Motorcycling: Fogarty's Ducati becomes the bike to beat

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The Independent Online
Never one to underestimate his own worth, Carl Fogarty embarks on a new World Superbike season tomorrow at Phillip Island in Australia with an extra reserve of confidence. Reunited with the Ducati that carried him to two successive world titles, the 30-year-old rider from Blackburn will prove a fearsomely hard man to beat in the 12-round championship which culminates at Sentul, Indonesia, in October.

Fogarty's famously intense glare will be hard to shift from the prize that eluded him last season during an unhappy flirtation with the Honda RC45.

Yesterday he trailed in fifth fastest in qualifying, behind the rapid Kawasaki-mounted pair of Akira Yanagawa and Simon Crafar. The former took provisional pole, three-tenths of a second inside the lap record set by Aaron Slight last year.

Fogarty faces a sterling challenge from the Yamaha SBK-mounted Colin Edwards and the swaggering Scott Russell. The latter was unceremoniously dumped from the Suzuki 500cc grand prix team last season, but cruised to victory at Daytona last week. He also beat Fogarty to the 1993 WSB title and is clearly comfortable aboard the YZF750. Ever modest, Russell declared this week: "I'm back and I'm going to do some damage in WSB this season. I'm already getting ready to beat those Ducatis."

Such bluster cuts little ice with Fogarty, however. "He [Russell] won't beat me or his team-mate [Edwards] this season," Fogarty said. "I aim to win the title back for British fans - whatever it takes."

Admirably patriotic and all that, but there are other British challengers who may also be waving the Union Jack from the rostrum this season.

Fogarty's Ducati Corse team-mate, Neil Hodgson, a promising 23-year-old from Burnley, has much to prove, as does Jamie Whitham, who beat cancer last season to narrowly miss out on the British Superbike title. First he must tame his GSX-R Suzuki, however.

Fogarty may not have found the Castrol Honda to his taste, but the pairing of last season's runner-up, Slight, with the volatile American, John Kocinski, should mount a formidable challenge.