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Old 11-24-2015, 12:30 AM   #1
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It's official: Casey Stoner returns to Ducati

Having achieved living legend status with Ducati for his 2007 MotoGP World Championship, Casey Stoner was welcomed with open arms back to the Ducati fold as a test rider.

Both Ducati and Honda posted simultaneous press releases today confirming a rumor that retired two-time MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner was going back to Ducati as a test rider. Honda's press release was basically a good-bye letter, while Ducati's release was a "welcome back" as a "brand ambassador" and test rider.

While both press releases appeared to show Stoner and Honda parting on good terms, there have been numerous reports that the relationship wasn't all wine and roses towards the end. The signs of strain began to show after Stoner—who had already conducted several test sessions for Honda—reportedly offered to fill in for Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa at the Circuit of the Americas race, who missed three races (CotA, Argentina, and Jerez) in mid-season due to having a third operation to solve arm pump issues (see story here) that were plaguing him during the latter part of 2014 and the first race (Qatar) of 2015. Honda denied Stoner's request, apparently afraid of causing friction in the pitbox with current star rider Marc Marquez, who was already behind in points after making an error in the first turn at Qatar—see story here. Stoner was apparently insulted at the request denial, and tweeted his disappointment at Honda's decision while HRC officials were still trying to deal with the media frenzy surrounding the already rampant rumor of Stoner's possible fill-in at CotA.

Stoner's penchant for not worrying about PR clampdowns reportedly reached a head when he crashed during his first stint riding for the official factory Honda MuSashi HARC-PRO team in the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours race (see video of the nasty crash here). Stoner immediately tweeted a photo of himself in the medical center with his arm in a sling and leg in a cast while stating that a stuck throttle was the reason for the fall. This forced Honda PR officials to hastily release a statement admitting that the bike indeed suffered a stuck throttle, and that they would be looking into the cause.

Stoner's numerous victories and his dominating world title in 2007 aboard the Ducati were a sign of his incredible skill as a rider. But so was his distinction as being the only one to really get a handle on the bike, forcing numerous changes to the bike and the Ducati MotoGP structure before it returned to competitive form.

But apparently it wasn't just Stoner that led to the breakup. According to a story in the German racing website Speedweek, Marquez was reportedly not happy with having Stoner held in such high regard at HRC, and disliked having to share development credit for the latest version of the RC213V, stating that he always had to test parts that were approved by Stoner to make sure they were usable. The story also claims that Honda General Manager of Technical Project Development (and former MotoGP Technical Director) Shinichi Kokubu let slip that Stoner was 1.5 seconds slower than the factory Repsol pair of Marquez and Pedrosa at the official Sepang MotoGP test back in February of this year, making his usefulness as a test rider somewhat suspect if true.

Whatever the case may be, Stoner will now be reunited in a way with Gigi Dall'Igna, the current Ducati Corse general manager who used to be lead technical director of Aprilia Racing during the time Stoner was racing Aprilias in the 125GP and 250GP classes. And it's likely that Stoner's desire to race a couple of wild card MotoGP race entries will be granted by Ducati.

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