Casey Stoner is very confident about his chances of fighting for the MotoGP title in 2010, as he reckons the new Ducati is much stronger than last year's bike.
Although the Australian finished in fourth place in last year's championship after missing three races due to an illness, he came back strongly and won two of the last four events to show he was back at his best.
Stoner tested the new Ducati after the end of the season at Valencia and was immediately impressed with the performance. The 2007 series champion admits he is bullish about his chances for the upcoming season.
"The last few years I think we had a good opportunity to win the championship," Stoner told reporters during the Wrooom press meeting in Madonna di Campiglio. "Things haven't gone our way, my fault, and it's things we haven't been able to avoid. I'm definitely looking forward to this year. It's the first off-season in the past three years where I haven't had any injury or some sort of operation.
"In the last test at Valencia we tried the new bike, the new engine configuration, and I really loved it. We had a lot more traction. We were able to do a lot more with the bike and, considering Valencia is a very good circuit for our bike anyway, we still were able to do a very good job with the new engine configuration, so we are very happy with that and we believe it's going to help us on the tracks where we struggled a little bit more in the past, make the bike a little bit more balanced throughout the season. At the moment we are very happy and confident we can take the bike a little bit further along the season."
Although Stoner admitted that Ducati's new engine configuration is likely to mean a lower top speed, the Australian is adamant that the bike handling will be so much better it will be worth the compromise. He also reckons it will make life easier for the satellite teams, who have usually struggled with the Italian bike in the past.
"Considering it was the first test with the engine, it performed very, very well," he added. "We are, of course, losing slightly on the top speed, but at Valencia, since I was coming so much faster out of the last corner thanks to the extra traction, we actually ended up with identical top speeds.
"I don't know whether we will lose on the top end, maybe on the really long straights, but I think we are going to gain on the rest of the circuit, making the bike a lot more drivable, we are going to make the bike a lot easier to handle. I think the riders in the Pramac team are going to appreciate this engine as well."
The Ducati rider reckons Yamaha's Valentino Rossi, champion in the last two seasons, will again be the man to beat in 2010.
"Obviously Valentino is the one to beat. He's won the championship the last two years in a row now," he said. "For me, both rivals have their strong points. Sometimes Valentino can be very fast on a weekend and in the race struggle a little bit, other time you think he's struggling and in the race he will pull it out of the bag and do very well.
"Jorge [Lorenzo] is a little easier to understand. When things aren't going well for him during the weekend normally he doesn't improve for the race, whereas he's normally more often than not very strong throughout the weekend and that continues in the race. They both have different points and different ways of approaching the weekend."