Casey Stoner is an alien among aliens. I felt this way years ago, when Stoner was the only one who could ride the Ducati fast, when Marco Melandri came from Honda to Ducati and couldn’t even run mid-pack, when Stoner could throw out qualifying laps half a second, or even a full second, quicker than everyone else on the “unrideable” Ducati, and when Rossi barely beat him in a close battle at Laguna Seca a few years back while Stoner’s bike handled atrociously and Rossi’s Yamaha appeared to be on rails by comparison (even Kevin Schwantz commented on this fact).
We all like to cut some slack to riders who change bikes. After all, it takes some getting used to. The Honda is certainly a good bike, but the guys who rode it last year should have an advantage. Casey Stoner smoked everybody in the preseason on his new Honda, and he smoked everybody in the first race on his new Honda. Stoner will only get faster on the Honda as he learns how to ride it. A scary thought, but true.
It may seem like a big “if”, but if Casey Stoner can avoid crashing this year he should cruise to the title. If Yamaha can continue to develop its bike, defending champ Jorge Lorenzo will be his biggest rival, but I suspect Stoner will reach the point where he is again on a totally different plane from the rest, qualifying in a zone all his own, and then winning races easily… not worrying about his gap at the end, because he is cruising and saving his tires as best he can.
In my opinion, the only young rider who can approach the talent level possessed by Stoner (and yes, Stoner is still very young himself, younger than Ben Spies) is Jorge Lorenzo. These two may have some epic battles this year, particularly on those tracks that suit the Yamaha. On faster tracks, with longer straights, Lorenzo probably can’t keep in touch with the Hondas, unless Yamaha comes up with some more horsepower.