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Stoner back testing with the big boys at Sepang

THE 2015 Ducati MotoGP machine has ticked all the right boxes with retired double world champion Casey Stoner of Australia.

So much so, the 30-year-old will test the 2016 machine, probably on Tuesday alongside his past rivals such as Honda’s Dani Perdros and Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the reigning champion and Valentino Rossi — with Stoner, the quartet were known as the “Four Aliens” so much faster they were than the rest of the field.

Stoner will also be taking on Honda No 1 Marc Marquez with some thing to prove if paddock gossip has hit the mark. When Pedros was forced to miss three races for surgery on his arm-pump problems last season, Stoner, then with Honda as a test pilot, felt he should have been asked to fill in but instead the place went to a former 250cc world champion Hiroshi Aoyama. Word is that Marquez blocked Stoner from getting Pedrosa’s spot.

Stoner then switched to Ducati for the 2016 season — as a test pilot.

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But at Sepang on Saturday, Stoner ran 54 laps on the 2015 Desmosedici clocking a best time of 2m02.1s — within seven tenths of a second of Ducati’s best race lap from last year’s grand prix, on a track that was dirty after little recent use, on Michelin tyres that are replacing Bridgestone as MotoGP’s control tyre from 2016 and the standard ECU.

Stoner was riding alongside Ducati development rider Michele Pirro, who focussed on the new (and unpainted) GP16, to be used by race riders Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone in the official test that began today.

“The whole build-up to this test… it definitely means something. Meeting everybody, the new people in the department and meeting up with old friends again. It’s been a lot of nice emotions,” Stoner, who had ridden only a Superbike in the last year, told a press conference.

“Those first laps – I didn’t expect to be so comfortable with the bike so quickly. You can definitely feel that it’s got some grunt. It’s powerful. You can feel the good points and some points that need to be worked on, like any machine.

“In my opinion it’s been a very successful first day, especially moving forward to the point where I can really give them feedback already by the end of the first day. Normally that’s quite difficult to do until you are really comfortable.”

The bike did however feel a little “alien” at the beginning, in terms of getting feedback from the front. “We didn’t know if it was tyres or chassis, then we just did a couple of changes with suspension and I immediately got more feeling with the bike and we moved forward from there.”

The front feeling is not yet perfect, but Stoner pointed out “I haven’t ridden one of these bikes in over a year. Haven’t ridden Michelins. New bike. Everything. So I’m really surprised by the end of the day how we got on with it.

“There is room for improvement, but that excites me. When there’s something that we know feels like a pretty good package and still has more room for improvement, that’s a good sign. Every step we made today was in the right direction and we were able to say definitely how each change made things better or worse in each area.”

Stoner won his first world title in 2007 on a Ducati and followed that up by winning the 2011 title on a Honda before retiring at the end of the 2012 season.

Ducati has not won a grand prix since Stoner’s departure at the end of 2010.

“I’ve always had a big soft spot for Ducati, especially the MotoGP team.

“This is something that I feel I can make a difference. I’m not here to kick-start my career and really push through again, but what I’d like to do is make a difference for the riders that are there. Get them a little bit more comfortable and hopefully further towards the front, pushing for better results.

“If I can do that I’m going to be very, very happy. But of course my data and my information isn’t necessarily going to translate into results, especially when my feelings are a little different maybe to the other riders.

“I’ll do whatever I can for Ducati. I’m going to be putting a lot of effort in.”

Ducati and Stoner have both played down the chances of the Australian contesting any races this season, but Lorenzo is among those certain he will.

Stoner skilfully sidestepped a question about which MotoGP track he would most like to race at again: “Laguna Seca (which has been taken off the calendar)!” .

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About Nigel Andretti

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