Casey Stoner didn’t let changing track conditions or a layout for which he isn’t fond stop him from smashing the lap record in qualifying, winning Sunday’s Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix and extending his points lead on current world champion Jorge Lorenzo.
Some members of the local media nevertheless criticized the 25-year-old Australian for derogatory comments he made about the 2.621-mile roadcourse, most of which exists within the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famous 2.5-mile oval.
“When various motor sports series come to Indianapolis,” wrote Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, “we want the drivers (or riders) to give us a bit of genuflection. We want them to take one moment out of their busy weekend to wax rhapsodic about the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the cachet of the place.
“Got concerns? Talk to race officials, then shut your mouth.”
After practice on Friday, Stoner had a lot to say. He was one of many riders who complained about the surface conditions, especially Turns 5 through 16, which had been repaved in preparation for this year’s event. “The track feels terrible, to be honest,” he said. “It’s got to be one of the slipperiest tracks I’ve ever ridden on in my career. As soon as you hit the new tarmac, you run into some patches. And where the two tarmacs join, there seems to be some sort of grease in the middle.
“We saw a big improvement from the first session, but it’s still by no means in good condition. I have no idea why [the track is] so dirty and slippery. At the moment, it’s very, very dangerous.”
Stoner went on to say that he’d “destroyed a hard front [tire] in four laps. There’s no point in changing anything in setup because I think [the track is] going to change so much over the weekend. We’re just going to have to wait for the track to come to us.”
The Speedway was aware that it might have a problem. After the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 test, held one week before the MotoGP race, AMA officials asked at least one rider not to speak to the media about the track conditions.
During qualifying on Saturday afternoon, Stoner set a new lap record, 1:38.850, cutting nearly a second off the previous best time, 1:39.730, established in 2009 by his Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa. “Stoner just broke the track record,” huffed one reporter. “Why is he still complaining?”
At the post-qualifying press conference, Stoner said track conditions may have peaked. “Everyone is now having problems with the front tire,” he said. “The more we push it, the less grip we have and the more it’s ‘graining.’ We’ll have to see how the conditions are in the morning. If the temperatures are the way they were in the afternoon, it’s going to be a hot, slippery race.”
I asked Stoner to describe the specific locations of the “inconsistent” patches. “There’s one in Turn 5,” he recalled. “Turn 6 is okay. Turn 7 entry, there are two patches. Exit of Turn 7 before Turn 8. There are two patches going into Turn 9. Turn 10 is okay, but [there are others] between Turn 10 and 11, into Turn 12, exit of Turn 13, in the middle of Turn 14, and on the way into 15 and 16.
“You don’t want to be cautious; that’s not the way you want to ride. Ben [Spies] and I seem to be dealing with the slipperiness a little bit better than the rest of them. If the track comes in tomorrow, some people could get their confidence and things might change. For one of the first times this year, it actually might be a bit of tire game—how you set up the bike, how you get those tires working.”
Stoner added that while previous bumps were gone, new ones had appeared. “Turns 5 and 12 were fantastic. Now, they’re bumpy as hell.”
Track temperature before the start of Sunday’s race was 123 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than was Malaysia’s always-blistering Sepang Circuit last season. With the exception of Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, who went with a medium front, all of the riders chose the hard front and soft rear Bridgestones.
After the race, which he won by nearly 5 seconds, Stoner turned his attention from the surface to the layout. “It’s a circuit for me. I don’t get a kick out of it just because I win on it. Mugello [in Italy] is one of my favorite circuits, and I think I’ve won there once. I look at what quality the circuit has rather than just memories.
“People have to go and ride this track and then ride another one. Then, they will understand what I’m saying. They’ll go, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s not much fun.’ It’s not fast, it’s not flowing. It doesn’t connect together. Instead of the corners opening out, you’re just going slower and slower and slower.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush and say something is great when it isn’t. This facility could be unbelievable, with the history and everything. But, and this is just my opinion, I don’t enjoy riding [here] as much as I do a lot of other circuits.”
Even with a championship on the line, Stoner wasn’t going to settle for second or third at Indy. “I was going to push to win this race today,” he said. “I knew I had the speed. I knew I had the pace. If it was a fight to the end, I was going to fight.”
What more can anyone, press included, ask for?