Fogarty masters art of alchemy

Andrew Martin on tomorrow's challenge for Carl Fogarty at Brands Hatch
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No one could accuse Carl Fogarty of complacency. In the hunt for the winning combination the 30-year-old Lancashire rider had found the unbeatable ingredients: himself and a Ducati motorcycle. That formula won two successive World Superbike Championships, and has earned Fogarty - "Foggy" to his abundant fans - a place among Britain's motorcycle greats. He followed that feat by doing the unexpected, switching to Honda and a bike unsuited to his riding style. Complacency, no, but a touch perverse, perhaps.

Tomorrow, at Brands Hatch, it may become abundantly clear just how, in 12 months, Fogarty's fortunes have taken a twist every bit as acute as those at the demanding Kent circuit where a 40,000-strong crowd will cheer his every move.

Last season, on a Ducati 916, he was virtually unbeatable, and won both races in the European round of the WSB series. This year it will be very different on the rapid but hard-to-master Castrol Honda RC45.

"If I rode the Ducati this year I would have won the championship by now, which sounds good but I wanted a new challenge and I've got it," Fogarty said. "When I rode on the Ducati last year there were six other guys on the same bike and I still beat them."

Fogarty, however, wins races by maintaining speed through corners, to which the V-twin Ducati is ideally suited. The V4 RC45 is very different. Its engine is higher and further forward, putting too much weight over the front end, and favours those riders who brake hard into corners. Which suits Fogarty's team-mate, Aaron Slight, like one of Saville Row's finest cuts. On Foggy, the RC45 was a pair of baggy jeans and a soiled T-shirt.

But Fogarty is motorcycling's great alchemist. Show him an unfamiliar machine and he will turn it into a world beater. In 1992 he jumped on a Kawasaki and won the endurance title. He then rode a Yamaha at the Isle of Man TT, clocking the outright lap record.

"Power-wise, the Honda's not much different to the Ducati. It's a bit fickle on some tracks, it just doesn't like 'em, sort of makes its own mind up when it gets there. It definitely suits flat tracks with a smooth surface. Anything that is off camber and down hill, you've really got to wrestle it round. But we'll just see what happens this weekend. I think I can go all right. I'm really up for it."

After a poor start to the season - a 100mph crash at Misano, Italy, and a poor Donington, where sixth was his best finish - the Honda's rear end was heightened, and harder fork springs installed. This made the bike's front more flexible, allowing Fogarty to feel earlier when the front wheel begins to lose traction while banked at breathtaking speed. Victories at Hockenheim, Germany, and Monza, Italy, followed. Second and third places at Brno, the Czech Republic, saw Fogarty begin to close on his rivals, Troy Corser, Anthony Gobert and John Kocinski.

Altering the bike, however, has not been sufficient for Fogarty. He, typically, has gone to greater lengths in the search for perfection.

"The biggest change we've made really is me. I've had to change the way I ride. Riding the Ducati was all about carrying a lot of corner speed, and I couldn't do that with the Honda, which I was trying to do early on in the season. So I scrapped that idea. Now I ride hard into corners and hard out really. So I've changed my style from four years of riding a Ducati to riding a Honda, and I've managed to do it and win some races.

"It's not easy and it's not the way I prefer to ride but it's the only way I know how to get this Honda round."

At third in the championship standings, 34 points behind Corser, Fogarty still believes he is capable of winning a third world title. "It's getting to the stage now where I've really got to think about beating the guys in front of me in the championship. It doesn't necessarily depend on this weekend but certainly the round after that. After Brands, I've got four circuits in a row that I think I'm going to go well on, if the bike works good anyway. Last year I won all four.

"I don't mind Brands, it's one of the tracks you enjoy when the bike is working well and last year the bike was working great, so I really enjoyed it."

Practice times,

Sporting Digest, page 23