Fogarty set to reassert dominance

Britain's World Superbike champion has the fans' respect. Andrew Martin reports
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The Independent Online
A bang on the head is often the means by which sense, inspiration or clarity is achieved. Not so for Carl Fogarty, Britain's only reigning road race world champion. A high-speed tumble during a practice session for round seven of the World Superbike Championship (WSB) at Laguna Seca two weeks ago left him battered and bruised, with too little time to focus his factory Ducati on the demands of the twisting Californian circuit.

The 29-year-old Lancastrian - who proudly sports a red rose on his crash helmet - slumped to fifth and seventh place in the two-race round, Fogarty's worst performance of the current series: first and second place finishes in the previous six rounds had amassed a seemingly unassailable lead in the Championship standings.

After that sense-scrambling crash, however, that which had seemed most apparent - a seamless campaign to a successive world title - became blurred.

Thus tomorrow's European round at Brands Hatch takes on an added significance for the fiercely competitive Fogarty. "I don't want to feel like I did after Laguna ever again," he told Motor Cycle News. "I felt like an also- ran. Winning is everything to me and I want to get back to it as soon as possible."

Fogarty's 116-point championship lead over the Australian, Troy Corser, may be a daunting margin, but complacency is as alien to Fogarty's nature as is any truck with false modesty. "Make no mistake about it, if the bike is right I will win," says the man who once claimed, perhaps with tongue in his gaunt cheeks, that he is a better rider than Barry Sheene "ever was".

Such comments would appear unlikely to endear Fogarty to the legions who still hold the former 500cc Grand Prix world champion in high esteem. "Foggy's" popularity in Britain is unwavering, however, with the practice sessions held yesterday and today attracting thousands of spectators.

Fogarty earned his adulation the hard way, winning the Isle of Man TT three times. His triumphs on a circuit deemed too dangerous for grand prix racing established his credentials as a talent every bit as formidable as the twisting mountain circuit itself.

The respect that Fogarty now enjoys, plus the nature of the 750cc-1,000cc four-stroke super bikes themselves - first cousins to the motor cycles on which many riders will travel to and from the 2.6 mile Kent circuit this weekend - ensures WSB, in Britain at least, has a significant following.

Such is its growing status that Fogarty, like others in WSB, has so far resisted the temptation to defect to grand prix racing. "I can't see the 500 class lasting more than two years," he told Bike magazine. "When Schwantz and Doohan go, who's going to watch Capirossi flying into the bales?"

Kevin Schwantz has indeed gone, the brilliant Texan retiring at the start of the season as mounting injuries took too great a physical and mental toll. Mike Doohan, meanwhile, has described the spectacle of his unchallenged procession towards another title as "boring".

No such lone-rider hegemony exists in WSB, Fogarty argues, his flawed performance in California being a case in point. Indeed, Fogarty has yet to win at Brands Hatch, where he can expect Corser, the Kawasaki rider Anthony Gobert and the Honda-mounted New Zealander Aaron Slight to be toying in his slipstream, trying to deny him a 30th victory in WSB.

Then there is the British challenge mounted by the excellent James Whitham and the experienced Steve Hislop, Ducati riders both.

Their combined challenge will provide the motivational kick in the rear that Fogarty - all too familiar with other, unwelcome, blows to the anatomy - will relish.