Phillip Island braces for Stoner-free era
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The retirement of Casey Stoner will be keenly felt at Sunday's Australian MotoGP, where the two-time world champion's domination was a guarantee of solid crowds and a comfort to organizers under pressure to rein in costs.
Stoner, who pushed his Honda to a record sixth straight victory at Phillip Island last year before bowing out of the sport at the age of 27, will hit the bucolic seaside circuit again but only for an honorary lap with fellow Australian world title-winners Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner.
Stoner's valedictory appearance lured a bumper race-day crowd of 55,000 last year, with leather-clad enthusiasts riding thousands of miles from distant states to farewell the local hero whose family sold their farm to finance his boyhood dream.
Organizers will be happy with 40,000 turning up this year and have pinned their hopes on 20-year-old Marc Marquez's bid to become the youngest world champion - and a forecast of sunshine at Phillip Island's notoriously changeable weather.
"It'll be tougher without Casey Stoner here, we had an unbelievable strong amount of revenue growth from Casey Stoner's decision to retire last year but that will be difficult to match," Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) CEO Andrew Westacott told Reuters in a phone interview on Tuesday.
"Because if we're not getting the same level of attendance, we're going to be short of revenue."
Australia's appetite for world class sport and major events has seen motorcycling's premier championship make a stop Down Under since 1989, with Phillip Island hosting a race for all but six of the years.
Like the higher-profile Formula One race held at Albert Park circuit a two hour drive up the road to Melbourne, the MotoGP has long been subsidized by taxpayers, albeit far less controversially than the four-wheel race which has posted losses of above A$50 million ($47.40 million) in recent years. Continued...