Fogarty's absence gives Donington a dilemma

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The Independent Online

These are strange times for the World Superbike Championship as the whole glittering shebang glides into Donington Park for tomorrow's British round. Just when the upstart road-racing spectacle was stealing a march on its supposed betters of the 500cc grand prix circus - re-named Motogp in the hipper-than-thou current spirit of dotcom-isms - two body blows have shaken its swaggering confidence.

First and foremost is the loss of the undoubted star of the show to injury - Carl Fogarty, four times title-holder and the steely-eyed subject of adoration from Blackburn to Bendigo, will miss at least the next four rounds and may not re-emerge until motorcycling's annual homage to "Foggy" at Brands Hatch on 6 August. Specialists who operated on the arm he broke in Australia are urging him not to rush back until fully recovered.

The gathering of some 120,000 scarlet-clad spectators last year at the Kent circuit shows the Ducati rider's almighty pulling power and the Donington organisers will no doubt tonight be praying that Fogarty's pre-race circuit of the track in an open-topped car will provide bait enough to draw the crowds on such a gargantuan scale.

By way of compensation, a series otherwise devoid of British interest will receive a welcome shot in the arm by the wild-card presence of, at yesterday's count, five riders from the domestic championship. James Haydon, Steve Hislop, Chris Walker, John Reynolds and Neil Hodgson, who has tasted the WSB highlife himself, provide local interest.

Just as Fogarty's absence sinks in, WSB has been sideswiped by another major ruction - its first doping scandal. The rider leading the standings - Yamaha's Noriyuki Haga - tested positive for a banned substance during a routine check after the first round in South Africa. Both the Japanese rider and works team are, of course, stressing that the excessive levels of ephedrine found in his sample have not enhanced his performances, but while the sport's governing body, the FIM, dallies and delays over staging a hearing, a shadow has been cast over WSB as dark and foreboding as anything an inclement English summer can muster.

Not all is rotten in the state of World Superbikes, however. The sterling performances of the "Texan Tornado", Colin Edwards, who has propelled his spanking new Honda SP1 into second place in the standings, and Troy Corser, since his switch to Aprilia, are ample illustration that there are plenty of able pretenders capable of hijacking Fogarty's throne.

The return of the New Zealander Aaron Slight, after a brain operation three months ago, also raises the ante and compensates for the absence of another rapid antipodean, Anthony Gobert. The reformed former wild boy of bike racing suffered a horrible tumble at Sugo when his Bimota hurled him painfully to the Tarmac.

To cap these odd times, a most bizarre excuse for underachievement comes from Ben Bostrom. Apparently the young American has struggled this season because he is being pursued by a former lingerie model. The unwelcome appearances of Bostrom's ex-girlfriend, Leanne Tweeden, at this year's races is wrecking the poor fellow's fragile concentration. "The personal problems I have been having have slowed me down," Bostrom lamented. Strange days indeed.

* The 43-year-old British rider Ron Haslam, returning after a seven-year absence, finished 20th in qualifying for tomorrow's French 500cc Grand Prix.

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