Stoner, who had previously dismissed his retirement plans as rumours, publicly stated yesterday that he will not continue racing past the end of the 2012 season, explaining that he simply is not enjoying the sport anymore: "After so many years of doing this sport which I love, and which myself and my family made so many sacrifices for, after so many years of trying to get to where we have gotten to at this point, this sport has changed a lot and it has changed to the point where I am not enjoying it. I don't have the passion for it and so at this time it's better if I retire now."
The Australian, who currently leads the series championship by one point over Yamaha Factory rider Jorge Lorenzo, expects to finish out the season strong. According to Stoner, "We're not going to change anything for this season, I'm still going to put in every bit of effort that we can, we still want to win races and we still want to have some great races with these riders alongside me, and we'll still put in 110% of effort and maybe even more.
Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo, who lies just one point behind the reigning world champion was shocked by the Australian’s announcement, "It’s a surprise for me, for everyone. I didn’t expect it. I heard the rumours and I thought there was a possibility, but I thought he would continue next year. Now he has told us, it’s not good news for MotoGP I think, but his decision is to live quietly with his family and we must respect his decision."
Lorenzo will be looking to regain the lead in the championship on Sunday, "Le Mans is one of my favourite tracks. Since my first ever-front row in 2003 I have always had good results, so I’m happy to be here."
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow saw the lighter side of Stoner’s announcement: "With Casey making that announcement, maybe he can slow down and let me have a place in the top three. They [the aliens] don’t make many mistakes. Maybe they need to change what they have for dinner the night before or something."
While Casey Stoner announced his retirement, Valentino Rossi also had some big news as he announced he would continue racing a further two years past 2012, yet not before commenting on Stoner: "Yes, it’s a big surprise. I think it’s bad news for all the MotoGP world because at the end of the season maybe we’re losing one of the great riders and a great rival. Is negative, but it’s his own decision. For me it’s very difficult to understand where my retirement news started from, as I never spoke about my retirement. I want to race in MotoGP for the next two years for sure."
Meanwhile, while one Australian announces his exit from MotoGP, another is returning, temporarily at least. Former World Superbike and MotoGP pilot Chris Vermeulen will be at Le Mans this weekend, racing in place of injured CRT rider Colin Edwards. According to Vermeulen, "I'm looking forward to it. It's been a while since I've been in the MotoGP paddock and a while since I've ridden a motorbike at this level, but to be able to come back and ride one of the best CRT bikes on the top tires in the world at a track I like, I'm really looking forward to the weekend." Le Mans is a special place for the Australian rider, as he took a MotoGP victory at the circuit in 2007. While he hasn't yet spent any time on the CRT bike, he's familiar with a lot of members of the team is looking forward to giving the team as much information and feedback as possible and try to compete with some of the other CRT bikes.
During Friday morning MotoGP warm-up, Casey Stoner was quickest on his Repsol Honda, followed by teammate Dani Pedrosa who was a half a second behind.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso was on the pace early on, as he went third quickest just under a tenth behind Pedrosa, in front of Yamaha Factory Racing’s Ben Spies in fourth.
In fifth, Pramac Racing Team’s Héctor Barberá was the surprise inclusion on-board his satellite Ducati. He finished ahead of Spies’ teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who will be seeking a marked improvement to challenge for the win on Sunday.
Seventh spot was occupied by Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow, who managed to oust San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista into eighth, whilst the top ten was rounded out by Ducati Team pair Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi. Rossi, who has stated that he plans to stay in MotoGP until at least 2014, will be looking for some similar form to last year, where he scored his only Ducati podium at the French track.
Highest CRT finish went to local Power Electronics Aspar rider Randy de Puniet, while Chris Vermeulen, who is replacing the injured Colin Edwards at NGM Mobile Forward Racing, finished the session last in 21st.