At the end of this season Team Foggy Petronas will be no more. After five years the team still hasn't won a WSB race and the FP1 road bike has yet to go on general sale. So what went wrong?
By August of 2001, Carl Fogarty was ready to turn his back on the sport which had made him a household name. After wining four World Superbike titles for Ducati he was frustrated at the lack of progress being made in trying to run his own Ducati team and was considering 'walking away from the sport completely.'
But while Foggy had been pushing for a Ducati WSB deal, another manufacturer was busy advancing its own plans to race in the upcoming four-stroke MotoGP championship. Sauber Petronas was already an established name in Formula One when it decided to venture into bike sport. The combination of proven Swiss F1 engineering and financial backing from Malaysian oil giant Petronas looked promising when the project was unveiled at the first GP of the 2001 season. The plan was to build a 989cc triple to lease out to teams but, for reasons still largely unknown (Foggy himself claims not to know), that plan changed. Petronas shocked the biking world when it announced a move to World Superbikes with none other than Carl Fogarty.
Niall Mackenzie, who gave the Sauber Petronas GP bike its only public airing at Sepang in October 2001, has his own theory: "I heard that a couple of team owners had talks with Sauber about running the bikes but apparently Sauber wanted too much money."
Whatever the reasons, once the GP plans fell through the Sauber was re-designed to meet WSB rules and Team Foggy Petronas was go. And with a rumoured budget of £30 million for a five-year campaign, it was clear this was going to be a major effort.
One of Fogarty's first moves was to employ former Red Bull Ducati manager, ex-250GP rider and Modenas tester Nigel Bosworth as team manager. Foggy then set about trying to sign top riders to race a bike which didn't yet exist. But money talks and Foggy soon attracted the signatures of James Haydon and Troy Corser.
A significantly larger problem was in working out how to build the 75 road-going bikes required to homologate the FP1 (Foggy Petronas 1) for racing. At the official team launch in Bologna in December 2001, Foggy announced that he would oversee the launch of 10,000 road bikes over the coming years, creating a mass-market bike industry in Petronas's own country, Malaysia.
To be able to race in WSB, Petronas needed to build 150 road bikes based on the racer. The first 75 would have to be built by the end of June 2002 if the team was to meet its goal of racing at Laguna Seca on 14 July. A further 75 would then have to be built in the next six months.
After Sauber withdrew from the project, Foggy turned to Suter Racing Technology to spearhead engine development of the FP1. Right from the start former GP racer Eskil Suter had doubts about the feasibility of designing, building and racing a new bike in such a short space of time. In February of 2002, when his 25-man team only had a computerised mock-up of an engine which was due to be bench tested in just 10 weeks, he told the press: "This job is like a suicide mission. It is a crazy challenge, but all the parties involved are aware of that."
In turn, Fogarty seemed suspicious of Suter's abilities to deliver and admitted it had been Petronas's decision to employ him, not Foggy's. "I don't really know a lot about his company," he said. "And I never realised he was known for his engineering skills." In a column for TWO in March 2002, Foggy also confessed that he had major concerns about the FP1's engine. "I'm 100% confident that everything else will be alright but the engine - I don't know."
It was an uncanny insight into what would prove to be the project's Achilles heel. Yet Foggy could still talk the talk, especially when Kenny Roberts tried to warn him about the difficulties of running his own team and building his own bikes. "Maybe it's sour grapes," Foggy replied. "We'll do it right. He didn't. I'll make him look stupid." Work was progressing in other areas however, and in May 2002 the team's £1.5 million workshops in Burton-upon-Trent were opened. Foggy even had a special prayer room built for Petronas's Muslim engineers, although he half-joked that, "We'll be the ones in it, praying we can get things done in time."
Foggy had hoped to unveil the FP1 at the Silverstone WSB round on 26 May prior to the bike's expected race debut in July. But when engines failed to arrive the plan was scuppered. When the race bike was finally unveiled in London on 11 June, it was to universal acclaim. But would it run? Everyone was going to have to wait a good deal longer to find out. Foggy finally had to accept that his team would not make its race debut at Laguna Seca, and instead would run a few demo laps at the Brands Hatch WSB round on 28 July. That too never happened. At the beginning of July, the Petronas team announced they wouldn't be racing at all in 2002 as the 75 production versions of the bike had not been built. The plan was now changed yet again with the team hoping to be at the first race of the 2003 season.
As things turned out, the FP1 race bike finally made its debut in the Commonwealth Games parade in Manchester on 24 July. The following week, Foggy, Corser and Haydon all performed demo laps at Brands Hatch and received a rapturous welcome from the 125,000 spectators. The winter of 2002/2003 was planned to be a hectic schedule of testing. Although the FP1's first test was at a less than glitzy public track day at Donington Park, Foggy was confident enough to say: "We know we will have a good package and I am convinced we will be able to challenge for the rostrum on a regular basis."
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