"You’re inextricably linked with Ducati, but what was the first one you ever rode or raced? The first bike I ever raced on a track was a Ducati, back in the summer of ’83. It was my dad’s bike. "
King Carl Fogarty
‘There’ll never be another Carl Fogarty. I don’t think the world wants one. Not for another 20 years at least,’ so says Carl Fogarty. And he’s right, in some respects. I think the world, racing fans at least, would love another Carl Fogarty, but modern sponsors are unlikely to give a character like him a chance now to break through now. They seem to want their riders to be seen, not heard, and Foggy never toed that party line.
Fogarty was one of those fantastic characters who would happily say whatever was on his mind to whoever asked whether they carried a reporter’s pen and pad or TV microphone. And making him even more rare was the fact he wasn’t a gobshite trying to gain ink in lieu of skill. Fogarty could back up every slight, snipe and sarky comment with imperious talent. He was, to use the vernacular, a bad ass.
Hugely talented, Foggy was never a master technician and didn’t do much in the way of fitness training beyond riding a bicycle once a week or going out on a motocross bike twice a month. Still, it didn’t make any difference.
‘I’d feel bad that I wasn’t doing something so I’d make myself go for a jog. The other guys were training like athletes. If I had to train like that to win races I’d have gone and done something else. Luckily I didn’t have to. I was so strong in my head I couldn’t get beaten. If I got tired in a race I’d think to myself “Go faster so you can finish the race quicker and have a rest.”’
And he was good enough to ride around most problems the bike could throw at him. He didn’t need a perfect set-up or the ideal tyre to win. He didn’t win every world title he competed for, but a haul of four World Superbike titles is more than anyone else so far. Critics may also say he only won titles on Ducatis, and it’s true, but he wasn’t the only man riding them.
Fogarty was playground-rude about everyone who came close to challenging him. He named his pet pigs after two of his rivals, and a cockroach he found in a hotel room was christened Colin, the namesake of the then upstart American racer Colin Edwards, and paraded in front of the press. It’s hard to know if Foggy was being naïve or a supreme tactician. Perhaps a bit of both, but his antics split opinions. And his character is still doing that now.
‘I’m happy everyone has an opinion of me,’ Foggy says. ‘It makes me feel like I’ve done something. I’m outspoken, so you’re always going to have people criticizing you or loving you for that.’
I’d rather have one Fogarty than ten ‘I’d just like to thank [insert name of all sponsors here]’ cookie cut, media-trained whelps.
Fogarty had already had more success than most British riders by the time he signed to race for Ducati Corse in World Superbikes (WSB). He’d won a World Endurance championship with Kawasaki, the world F1 TT title and triumphed at the Isle of Man.
‘Winning the TT meant as much as any world championship,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t wait for the TT. I was brought up with it. My father raced there and I didn’t miss a year from being one-year-old till I was 20. I used to cry on the ferry on the way home. As a rider I wanted to win it so bad. When I did the double in 1990 I knew I wanted to go on and achieve things on the short circuits.’
He returned to race at the island in 1992 and set the lap record, narrowly missing the win in a race that has recently been voted the greatest TT of all time, but by then he had moved on. 1992 was the year of his first WSB race win.
While riders have always changed disciplines to find world success, like Kenny Roberts Sr, Lawson, Rainey and Hayden who all progressed from dirt track to superbikes and went on to become GP world championships, Fogarty was the last TT winner to succeed in world championship racing.
At his height he took the WSB series from an also-ran niche championship to global importance. He also did for Ducati what Colin McRae did for Subaru.
Fogarty, and the Ducati 916, elevated WSB in many countries around the world at a time when Mick Doohan’s cold and calculated dominance in 500 GPs was turning off race fans in their droves.
One year 15,000 went to Donington for the Motorcycle Grand Prix, while ten times as many packed into Brands Hatch to watch Foggy and the other British riders his success opened the doors for. Thousands of fans would ride to every race in Europe to watch King Carl and he won more WSB races than anyone else in the series’ 23-year history: 59 to Troy Bayliss’s 52.
He became Mr Superbike, and though he showed incredible talent during one-off wild card GP rides (normally disastrous no-win affairs for riders), sponsor politics kept slamming the door in his face. It’s pointless to wonder ‘what could’ve been?’
Fogarty was driven, but admits ‘I didn’t enjoy winning enough. I could be winning races and not be happy because something wasn’t right. Winning became an obsession. Maybe if I had enjoyed it more I wouldn’t have done what I did.’
He’d have to get used to not winning when he became the figurehead and team principal of the ambitious, but ultimately star-crossed Foggy Petronas Racing project. It was the Malaysian oil giant’s idea to build an exclusive sportsbike and win World Superbikes with the racing version. But they were up against Honda, Ducati and Suzuki. It wasn’t going to happen, and now, five years after the project fizzled-out, another one of this scale or ambition is unlikely to ever be seen again.
There are lots of reasons I love Carl Fogarty and another is he never left England for a tax haven. He rode with the flag of St George on his Dainese leathers and Shark helmet, and backed it up by staying in Lancashire and paying his taxes.
Carl Fogarty, is a one-off, there has been no British rider like him before or since.
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