Aust MotoGP organisers chase Casey Stoner
Australian MotoGP organisers are pursuing retired two-wheel ace Casey Stoner in the hope he’ll return to Phillip Island for this year’s event.
The 27-year-old quit the sport last November but will jump back on a bike this week for a two-day test in Japan with his former MotoGP team Honda.
He is slated for another two sessions in August to ride a prototype of Honda’s 2014 model.
Stoner admitted he missed the thrill of competing on two wheels in announcing the brief comeback, having struggled to stamp his mark on four in the V8 Supercars’ second-tier category.
The move fuelled speculation the two-time MotoGP world champion could make a dramatic comeback to the sport – a prospect that has the Australian Grand Prix Corporation excited.
“Honda had three bikes in their garage last year with (Andrea) Dovizioso – this year Casey might be that third rider,” chief executive Andrew Westacott told AAP.
“I’d love him to be there (at Phillip Island) and if he can make it down, we’d throw out the welcome mat.
“Now that he’s back on the bike from a Honda point of view, we’ll always look to have him down there – in the same way we’ve always extended the invitation to any of our previous legends.
“We’ll have some conversations over the next three months now that there’s a little bit more of a plan when it comes to Honda’s involvement.”
The October 18-20 event has been billed as the `New Era’, with the absence of Stoner – who has won the past six races – opening the door for a new victor for the first time since 2006.
But Westacott conceded it had been harder to promote this year’s event and match the hype around Stoner’s final race at home in 2012.
“Nothing can compare with last year. It was just one of those unbelievable Australian sporting moments,” he said.
“The one-off interest last year was great for the ongoing awareness of the event and ticket sales but it is a little bit more difficult (in 2013) because what we’ve got to do is promote how open the season is rather than having a hero.”
Regardless, Westacott said ticket sales had so far been on par with events held in 2011 and 2010.
“It’s realistic that we’ve got sales more aligned to the 90-100,000 people who come along to MotoGP across three days rather than around 125,000 who came because they wanted to see an end of a sporting icon’s career,” he said.
“In every sport we go through eras – whether it be motorsport, tennis, golf … and now we’re moving onto a new one (in MotoGP).”