A YEAR after disappointing over 60,000 motorcycling fans at Brands Hatch by falling from his Ducati, the British former World Superbike champion, Carl Fogarty, returns to the scene tomorrow in an attempt to reward them with victories in what could be a farewell appearance.
After eight rounds, Fogarty aged 32, who won both superbike races at Brands Hatch three years ago and was world champion in 1994 and 1995, is in fourth place in the overall championship which is led by the Australian Troy Corser, also on a Ducati.
But Fogarty, from Blackburn, is more concerned about repaying the loyalty of his fans and winning at least one of tomorrow's two races. "There's been a lot of talk about me retiring" he said. "But all the time I think I can win, I want to go on." Even so, his retirement is expected at the end of the season.
After being fastest in yesterday's practice that was for a long time dominated by Steve Hislop, Britain's "wild card" Yamaha rider, the chances of Fogarty succeeding at Brands are greater than of eventually recovering all of the lost ground in the championship itself.
Although he started the season with a win in Australia, various mechanical problems and what he admits has been his own inconsistency have condemned him to a supporting role, which he has hated so much that he has deflected rather than denied retirement.
For most of this season, his spectacular red Italian Ducati has been left wanting for acceleration by Japanese machines. Corser, although only 11th fastest yesterday and with only one victory, has raced his Ducati consistently in the top points scorers. He is familiar with Brands, having won there before. He also has an advantage this weekend in knowing that two of the fastest riders in superbike racing, the New Zealander Aaron Slight (Honda) and the Japanese Kawasaki rider Akira Yanagawa, were both victims of frightening crashes in the last round in California. Yanagawa suffered head injuries but Slight, who is second overall, escaped with a badly cut foot which, however, did not stop him achieving third fastest yesterday.
Apart from Fogarty and Hislop, British interest tomorrow will be on Jamie Whitham, the Suzuki rider, who tumbled off yesterday but walked away, and Neil Hodgson on a Kawasaki. Last year Hodgson rode brilliantly at Brands, with a fourth place, while Whitham's enthusiasm rarely gets rewarded on the spectacular Kent circuit which brings back bad memories. Just before the 1995 event he was taken ill. Later cancer was diagnosed. After a full recovery, he is now holding eighth place in the championship.
WORLD SUPERBIKES Official practice (Brands Hatch).: 1 C Fogarty (GB) Ducati 1min 26.103; 2 S Hislop (GB) Yamaha 1:26.294; 3 A Slight (NZ) Honda 1:26.373; 4 P Chilli (It) Ducati 1:26.471; 5 N Hodgson (GB) Kawasaki 1:26.553.Reuse content