Fogarty seeks to banish demons

World Superbike Championship: British hope claims pole but Corser keeps the favourite in his sights
Click to follow
The Independent Online
CARL FOGARTY, the World Superbike champion, duly claimed his expected pole position for today's two-race European Round at Brands Hatch, but in the hour-long final qualifying session yesterday afternoon he was pushed all the way by the Australian challenger Troy Corser.

The thousands of "Foggy" fans who had gathered at the sun-bleached track were deliriously triumphant as the Tannoy rose above the wasp-swarm noise of the bikes to confirm the hero's giant leap towards his eighth win of the season. Yet there was also relief amid the cheers, for Fogarty's victory today would have looked a formality before the last round of races at Laguna Seca in California. There, a bad fall in a qualifying session shook up the champion to such an extent that he could only finish fifth and seventh respectively after never being out of the first two places in the 12 preceding races of the season.

The fact that the chief beneficiary of this lapse was Corser added to Fogarty's chagrin, although his lead over the 23-year-old Australian going into today's races remains an intimidating 96 points.

Nevertheless, with five rounds still to complete, Corser will not have given up hope of catching the reigning champion. The Australian is the form horse in the field, having not only won in America but also in the previous round at Salzburg. Compelling evidence of his determination had come early yesterday in the free-practice session, when he managed to put up the second fastest time of the morning before a spill finished his outing.

Fogarty could at least take bitter consolation that one of his potential rivals, his close friend, Yorkshireman James Whitham, had been ruled out on Friday on medical grounds, having succumbed to what was termed "a hyperactive thyroid gland", a condition that the outside world might presume to be essential for a Superbike racer.

In the long term, Fogarty's bid to regain the title was also given a substantial boost by the defection of the 1993 Superbike champion, Scott Russell, to the Suzuki Grand Prix team as a replacement for the retiring Kevin Schwantz.

But the main obstacle to a Fogarty home win today is simply history - he has never won at the Brands Hatch circuit, and on the last occasion he raced here in April 1993, he fell on the opening lap of his first race, acquiring an injury which put him out of the second, an own goal of embarrassing proportions.

So Fogarty had some demons to leave behind as he inched his scarlet Ducati 916 out of the Corse Virginio Ferrari pit. His supporters, many of whom had been shopping copiously at the trade stand which sells exclusive "Foggy" merchandise, certainly had no doubts.

But as the battle for pole position unfolded, even the most committed Fogarty fan could see Corser's determination to deny the Englishman. Hunched under the windshield of his Ducati 955, with only the Australian flag motif on his helmet visible, Corser folded his bike into every corner in an attempt to shave hundredths of a second off Foggarty's leading time.

At one stage he was within 15 hundredths of a second of overtaking the champion, but Foggarty responded magnificently with a startling lap of 1min 27.83 sec - a new unofficial lap record - to keep the dogged Australian at bay. Late surges by John Reynolds of Britain on a Kawasaki and Yasutomo Nagai of Japan on a Yamaha pushed Corser down to fourth on the grid. But Fogarty's faithful thousands will expect their man to repel all challengers in today's two races.