Stoner ready for title defence
Paris - Australia's two-time MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner begins his title defence in Qatar this weekend determined to show he is still the man to beat.
The 26-year-old has been in sparkling form in pre-season testing on his Honda, along with team-mate Dani Pedrosa, which has been all the more creditable as he and his wife Adrianna have just welcomed into the world their first child Alessandra.
The baby girl was born on February 16, the birthdate of Italian great Valentino Rossi, who will be hoping for a more positive season this year on his Ducati.
Stoner, who won the world crown in emphatic style last year for Honda after winning his first title in 2007 with Ducati, shrugs aside the idea that a new born baby and all that entails will make him lose focus on the day job.
"They say you slow down when you get married, but in my first year of marriage I won the title," said Stoner, who has won 40 Grand Prix in all, 33 of those at MotoGP level.
"When I found out we were having a baby I won it a second time. I don't think that's the case (that you slow down)," he told his team sponsors Red Bull's website.
Stoner, who in between world titles suffered from a mysterious virus that badly affected him in the 2009 campaign, says that he hasn't had to adjust his fitness levels much with the new bikes going up from 800cc to 1000cc this term.
However, he was less impressed that new rules brought in forced them into having to modify the bike.
"It is rather frustrating. We already had the bike developed and then they decided to change the regulations, so we had to add 4kg to the weight of our bike," said Stoner.
"This is a disadvantage for us, because the bike was already developed with a specific weight in mind and now we have to add more. This affects the bike."
Stoner admitted that racing this season would be more of a challenge with the added worry of whether they had enough in the tank to finish the race.
"Of course, when you have more power there is a critical aspect involved: Obtaining the same performance with less fuel consumption," he said.
"We have the same fuel tank capacity as with the 800cc bikes, only with a lot more power available, so it is going to be difficult to ensure we can finish each race. That is why it is crucial that Honda and Repsol work together to find the best solution."
Pedrosa - who finished fourth in last year's championship despite missing several races because of a broken collarbone - will just be glad to be able to focus on racing after he was implicated in a fraudulent boat license scam last weekend in Valencia.
"I committed an error, in following bad advice," he said in a statement released by his lawyers.
"You can either ignore your mistakes or you can learn from them and for my part this will be a lesson for me.
"I want to apologise to my supporters and all those who have confidence in me.
"Now I just want to look forward. I am a motorcyclist, the world championship begins next weekend in Qatar, and I want to focus exclusively on this race."
Rossi for his part will be looking towards a season to remember rather than the past two eminently forgettable ones which reached its nadir with the death of his close friend Marco Simoncelli at last year's Malysian Grand Prix.
The 33-year-old nine-time world MotoGP champion was believed to have considered retiring after that but instead he is back and wants Ducati to provide him with a bike that will have him challenging regularly this season rather than the mediocre one which failed to trouble the leaders last term.
"We worked hard over the winter, and although we went the wrong direction at one point, we once again managed to find the good feeling with the GP12 that we'd had in the first test," said Rossi, winner of 103 Grand Prix in all categories.
"I'm a realist, and I know well that our times are still a long way off and that there are still some things to fix. We won't be able to address some of them right away, but it's also true that both we at the track and the guys back home now have a direction to work in, and we must try to do as well as we can.
"We won't completely re-do the bike during the season, but we'll try to progress little by little."