Motor cycling: Fogarty trails in Slight's wake

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The Independent Online
IN THE early hours of tomorrow morning Carl Fogarty begins his quest for a third World Superbike championship against a field that is certain to test to the limit the capabilities of Britain's fastest man on two wheels since Barry Sheene ruled the roost in the late 1970s.

As all things '70s appear to be the height of fashion, the presence of a Briton leading the field once again would not seem too fanciful and the "Blackburn Bullet" is certainly placed above all his countrymen to achieve the feat.

Foggy is, famously, not a man to countenance any doubts in his own ability, but even the man who twice rode a scarlet Ducati to world titles may be inclined to see red after the posting of yesterday's opening qualifying times in Phillip Island, Australia. Aaron Slight, Fogarty's former Honda team-mate, shattered his own lap record to take the fastest time.

There is no love lost between the New Zealander and Fogarty, so the man with the famously intense stare will no doubt blink twice at his own qualification time: he finished the session joint fourth, a little over 0.6sec behind the leader.

Fogarty was the runner-up in the series last year to the American John Kocinski, who has switched to Honda's 500cc grands prix effort. Foggy himself has also moved teams, linking up with the Performance crew managed by the former racer Davide Tardozzi. And happy he is too with the arrangement.

"I have a really good set-up, much better than last year. We are all pulling together. I feel good with them, and they are working with me to get the bike how I want it," he said.

He needs to be. This season is far from a two-horse race, with the rapid Australian Troy Corser recording blistering times in the pre-season. In Misano, Corser cropped Kocinski's lap record. Then there is the anticipated challenge of America's Scot Russell, Japan's Akira Yanagawa and his Kawasaki team-mate Neil Hodgson as well as the Suzuki-mounted Jamie Whitham.

Even with his Ducati running well, Fogarty admitted: "It will be a tough year, certainly no easier than last season, even though Kocinski has gone.

"The real challenge will come from Slight. He is very motivated, has not won anything, and probably realises that this year is his last real chance of the taking the crown."