World Superbikes: Fogarty's gaze fixed on prize

Andrew Martin finds Blackburn's most phlegmatic son planning to keep busy by winning a fourth world title
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The Independent Online
IT HAS become the most famous glare in British sport, and this weekend at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa the fiercely intense eyes of Carl Fogarty will once again fix firmly on the prize that he has so far captured an unsurpassed three times.

Those three World Superbike championships - in 1994, 1995 and last year - have propelled the rider from Blackburn to fame and a modest fortune, and now ensures his profile now fits comfortably alongside such sporting luminaries as football's boy wonder, Michael Owen. Just recall those trailers for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year around Christmas time, and there was "Foggy", his scarlet Ducati bristling with intent, alongside the likes of Denise Lewis, Iwan Thomas and the rest.

Not that it bothers the phlegmatic family man one iota. Nor would he let on if it did. "You get recognised every time you go out the door now and get stopped all the time - but it doesn't really worry me any way at all, it's quite good," Fogarty said.

Quite good enough to ensure that World Superbikes - which only staged its first race in 1988 - has easily eclipsed the Grand Prix 500cc class, Michael Doohan and all, as the premier motorcycling attraction in this country. Indeed, the series' Brands Hatch round now runs Formula One's annual act of homage at Silverstone a close second. With more red-clad support on show than any given Saturday at Old Trafford, there is no doubt the vast majority turn up to urge Fogarty's craggy features on to the podium. And, of course, last year he did not disappoint.

"Ninety-thousand people coming to watch one person trying to win a race - I don't think there's another sport like it. Maybe F1 is the only crowd that was bigger than at Brands last year," he said.

Fogarty's first Superbikes victory on British soil was at Donington Park on 19 April, 1992. After falling in the first round, he saw off the factory mounted riders on an over-the-counter Ducati 888 Corsa. He has since cemented his relationship with Ducati, only interrupted by two frustrating years riding a Honda, with that hat-trick of titles. Last year he ran alone, but this season he teams up with Troy Corser, who became Australia's first Superbike world champion in 1996 at the age of 24.

Corser's will be a formidable challenge, as will that of the Texan Colin Edwards and his Honda team-mate, Aaron Slight, but Fogarty's competitive spirit has already surfaced in pre-season testing, where he was fastest at Kyalami.

"I'm feeling really confident, really strong," Fogarty confirmed.

"The bike's a lot like the one I had in '95, which was the easiest to ride. It's not changed that much since the end of last year, but we've gone back to some of the things we had in '95 - smaller forks, smaller fuel tank, and just getting a better feel for the bike. It's very similar, but I'm quite happy with it."

So long as he remains content and occupied - "I've got to do something" - Fogarty will carry on racing. "If I'm still winning I'll continue next year. But if I'm struggling and not winning I'll quit this year. Just see how the year goes really. So as long as I'm still winning races I'm going to carry on. Anyway that's what makes racing easy - just winning really."

On Sunday, the easy rider is back.

WORLD SUPERBIKES 1999: 28 Mar South Africa, Kyalami; 18 Apr Australia, Phillip Island; 2 May Great Britain, Donington; 16 May Spain, Albacete; 30 May Italy, Monza; 13 June Germany, Nurburgring; 27 June San Marino, Misano; 11 July United States, Laguna Seca; 1 Aug Europe, Brands Hatch; 29 Aug Austria, A1 Ring; 5 Sept Netherlands, Assen; 12 Sept Germany, Hockenheim; 10 Oct Japan, Sugo.