Motorcycling: Rough ride for Fogarty: Julie Welch meets a Superbike hero whom luck deserted at the last

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The Independent Online
THE world's most daring and rorty racing series ended last weekend in an indefensible shambles in Mexico where the final round of Superbike '93 was written off and the wrong man, as far as most are concerned, was crowned world champion.

Carl Fogarty, a 27-year-old Englishman who is as strong and spare as a steel rope, won 11 races in the seven-month season against the five wins of America's Scott Russell who, nevertheless, has taken the title back to Georgia. 'For me it's frustrating.' Fogarty said. 'To win a world championship you've got to be a good rider and have a good team but you've also got to have the luck and consistency.'

He has not had the luck. Two successive disasters - a fall and an injury - in the English round at Brands Hatch, a skidding crash in Japan trying to lap a slow rider, another crash through a wrong tyre at Donington, and all the time Russell was picking up the points. 'And every time I won a race he was always finishing second,' Fogarty said.

As late as last weekend there was a glimmer of hope that Fogarty would come back to Blackburn as champion, but that was extinguished in chaos at the Hermanos Rodriguez stadium. The race itself never took place, most of the riders having decided after the practice session that life was too sweet to be shortened on a track across which dogs ran and trucks sped, and alongside which joggers and kids cavorted and a football match unfolded.

The football was funny. 'A ball bounced in front of me,' Aaron Slight, the Kawasaki rider, said. 'I wanted to control it and knock it in the top corner of the net but I was leaning over at the time and I just couldn't do it.' The truck was potentially fatal, crossing the track bang in front of Scott Russell as he was flat out in sixth gear. Fogarty's column in Motor Cycle News said it all. 'Bloody hell, what a cock-up.'

'I was so mad about that event,' Fogarty said. 'Someone should be held responsible. It's a really good year and it finishes like that. A complete farce. The air you couldn't breathe. The food - everybody got the shits. The hotel - I had a room reserved and when I walked into it two people were already there. After practice we all had a meeting. Get proper security. Shoot the dog. End the football match. It didn't happen. So we walked out. We'll not be going back next year, that's for sure.'

What Fogarty and his Ducati will be doing again next year is Superbike, as opposed to moving to the motorcycle grand prix circuit - 'even if I'd won the world championship, I'd still be doing it.' He wants another crack at Scott Russell, who has not won house points for grace in victory - 'That's why I'm No 1 and they're not.'

What does Fogarty think of Russell? 'Oh, I dunno, we do get on, we don't get on. I'll see him and he seems all right, then when he's interviewed he's so, 'Oh, I'm the best,' that it really pisses me off. I don't like him again. I'm a bit like him, I don't like getting beat. I should have won the championship, everyone knows that.'

Plus, as Fogarty says, it's Superbike that pulls the British crowds these days. Superbike and Grand Prix are different creeds. GP is what Barry Sheene did. Since then, the Brits have not had any rider who has achieved half as much, and the focus of the sport has shifted to Italy, Spain, Australia and America. Meanwhile Fogarty, via an apprenticeship in 250 Yamahas and three successive Isle of Man TT wins from 88-90, has claimed native hearts.

Despite outstanding success in the other formulas, he had to buy his first Superbike himself after leaving Honda in 1992 to go it alone. It cost him pounds 25,000, everything he had. 'It was a big gamble, but I had to go backwards to get forwards'. Now he reckons that within four or five years Superbike will take over as the main motorcycle sport. 'It's closer - there's more riders out there who've got a chance of winning. And you can relate more to the bikes - they're closer to the ones you ride on the road.'

These days he can boast celebrity fans - Simon Le Bon, Andrew Ridgeley, John Peel and Andy Kershaw. Kershaw has a library-full of Fogarty videos, including a clip of an astonishing piece of riding on the Manx circuit. 'He's coming round the corners on the final lap over 100 mph,' Kershaw said. 'He actually goes up the kerb and the handlebars are flipping him from side to side. He's so brave. He's our best international sportsman and he just gets ignored because Superbike is perceived as a northern working-class sport, his name's not Gideon and he's on two wheels rather than four'. Carl Fogarty. Remember that name. He might not be a Gideon, but he does not have to pay for his own bikes any more.

(Photographs omitted)