Casey Stoner’s 2007 WORLD TITLE | Columns | Gassit Garage
A decade on, we look back at Casey Stoner’s maiden MotoGP World Championship – the hard work, the controversy and the ultimate celebration
Casey Stoner won the first of his 41 Australian titles when he was just six years old. Eight years later and too young to race on Aussie racetracks, his lashings of talent forced his family to pack up and chase his road-racing dream in Europe.
With self-belief and determination, it took the plucky Aussie just seven more years to loft the most coveted prize in two-wheeled motorcycle sport.
On 23 September 2007, two decades after Wayne Gardner had become Australia’s first premier-class world champion, Casey Stoner became the second-youngest person ever to wear the MotoGP crown.
The season before had been all about Valentino Rossi and the late Nicky Hayden, the latter snatching the title after the Italian choked in the finale.
Casey Stoner was a MotoGP rookie that year, yet had pulled out a stunning pole position in just his second premier-class GP and finished on the podium in just his third.
Another rookie that year was multiple 125 and 250 world champion Dani Pedrosa, who racked up a whopping eight podiums in his maiden MotoGP season, including two wins. Yet it was Stoner who went on to win two premier-class world titles before calling it quits in 2012, while the ultimate accolade still eludes the likeable Spaniard.
Despite Stoner’s early pole position and podium finish, nobody had the young Aussie pegged for a MotoGP world championship the following year. Not even us.
In AMCN’s 2007 MotoGP season preview, Stoner wasn’t one of the seven riders our guru tipped to potentially loft the 2007 MotoGP title trophy. No, the then 21-year-old was lumped in with fellow graduates Pedrosa, Randy de Puniet, Toni Elias and Chris Vermeulen. Pedrosa was the “most likely to upset the applecart”. Stoner’s verdict: “Maybe he’ll need one more year in the class.”
But that’s exactly what made Casey Stoner’s maiden world title so special, so memorable, and why the outspoken, sometimes prickly and fiercely talented youngster very quickly found a spot in Aussie racing fans’ hearts.
“We didn’t [pick it] for a heck of a long time either,” he later admitted. “We still thought this dream has got to start going downhill somewhere, and we just kept doing what we knew and it ended up working out in the end.”
And work out it did. Amid a swathe of new regulations, a controversial new tyre rule, all-new 800cc machines and, for the first time, a bevy of interfering electronics, a fascinating technical sub-plot began to unravel and a fresh-faced 21-year-old ran away with the title.
This is how it unfolded…
Rd 1, Qatar: Case in point
The season-opener was fascinating. Engine capacity had been cut from 990cc to 800cc on safety grounds, and a restricted tyre allocation was introduced – which, among other things, meant Michelin could no longer fly in perfectly suited ‘Sunday Specials’ overnight.
Casey Stoner wasn’t on anyone’s radar; the diminutive Dani Pedrosa was tipped to make best use of the smaller machinery. Besides, Stoner was Ducati’s third choice after Hayden and Marco Melandri had both declined the factory seat.
However, first time out on the GP7 Desmosedici and on series newcomer Bridgestone tyres, Stoner scored a jaw-dropping win over Rossi, reducing the race time by 20 seconds and slashing almost eight-tenths of a second off the lap record in the process.
It was effectively a two-man race between the Ducati and Yamaha riders.
While the Doctor nipped at Stoner’s rear wheel all race long hoping to pressure the Aussie back into his 2006 crash-happy ways, Rossi would later admit: “He was so strong. We only waved the white flag right at the end.”
Rd 2, Jerez: Doctor’s orders
After his qatar heroics, Stoner came down to earth again in the first European race of the season, qualifying only fifth for the Spanish Grand Prix and battling to even hold that position on the first lap.
Things went from bad to worse, though, and by half race distance the Aussie was battling to hang on to ninth, though according to him it was through no fault of his own but rather being blocked as a result of “a few dodgy passing manoeuvres. Some riders were overly aggressive at the beginning – I got held up.”
By lap 20, however, the Australian had fought his way back to fifth place, where he’d eventually finish the race, and he was the fastest man on the circuit with seven laps to go. While it’s not unusual these days for riders to find pace towards the end of a race, 10 years ago it was.
Stoner was quizzed on how he could find the confidence so early in the season to push on an unfamiliar Bridgestone-shod Ducati after spending his rookie year on the very different Michelin-shod Honda. “When I was doing dirt track as a kid, I would sometimes race five different bikes in the same weekend – I’m used to adapting.”
Race winner Rossi took over the championship lead while Stoner and Pedrosa were equal second on 36 points.
Rd 3, Istanbul: Stoner age
“I pushed hard from the start because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get bumped back, like in Jerez,” Stoner said after taking his second win in three starts. And it worked. Despite the all-Michelin front row, with Stoner heading the second row in fourth, the first six finishers were all on Bridgestones. The quickest of them all was Stoner, who ran away with the race to cross the line two seconds clear of Toni Elias.
“I don’t want to sound confident, but at first I was pushing hard to get a gap then, after it got to 2.5sec, I tried to slow the pace just to make sure everything was safe. The way the Ducati and the Bridgestones were today, we couldn’t do anything wrong.”
Title rival Rossi finished 16 seconds behind Stoner down in 10th place, handing the Aussie the championship lead and a 10-point buffer.
Rd 4, Shanghai:
Only 13 riders in the championship’s history had previously won three out of the first four races in a season, and every one of them had gone on to win the title.
When Stoner crossed the line of the Chinese Grand Prix ahead of Rossi and Suzuki’s John Hopkins, he became the 14th name on the list.
Rossi had started from pole, his qualifying time a full second quicker than Stoner’s fourth-place effort, but over race distance it was a very different story.
The Shangai Circuit had the longest straight of all the circuits on the 2007 calendar, and Stoner made the most of the Ducati’s superior top speed on the 1.2-kilometre back straight to win by more than three seconds. Rossi’s Yamaha registered a top speed of 316.3km/h compared to the Ducati’s 329.3km/h.
The win eked out a further five-point lead in the standings as AMCN talked of the possibility of championship glory, but Rossi was still most people’s favourite for the 2007 title.
Rd 5, Le Mans: Aussie talent
There aren’t many people who recall the 2007 French Grand Prix without thinking of Australian rider Chris Vermeulen’s first and only MotoGP win. It was a memorable victory for the Suzuki rider and special for many reasons, not least because Australia’s own Suzuki-riding GP legend Jack Findlay had passed away that morning.
It was also MotoGP’s second-ever flag-to-flag race in the rain, and wet-weather specialist Vermeulen won by a whopping 12.6sec from Marco Melandri, with Stoner finishing third. It was the first time two Australians had shared a premier-class podium since Mick Doohan and Darryl Beattie stood on the box after the 1995 Argentine Grand Prix.
Rossi, like most of the Michelin riders, struggled in the severe weather conditions and criticised the new tyre rule, labelling the imposed choice “too hard” and “a gamble”.
Stoner disagreed, very matter-of-factly, with a simple: “We make our bike suit the tyres, instead of making our tyres to suit the bike.”
A bitter rivalry had begun to bubble; Stoner was now on 102 points versus Rossi’s 81.
Rd 6, Mugello: Doctor’s revenge
For the sixth year in succession, Rossi climbed onto the top step at the Italian Grand Prix to the delight of almost 86,000 adoring fans. He didn’t have it all his way, though, starting from the outside of the front row behind two Aussies – Stoner on pole and previous-round winner Vermeulen in second.
Stoner led the opening laps but slipped back and was eventually pipped to a podium place by Alex Barros on his satellite Pramac machine. “I was faster than Alex in a lot of places,” Stoner said, “but he’s very good at braking.”
Rossi’s home-ground victory slashed Stoner’s lead to just nine points with 12 races to run.
“The championship is very long and for sure it will be a battle to the end,” Rossi warned.
Rd 7, Catalunya: The turning point
Casey Stoner’s victory in the Spanish GP was his fifth for the season, but importantly it was his first in Europe, where rivals like Rossi and Pedrosa were incredibly strong and buoyed by the partisan fans.
And this was the first true battle since the introduction of the 800cc machinery, which were proving hard to pass. The trio went wheel-to-wheel throughout, Pedrosa eager to win at home and the Italian desperate to keep the Aussie within his clutches.
Rossi was already a five-time MotoGP world champion and winner of 60 races. But Stoner, in just his second year in the premier class and up against arguably the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, held his nerve and beat Rossi by just 0.069sec. This was no longer beginner’s luck.
“When you have a race like that against Valentino you realise, friggin’ hell, this isn’t a dream, it’s reality,” Stoner told AMCN.
“Valentino is no different to any other rider and you feel the same pressure when he’s behind you, but you always know that Valentino has something left on the final lap. But I was able to fight back and overcome him.”
Stoner’s crew chief Cristian Gabarrini looks back at that race as the turning point of the championship: “After this victory I allowed myself to think that the championship could be a chance if we kept going like this with Casey’s riding style and his attitude of never giving up against Valentino. They overtook 17 times and it was a big fight to the last metre of the race. Casey’s talent made the difference.”
Stoner left Spain with a 14-point lead but insisted he still wasn’t thinking about the championship.
Rd 8, Donington Park: Reign maker
Donington Park delivered on its notorious bad weather, and Stoner delivered on what was fast becoming apparent – that he and his Bridgestone-shod GP7 were a force to be reckoned with.
In a Doohan-like display, Stoner crossed the line almost 12 seconds clear of Colin Edwards. Chris Vermeulen came third for the second double Aussie podium of the year (two and a half if you count Edwards’ Australian father), while Rossi continued to struggle on his wet-weather Michelin tyres and finished fourth, enabling Stoner to stretch his lead to more than a race win, to 26 points.
It wasn’t all champagne and wheelies though. At the circuit’s Day of Champions charity event, the Aussie followed Rossi onto the stage and was booed by British fans. “I think it’s because everybody in England, myself included in the past, is that disappointed when Valentino isn’t winning they basically just want to hate his competitors,” said Stoner, who added with his trademark self-belief, “I’m not gonna let it worry me.”
Rd 9, Assen TT:
Controversial changes to the legendary Assen circuit might have left riders bemoaning its loss of character, but Rossi fans were treated to the kind of performance that made the Italian a legend.
It was an Aussie one-two in wet qualifying with Vermeulen from Stoner (and Ant West, who had been drafted in to ride the Kawasaki ZX-RR, in seventh). The Michelin-shod Rossi was back on the fourth row in 11th – he could see the championship slipping away.
Race day was dry, however, and Rossi was up to ninth by the end of lap three. He then carved his way through to the front of the field and took the flag almost two seconds clear of Stoner.
“The way the season’s been going, I can hardly complain about second,” Stoner said after the race.
Rossi’s third win of the season reduced the title lead to 21.
Rd 10, Sachsenring:
Then there were three
The 2007 German Grand Prix presented a couple of firsts for the season.
Pedrosa started from the front row (2nd) and took his first win of the season, beating Loris Capirossi to the line by the biggest winning margin of the modern GP era, 13.166sec.
It was also the first time that Stoner and his Ducati had struggled to find a set-up that suited the Bridgestone tyres and, despite starting from pole, he finished the race more than 30 seconds behind Pedrosa in fifth place. It was the Australian’s worst finish of the season.
The gods were smiling on Stoner, though, because Rossi started from sixth on the grid and crashed on the fifth lap as he tried to make his way through the field.
Despite Stoner’s uncharacteristic tyre struggles and with eight rounds left to run, he now had a 31-point buffer on Rossi with maiden winner Pedrosa still in the hunt, now just 20 points further back.
Rd 11, Laguna Seca: Flag to flag
It was the first time in the four-stroke era that the Laguna Seca race hadn’t been dominated by Nicky Hayden. It was also the first time in 12 rounds of the 2007 season that the polesitter converted his first-place start to a first-place finish, and it was Stoner who broke the trend.
He didn’t just win the race – the last before the summer break – he dominated it. Stoner topped every session, set a new lap record to take pole, then won the 32-lap race by almost 10 seconds.
The realities were beginning to sink in: “It’s hard for me to explain the sort of feelings and emotions we’ve gone through this year, and to be in the position I’m in now in my second year… I never dreamed of it.”
It was an all-Bridgestone podium, and the third time Vermeulen shared it with his compatriot.
Rossi was the first Michelin-shod finisher over the line in fourth. “The tyres are the boss, for better or for worse,” Rossi said, with four weeks to ponder the substantial gap to Stoner of 44 points.
Rd 12, Brno: Seven wonders
The Czech Grand Prix was the seventh-last round of the season, and while Rossi languished in seventh place over the line, Stoner romped home more than seven seconds ahead of John Hopkins to celebrate his seventh win of the season.
“It’s nice to top things off with another win,” he casually remarked, now with a points lead of more than two race wins over Rossi.
Stoner was asked during the post-race press conference whether the 60-point buffer was enough to start riding tactically with just six races and 150 points left for the taking.
“Maybe later in the season – not yet,” he replied. “We all know what Valentino can pull out of the bag. I’m confident in myself, but we’ve not won it yet.”
Rd 13, Misano: Eighth wonder
Casey Stoner’s eighth win of the season and another Rossi DNF was, by the Aussie’s own admission, the moment he knew the trophy would likely be his.
“I had over an 80-point lead,” he recalled. “We thought this is our championship to lose now.”
It was the first premier-class Italian GP since 1993 that didn’t favour a local rider – for 13 years all the big-bore races had been won by Italians.
It did favour a local marque, however. Stoner’s victory at Misano in 2007 was Ducati’s first-ever grand prix win on home soil.
It was also the fourth double Aussie podium of the year as Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen rode to a strong second place ahead of his teammate John Hopkins.
There was more good news for Aussies, too, because Ant West inked a deal at the Italian round to ride the Kawasaki ZX-RR full time in the 2008 season after turning in some strong performances filling in for the retired Olivier Jacque. It would be the first time that three Aussies would be racing in three different factory-backed squads.
Rd 14, Estoril: Never say never
Casey Stoner’s clutch, perhaps resigned to the will of Australian fans who wanted more than anything to witness him claim his maiden world championship crown on home soil, disengaged itself intermittently throughout the Portuguese GP in Estoril.
“I was running into some corners in neutral and running wide on the exit,” he later revealed.
Nicky Hayden had taken pole position for Repsol Honda, ahead of Stoner and Rossi, but it was Hayden’s teammate Pedrosa who came through in the race to fight for the lead with Rossi and Stoner.
Rossi eventually beat Pedrosa to the flag by just two-tenths of a second, while Stoner, despite his gearbox issues, rode around his problems to bring the Ducati GP7 home third.
It’s also worth noting that at this race meeting a certain Johann Zarco took his third win of the year to clinch the Red Bull Rookies Cup.
Casey headed to Motegi on 287 points, 76 points clear of Rossi. He only needed to finish the Japanese GP to be crowned world champion.
Rd 15, Motegi: Advance Australia Fair
The universe once again tried its best to get the 21-year-old Australian to succumb to a home-race crowning by serving up a sketchy 24-lap wet-dry race. All he had to do was finish ahead of Rossi and the title was his.
But it didn’t go as planned. He scored his worst qualifying position of the season with ninth – 1.2sec slower than pole man Pedrosa – but worse, he was eight-tenths slower than Rossi in second.
The race started wet but a dry line soon formed. Pedrosa crashed out of the race on lap 10 and Valentino Rossi was in the lead when he pitted to change to his dry bike.
The gods once again smiled on the young Australian and Rossi, who thought his front slick felt flat, pitted again after just one lap on slicks. He finished the race down in 13th position.
Stoner scored his worst finish of the season down in sixth place, but it didn’t matter one iota because Australia was able to celebrate its first world champion since Mick Doohan in 1998.
“I can’t really remember going through the last corner, and then I crossed the line as world champion – there is no better feeling than that,” Casey told AMCN. “It was a little overwhelming. I’d completed my dream to be MotoGP world champion, so that made all the sacrifices worthwhile.”
He’d racked up eight wins from 15 starts, scored 11 podiums and five pole positions to take not only his first world title, but both Ducati’s and Bridgestone’s as well. There was now just one thing left to do…
Rd 16, Phillip Island: Hometown hero
“I want to win the race,” Stoner declared ahead of the 2007 Australian GP. “It’s the one race that I haven’t been able to win yet
– I’m now going there without too much pressure.”
The fans wanted it too. We’d witnessed a dominant Stoner all year and, deprived of an Aussie premier-class win at Phillip Island since Mick Doohan had taken out the 1998 race from Kiwi Simon Crafar, the 50,425 spectators lining the fence on race day in 2007 wanted to see it for themselves.
“I made one of my best starts, I had the corners to myself so I could concentrate on getting the tyres warmed up and ready to go,” he said after scoring an emotional victory.
He was never headed. In a 27-lap recap of his stellar season, Stoner delighted Aussie fans and crossed the line 6.7sec clear of teammate Capirossi for the first Ducati one-two of the season.
“This is the most special of my wins,” he said afterwards. “Standing on the podium with all the crowd was fantastic. I’ve worked a long time to win this race – this whole season has just been magical. It was hard to understand that winning the championship had happened to me so quickly, in just my second season in MotoGP, but it certainly started to hit deeper standing on the podium with all the Aussies singing the national anthem.”
Rd 17, Sepang: Perfect 10
One week later at the Malaysian GP, Casey Stoner cemented his dominant season with yet another start-to-finish victory, this time 1.7sec clear of Marco Melandri, who was soon to be his new teammate.
Stoner’s 10th win of the season equalled the record for race wins scored in a single season held by 15-time world champion Giacomo Agostini. It also made him the first rider in history to have won a grand prix in all three classes at the Sepang International Circuit.
Rd 18, Valencia: Case closed
Casey Stoner ended his historic season with a relatively subdued and lonely second place in Spain, 5.5sec behind the bloke most people had tipped to be a formidable force in 2007, Dani Pedrosa, but 15sec ahead of John Hopkins.
Rossi’s Yamaha cried ‘enough’ after 11 laps and, with Pedrosa winning, was relegated to third in the championship, a single point behind the Spaniard.
Stoner was the only rider in 2007 to score points in every round of the championship, the only bloke to celebrate three consecutive pole-to-flag victories, and his points tally of 367 equalled Rossi’s 2005 record (set in a 17-round season). He was also the first rider in 33 years to take the title on a European brand since Phil Read’s 1974 title on an MV Agusta.
Casey Stoner returned home a hero.
WORDS KEL BUCKLEY & COLIN YOUNG
PHOTOGRAPHY GOLD & GOOSE