Casey Stoner has enjoyed a strong start to his time with Repsol Honda, leading the 2011 MotoGP World Championship at its halfway point.
A brilliant win in the recent US Grand Prix sees the Australian 20 points ahead of reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, while fellow Repsol riders Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa round out the top four – 50 and 83 points down respectively.
In the below interview, Stoner reflects on winning five of the first 10 races, predicts what it’ll take to win his second world title, and discusses why the 2011 season is one of the most competitive in history.
Q: Five victories and four more podiums in 10 races. It does not sound bad at all for a first half of the season, does it?
CASEY STONER: Yes. I think that without the problem of the second race (where Stoner was crashed out by Valentino Rossi), we would have been in the podium in all races this season, which I believe is something very special. I am very happy this year at the Repsol Honda Team. The bike has been working brilliantly and even on the worst days it did not work poorly. This is something very positive. When we have the opportunity to win we are always there, very close, and that gives us the chance to win more often.
Q: Which race do you prefer from the ones held until now with the Repsol Honda?
STONER: I would say that my favourite race this season was, undoubtedly, Laguna Seca. We had a very difficult weekend. Since Assen, where I had a huge crash (in practice), I suffered a bit due to my injuries, because I had a fall again in Sachsenring and things did not really go our way. When we arrived at Laguna Seca I was confident, but unfortunately, during the weekend we were not able to have the bike we wanted. It was not until the race when we took the step ahead we needed and which gave us the confidence to have a great race.
Q: Lorenzo, Pedrosa and yourself are very close in terms of performance and you have a level well above the rest. Does it make the victories even more satisfying?
STONER: I have competed with those riders throughout my career, so I think that the value of the victories is always very high. The three of us, Jorge (Lorenzo), Dani (Pedrosa) and myself have had the bad luck to coincide in a very difficult time, one of the toughest in history, in which it is most difficult to achieve victory, and it is certainly a great feeling, a deep emotion when you win. But after competing with them most of my life, the feeling is more or less the same. When you have a race like in Laguna Seca, then the feeling is special, but it was also the same in the first victory in the first race with Honda. It was something special.
Q: From now until the end of the season, what do you think will decide who will be the champion?
STONER: I could say consistency, but as difficult as it is, I do not think consistency will win championships. You have to be there and win races, take risks. I think that is what might decide the championship. We are going to do the best job we can every time we get on track, but if one of the days we are not able win, we need to settle for second place, a third or even worse, but we will try to win every time.
Q: What would you say about your bike and what has to be improved on it? Because in the last races you suffered more than expected…
STONER: We had some weekends that were a bit weird, because in Mugello we suffered a little, because the tyres overheated, which was caused by an excess of grip on the rear. In Sachsenring we tried to reduce the grip, to decrease the temperature of the tyres and that is not the correct direction. In Laguna Seca we followed the same path, trying to avoid the temperature from being too high, but it was not the right direction. We have just been going around in circles to try to take a step ahead to find grip again, to find traction that helps the bike work well, because this is what I think is Honda’s best feature – traction. When we do not follow that path we don’t have a strong feature and that is why we suffered in those races.
Q: And where do you think you need to improve? How do you feel about your physical problems?
STONER: Now we have a few weeks’ break and I am sure that we will feel much better afterwards, because week after week I did not improve too much. It is something we have suffered, but we had to compete and we did not think too much about it. There are many things I must improve in my riding, also with this bike. I have been learning in the last races, but the lack of experience with the Honda does not help.
It will be great to have more experience to know that a certain set-up works in a certain way, and that it is good to follow that path when we lack grip or when it is difficult to turn. With a little more experience maybe we could have even less bad moments, so I think that with a bit more experience we will improve those points, because they were weaknesses in the last races.
Q: What do you ask for the second half of the season?
STONER: Honestly, the best thing that can happen is that it is the same as the first half! To arrive with more than the rest to the end of the season is our main objective. I want to achieve even more victories, I want to do my best until the end of the season. The bike is good, is fast, I am riding well, but the problem is that I have very strong rivals that do the same. We will have to wait and see what we can do in the second half of the season, but I am sure it will be a tough championship.
Q: What are your plans for these free days before going to the Czech Republic?
STONER: I don’t have many plans, just try to recover from my injuries and if I am able to recover enough, then start training again before the beginning of the next part of the season. This year, since Le Mans I have been sick or injured and it was very difficult to find time to train, so it would be good just to get back to the track in full form.