Two-time World Champion Casey Stoner sent shockwaves through the MotoGP paddock with his announcement this afternoon in France that this will be his final year of racing. The 26-year-old Australian and current World Championship points leader says he will retire at the end of the 2012 season.
Stoner, who made his Grand Prix debut in the British 125cc Grand Prix in 2001, has 42 victories in GP racing - 35 in MotoGP, five in 250cc GP and two in 125cc GP. He made his MotoGP debut in 2006 in the Spanish Grand Prix and earned his first MotoGP victory in Qatar a year later.
"Basically, this has been coming after a lot of time thinking - at the end of 2012 I will not be racing, after I finish the end of this season of MotoGP," Stoner said. "After many years of doing the sport I love, that I and my family have made so many sacrifices for, this sport has changed a lot and I'm not enjoying it, I don't have the passion at this point.
"There are lots of things I love about this sport and a lot of things have changed, and unfortunately I think the balance has gone in the wrong direction.
"It would be nice to stay one more year... but when do you stop?
"I still want to win the rest of my races, and I'll give 110 percent effort, maybe more."
Stoner made the surprise announcement at the opening of the pre-event press conference. Top-table companions (Jorge) Lorenzo and (Valentino) Rossi both expressed "big surprise," saying it was bad news for MotoGP.
Stoner had vehemently denied rumors of retirement at Portugal, telling the same conference: "Don't listen to everything you produce."
At Le Mans he insisted he had been truthful, and that he had not reached a decision until some time in the last week.
Stoner included the press and negative reporting that criticized the sport as among his bugbears; but then criticized racing on his own account, particularly the introduction of CRT bikes which had created a two-tier championship.
He also spoke about how he had been struck by the lack of faith in him. "To this day people are still saying that I suffered a mystery illness when I missed some races in 2009, even though it was clearly a lactose intolerance," he said.
He denied that the birth of his first daughter at the beginning of this year had forced the timing; adding that a recent test in an Australian V8 saloon racing car was also coincidental.
Stoner has spoken in the past about his dislike of the technical dumbing down of racing, and threatened retirement as a result.
But the main reason was the loss of enjoyment.
"I've seen riders in the past carry on after the passion has gone."
Asked if he did not think it was a waste of talent, he replied: "Maybe it would be a waste of life for me to continue."
He paused, and then said: "For me, the competitive spirit will take over what the passion cannot hold.
"Maybe I am the first one to retire so early."
Rossi, meanwhile, responded to questions about his own future, again denying rumors he is to retire. "For me it is difficult to know where the news started, because I never spoke to nobody about retirement. I want to race in MotoGP for two more years, for sure," he said.