Fogarty enjoys release from 'bubble of hate'

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The Independent Online

The four-times World Superbike champion is discovering a new side to his character following retirement through injury.

The four-times World Superbike champion is discovering a new side to his character following retirement through injury.

The most startling eyes in sport have finally relaxed.

A smile of gentle amusement on his face, Carl Fogarty watches the Ducati press officer, the arms of his scarlet sweater emblazoned in sponsors' logos like a keen if slightly tubby boy scout, rush from journalist to journalist.

Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, British; getting on for 100 reporters and photographers want a piece of a man acknowledged to be one of the most driven personalities in sport.

Except that he is not involved in sport any more, not directly anyway. Seven months ago Fogarty, the World Superbike champion, smashed his arm and shoulder crashing in practice in Australia. Two weeks ago he announced that his body could not recover sufficiently for him to handle the bike as he did before.

Every sportsman says he intends to walk away at the very top. Very few do, but then Fogarty has always been his own man. Yesterday, while all around him at Brands Hatch prepared for the final weekend of the World Superbike season, the 35-year-old Lancastrian had little difficulty contemplating life without racing.

"People around me seem to have found it harder to take than me, because it wasn't a hard decision at all. It's easy to stop when you feel you have no choice." A pause. "It wasn't as though I didn't know I was still the fastest guy out there." The statement is matter of fact, because that is exactly what it is. It is difficult to overstate the extent to which Fogarty dominated his sport, but the helpful Ducati scout reels off the statistics anyway: four times world champion, 108 podium finishes in 219 races and 59 victories.

Fogarty is a world superstar and something of a sporting god in Italy, where one survey rated him more popular than any Italian footballer. Mostly, of course, because he was a winner, but partly because of the man himself; honest, outspoken, not giving a damn what anyone thought, and never, ever pretentious.

"I was never in it for the thrill of racing, whatever that means. I was in it for the winning. If I had a secret, that was it. I just wanted it more, and if I didn't win I used to go away and figure out why. That probably doesn't make for a very nice person. For 12 years I've lived in a bubble of selfishness and determination, because even when I won, all I was focused on was winning the next race.

"I felt like I had to hate everybody I was racing against; put them down, put their bikes down. It was all part of knowing I was better than them, which helped on the track. Well, now I'm out of that bubble; chapter two of my life starts here." He acknowledges the transition will not be easy.

"I'll miss the fans, the team, the people. But in a way it's as though I've been away for a long time; suddenly I'm talking to people I haven't spoken to for ages. I want to get to know them again; I'm just hoping they want to get to know me." Not that Fogarty is the least apologetic.

"I quite liked the man I was then. Everyone keeps telling me how much nicer I am now, and that worries me a little as to how I must have appeared, but to reach the top you can't afford to be distracted." Anyway he cannot have been completely obsessed; he has a beautiful family, and is looking forward to being a "normal" father, getting healthy.

In the meantime he will continue his association with Ducati, launch new bikes, appear at a few shows, perhaps do a spot of commentating. He will also happily tender advice on other riders, because has never been short of an opinion or two. Such as on whether any British rider can ever take his place.

"Probably not. When I raced I used to look at certain people in the eyes and see if they wanted it as much as me. I don't see that desire amongst the current riders; they're weak."

Leaving the Ducati motor-home he passes two computer games with his names emblazoned on the graphics. The souvenir sellers have rows of "Foggy" merchandise; hats, jackets, little model Ducatis. Pictures of him on the bike are in the Brands Hatch reception area, alongside the other greats of motor sport. All will still be there in a year's time.

The foreign press follow, a little nonplussed. But the thing is like all those who reach the very top, there is no hint of disappointment, of goals unachieved. He leaves with his place in sporting history as secure as his bank balance.