simply amazing …
Casey Stoner says: "Well, the day before, when we finished the job, we were aware that the next day in the morning we would be able to set a time under two minutes. In Sepang the track is usually at its best in the morning, but I do not usually feel at 100-percent in the first laps, I prefer to set my fastest time at the end of the day. We decided to use the soft tyres and try to be the first in setting a time under two minutes. To be honest I did not think that only one other rider would set a time like this, as the track was in optimal conditions. We must be happy about the job we did there, it was very good."
Q. Qatar is a special race for you and you have won it on several occasions. How do you feel about the start of this new season?
Casey Stoner says: "I am very excited, because we spent many days training, but that is not the ideal situation, as during the preseason we don’t have a wide variety of circuits. Nevertheless, the races are finally approaching and I am looking forward to see how we perform with this team, how I work with the bike on the circuit and, above all, which is the general level for everyone. I am sure there will be riders more confident than others, so it will be interesting to see who goes for victory in the first race."
Q. What is your opinion about the Grand Prix of Qatar will lasting four days?
Casey Stoner says: "I don’t like it. It is very difficult because at the time that we have to ride, late in the evening, the track conditions are very bad, cold and unpredictable. I would be better if we could ride a little earlier. But for a Grand Prix to last 4 days is too long. For me that’s not the ideal, but everyone would be in the same situation, so we will go on as we have."
Q. Your teammate Dani and you showed great strength during this preseason. Do you think this year everyone will be faster than ever?
Casey Stoner says: "I think so, I have seen many riders that are taking more risks and they are pushing a lot more. There is more competitiveness because they think victory is possible, they feel they are closer to the podium and that motivates them to take more risks than before. I think we will see very exciting races this year."
Q. Do you think the Honda is a step ahead of its rivals?
Casey Stoner says: "It is difficult to say. Naturally, we are happy with the path Honda has taken and everything they have done for us from our first test in Valencia to now, because they have made good progress. Both Dani [Pedrosa] and I are pushing a little more than the others, but until we get to the race it is difficult to know where we really are. At this moment we are happy with what Honda is giving us, we just need to be sure that everything will work at the races."
Q. Where are you with the clutch, the engine brake and the rebound problems you talked about during the tests?
Casey Stoner says: "It is difficult to know if the problem comes from the clutch or the electronic control. The bike rebounds a lot when entering the corners and it is difficult to brake late, because the bike is a bit unstable. It is something on which we have worked a lot, specially during the two last sessions.
"We have improved a bit on that, but it is not enough yet, we have to dedicate more time to it to be at 100-percent. About the suspension, at the moment we are using last year’s standard. We also have a modified 2011 fork that we tested once, but we had some problems and we did not feel fully comfortable. We decided to wait until we are sure about what we want from the bike before asking about the forks; we need more time to decide what we want."
Q. Do you think we will see the same four riders on top this year or are there going to be changes?
Casey Stoner says: "I expect some surprises, although I did the same last year and there were the same four riders winning races and getting on the podiums. I am certain Dani [Pedrosa] and Jorge [Lorenzo] will be in front, but Andrea [Dovizioso] is quickly improving and also Simoncelli and Ben Spies can increase the list. Valentino might be ready for the first race, but we might have to wait a little. But I am sure that there might be some unexpected rider that will make an effort to be in front."