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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
The future of MotoGP?
By Julian Shea
BBC Sport, Donington

Gary Lineker once famously described football as "a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end the Germans win."

Casey Stoner
Stoner has been on sensational form all season

And for the last few years, MotoGP has followed a similar formula: 20 bikes ride around for 45 minutes and at the end Valentino Rossi wins.

Last season only an inexplicable fall in the final race of the season cost Rossi his title, handing it to American Nicky Hayden, but this season is an entirely different matter.

And the reason for that is the youngest rider in the competition, Australia's Casey Stoner.

At 21, Stoner has long been regarded as a rider of huge potential, but with an unfortunate habit of failing to stay on his bike.

Last season, his first in MotoGP, he managed to finish eighth in the championship, despite his failure to score any points in seven races, largely due to falling off.

But Ducati team chief Livio Suppo had seen enough in the youngster to sign him up to ride their new 800cc bike for 2007.

Four wins in the first seven races of the season have vindicated his decision and taken Stoner to the top of the standings, 14 points clear of Rossi.

"We knew he was very fast and talented, but it's been better than we could possibly expect," Suppo told BBC Sport.

"His speed was the main reason we signed him, but also because of his character.

Sponsors wanted European riders but we've hit the top and we've shown what we can do

Casey Stoner

"Last season, in only his second race, he was on pole and in the third he was fighting for the win. If you can do that in your debut year, you must be a big talent."

Some people might have baulked at the idea of hiring someone with only one season's top class experience and a dubious record for staying in his seat, but Suppo's faith has been rewarded in the best possible way.

"It's always a gamble. We sign riders without testing them on a bike so you don't know if they will work. But if you believe, then you take the decision and try to give them the best."

Stoner could certainly never be accused of having had 'the best' handed to him on a plate - far from it.

Having won every competition he could enter back home, in 2000 the 14-year-old and his parents moved to England so he could start road racing, living in a caravan for a year while he got established on the circuit.

Seven years down the line, Stoner is living in Monaco, married, sitting atop the world rankings and taking nothing for granted.

"When I arrived, I struggled a bit as an Australian," he told BBC Sport.

"Sponsors wanted European riders but we've hit the top and we've shown what we can do."

The presence of wife Adriana, who he married in January, has certainly had a positive impact on Stoner's career.

"I've been overseas by myself for the last few years, but it's a lot less stressful now I'm married. It's always nice to have someone with you. You don't want to go out on your own and see cities, but now we go together and enjoy the areas around us."

Stoner looks even younger than his 21 years, but seems to take the pressure of riding for one of the most famous names in motorsport - and consistently riding faster than anyone else - comfortably in his stride.

Ducati designer Alan Jenkins has been closely involved in the development of Stoner's bike and is impressed by what he has seen of the development of the rider. "Casey seems incredibly focused once the helmet is on his head," he told BBC Sport.

"He's very direct, looks you straight in the eye and clearly has the concentration to shut out everything else."

And nowhere yet has that concentration been tested more than in the most recent race, at Catalunya, where Stoner went toe-to-toe with Rossi - and won.

Their duel in the closing stages of the race, and Stoner's refusal to be out-muscled by the seven-time world champion, made for one of the most thrilling confrontations motorcycling has seen in years.

"It was clear to see Casey had speed, the difficult question was does he have calmness under pressure," said Jenkins.

"But to resist the pressure of Rossi all over him at Barcelona was something special in anyone, whether he's a new arrival or has been around for years.

"Vale has a bullying style which worked well with Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, but you can't see it happening with Casey."

As Rossi's team-mate, Colin Edwards has seen plenty of people try to challenge the man they call 'The Doctor' and come off worse.

He can stand toe-to-toe with Valentino and beat him

Colin Edwards

But he is not surprised by Stoner's success.

"When you look at the first half of this season, the work Casey's done in that time is maybe more than Hayden did all of last year when he won the championship," he said.

"He can stand toe-to-toe with Valentino and beat him. He's been doing awesomely.

"Everybody knew he was fast, but he's impressed everybody by staying on, that's the biggest improvement."

In years to come, Stoner's refusal to make way for Rossi in Catalunya may come to be seen as the passing of the torch from one proven motorcycling legend to another one in the making.

So far this season, the man from Kurri Kurri in New South Wales has certainly given plenty of evidence to suggest he could end up dominating the next few years in the same way Rossi has dominated the past few.

If you visit Stoner's website and click on the tab marked 'Career', it takes you to a page just saying "coming very soon".

On the strength of what we have seen from Stoner so far this season, "very soon" may well already have started.



SEE ALSO
Edwards snatches Donington pole
23 Jun 07 |  Motorbikes
Aussie Stoner extends Ducati deal
14 Jun 07 |  Motorbikes
Stoner wins epic Catalunya battle
10 Jun 07 |  Motorbikes
Stoner powers to Shanghai victory
06 May 07 |  Motorbikes
Victorious Stoner overhauls Rossi
22 Apr 07 |  Motorbikes


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