Motorcycle Racing: Fogarty favourite in the one-man Superbike show

Britain's most successful motorcycle racer tells Derick Allsop he is still hungry as his pursuit of a third title reaches Donington
Click to follow
IF YOU have ever wondered why a man who has been palpably the best rider in a decade of World Superbikes never committed himself to the historically acknowledged masterclass of 500cc grand prix racing, a glance around his country pad provides instant enlightenment.

A converted farmhouse, stables and racy car with personalised number plates confirm Carl Fogarty has done very nicely for himself, thank you, out of motorcycling's brash, upstart world series. Equally, the brash, upstart world series has done very nicely, thank you, out of Carl Fogarty. A crowd of almost 70,000 was drawn to Brands Hatch last summer to support Fogarty's cause, dwarfing the attendance at the traditional blue riband bike event, the British Grand Prix, which has, for years, been the domain of foreign riders. Upwards of 50,000 are likely to rally behind Fogarty at Donington Park on Monday, when he seeks to open a clear advantage in his pursuit of a third championship. He shares the lead after the opening round, in Australia, with Japan's Noriyuki Haga.

Fogarty is a home boy by nature and that is part of his appeal to the fans. The main part is that he is a British winner. He is as comfortable on Superbikes as he is living within a few gear changes of his family and friends in the Blackburn area. "I never really got a good chance or definite offer in grand prix racing," says Fogarty, a small, wiry figure. "And it didn't really matter somehow. I was in a championship that became really big, so it had to be a good offer to take me away.

"Outside of motorcycle racing people still see grand prix as the thing, and I can understand that because it's such a long-running thing. But the only difference between me and Mick Doohan is that he is a champion of 500cc and I'm a champion of Superbikes. If he comes to my class I'll beat him, and if I go there he'll beat me.

"It's something that doesn't worry me too much because I know what I do and what I win is important. I get paid well to do it.

"I just grew up with Superbikes and in this country Superbikes is bigger than grand prix. They're not interested in grand prix here. It's nice to feel I'm partly responsible for that, as well as the TV and everything.

"If I was going to grand prix I should have gone in the early '90s, and if I had I would have won races and possibly the world championship. Everything I've done I've won. Every level. It wouldn't have been any different in grand prix. As long as I had a good bike and a good team behind me."

Fogarty has not always had the best bikes or a top team behind him. In his early Superbike days the support came from his doting father. Fogarty embarrassed the factory teams and was taken into the fold.

He won the championship in 1994 and 1995 and was lured away from Ducati to Honda by the prospect of "something different" and a contract reportedly worth pounds 500,000. That something different was not to his liking and he returned to Ducati last season reportedly collecting pounds 750,000 in the process.

Fogarty was more competitive but not sufficiently so to defy his nemesis, John Kocinski. This time he has no Kocinski to compete against since the American is back on the grand prix tour, and no team-mate in his new Ducati set-up, an arrangement made to eliminate any possibility of compromise.

"Last year was difficult," says the 31-year-old Fogarty. "I rode so hard but it was as if I wanted to win the championship and the bike didn't. I was trying too hard towards the end and I crashed a couple of times because of that. The bike was capable of finishing third or fourth and I still wanted to win.

"Everyone thought when I was leading the championship I would have no problems, but I was stealing wins, winning races I shouldn't have.

"I don't want to go through that again. I want the bike to be working well everywhere, winning by being smooth, as I was in 1995. That's one of the reasons for a one-man team. I felt I'd get more attention from the mechanics and the team manager."

Fogarty is patently appreciative of the attention he receives from this team manager, Davide Tardozzi, who won the first half of the inaugural Superbike event at Donington in 1988.

"I've got a team manager who's going to push me a lot harder. He's a very fiery man, and if it's not right he won't stop until it is. If I'm not paying enough attention, he will give me a kick up the backside, which is what I need at this stage of my career. Motivation does become a problem."

Fogarty's detractors might suggest no other rider relishes partnering him anyway. He is not renowned for his modesty or his eloquence, and has had high-profile differences with a former team-mate, Aaron Slight, of New Zealand, as well as Kocinski.

He considers the charges with a wry smile and responds effusively: "I think if you ask any mechanic he will tell you I'm probably the easiest person to work with because I don't fuss like a lot of riders do. I just get on and ride it.

"I never had a problem with Slight when we were team-mates. I had problems before we were team-mates. We just didn't get on. I've got a lot of respect for Kocinski as a rider, but as a person I don't really like him. He treats people like slaves or servants. I wouldn't do that.

"On the track Kocinski and I are alike because, like me, he's not interested in finishing second. For me that's a disaster and I'm sure it is for him. A lot of riders are happy to get a couple of good finishes and go home. If I do that I'm hard to live with for a few days. I always give 110 per cent, and I think the fans like that.

"I think I've created such a following because what you see is what you get. I speak my mind. It upsets a few people but then the ones who don't like it are the ones who are afraid to say it."

With Kocinski out of the equation, Fogarty nominates Slight as his main rival for the championship. "There could be a few contenders, but Slight looks the strongest. I can't see Haga doing it, not over a full season, although he did lead the Japanese Grand Prix recently for a couple of laps and Donington should suit him."

The location, if not the timing, of Monday's twin races, should also be to Fogarty's liking.

He says: "You should go to every race and want to win and I do, but I'm sure you want to win that much more when it's your own round of the championship. I race for the fans, especially in Britain, and I don't like to feel I've let them down.

"I won both British rounds of the championship last year and I've no doubt I can do it again if the bike is right. The only thing that could be a problem is the weather. I think Donington should be a few weeks later. There could be snow and that would spoil it for everybody. If it's dry I'll obviously fancy my chances and I'll want to go out to win both races."

Despite Fogarty's meticulous preparations for this season - including a cruciate knee ligament operation - he remains guarded about his prospects of another championship success.

"I need to see a few more tracks before I can tell if I'll win it. If it comes down to the rider, I still feel I'm the quickest out there. But at this level the package has to be right."

An essential component of that package is the rider's appetite, and Fogarty admits: "You can't be as hungry as you were when you'd never won it. I used to enjoy the travelling and testing and qualifying. Now I hate all three.

"But I think the hunger I've got will still be enough to win it. And if I do get the championship back after losing it a couple of years I'd certainly be remembered as... well, quite a good rider."

So is retirement imminent? "If I'm still winning and the motivation is still there, I'll go on for another year, but I'll almost certainly quit at the end of '99. It would be the perfect time for me to go, at the end of a decade I've pretty much dominated."