Hands up who saw that coming? We all knew Casey Stone was going to hang up the leathers at some point, most likely in the not too distant future, perhaps at the end of the 2013 season. But not this Thursday. At just 26 years of age, Stoner will put his helmet away for good at season's end.
He mentioned a raft of reasons, both on and off the record, but the short version is that he's simply lost his passion for the sport. And he's always said that once the desire was gone, so was he. Statistics, money and fame were never a driving force for the Australian and if there's one thing you can always attribute to Casey, it's his honesty. Us MotoGP fans will be poorer for his departure.
He was never the most popular rider amongst fans but it would take the most stubborn of one-eyed Valentino Rossi fans to deny his skill on a motorcycle was other worldly. To watch Stoner on a qualifying lap is one of the great joys in motorcycle racing. Pure mastery. Yes, Rossi and Giacamo Agostini are the most successful riders of all time but to my mind, in terms of pure, raw, natural talent there's Stoner, Freddie Spencer, Kevin Schwantz, Mike Hailwood and everyone else. He'll be sorely missed but you have to have nothing but respect for his decision to walk away. One of the better jokes floating around the paddock has been, 'His talent outweighed his ambition,' which has raised a smile from anyone who remembers 'the incident' at Jerez last year.
So that means he'll be taking it easy for the rest of the season, right? Well, he's lead all three practice sessions so far at Le Mans and by a considerable margin each time so, no, wrong. He wants to go out on top and there's no reason to think he won't. Even a half interested Stoner is still going to give everyone a run for their money. He had a small crash this morning before going out ten minutes later and blowing everyone into next week. His new daughter is at her first grand prix and I think she'll see Dad win. He's a [1.85] favourite and that's about right. I can't see him drifting any further than that so take that price now.
Jorge Lorenzo might be riding with a small injury to his lower jaw this weekend as it hit the floor quite hard on Thursday as he sat next to Stoner during his announcement. He's been keeping Stoner honest and is really the only one who can challenge him on Sunday. At [3.9] for the win, Lorenzo's price seems long but it's one of those weekends where you just can't, barring a crash, back anyone beyond Stoner.
The final podium spot should go to Dani Pedrosa. It's been Casey, Jorge and Dani in varying orders so fair in 2012 and it should be the same here. But Cal Crutchlow's remarkable season continues as he was second to Stoner this morning. He's happier in the cooler conditions and with similar weather, if not rain, tipped for tomorrow he could factor in for a podium. Anything around [3.0] is worth a punt of the Coventry rider.
Once again we've got unpredictable weather. It's likely to rain either a little or a lot tomorrow so expect a damp, wet or cold track. That's about as specific as we've been able to get out of the bureau. If it is wet, the British drought of MotoGP podiums might come to an end. But unless there's a hurricane that blows the entire track way it's hard to see anyone not named Casey standing on the top step on Sunday. Enjoy it while you can.
Back Casey Stoner for the win at [1.85]
Back Cal Crutchlow for the Top 3 at [3.0]