The trials & tribulations of Foggy Petronas

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By Stuart Barker on Wed, 9 Jan 2008 - 02:01


Carl Fogarty - Game OverFoggy - ambitious

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.


Carl Fogarty - Game OverEven Corser couldn't master the FP1

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."

By January, Essex-based engineering firm MSX International was working flat-out to build the 75 homologation road bikes. The plan was to build the first 75 bikes in the UK before shipping the production process to Malaysia. The 150 limited edition road bikes were expected to cost around £25,000 while cheaper, lower-spec mass market models would later become available. At least that was the plan.

There was finally good news on the race bike front in January with Troy Corser posting times just a second off the lap record during tests at Phillip Island. Foggy himself had a spin on the bike for the first time in a further test in Malaysia where he also revealed that 77 road-going FP1s had finally been homologated by the FIM. Team Foggy Petronas was ready to race.


Carl Fogarty - Game OverMackenzie on the original GP bike

As the 2003 WSB season got underway at Valencia on 1 March, Team FPR silenced doubters when Troy Corser qualified in fourth place. Admittedly Corser was a Superpole specialist and one fast lap was no real test of a bike's reliability, but it was still impressive. Corser was then running in a comfortable ninth place in the first leg when he crashed out, leaving James Haydon to finish in twelfth place. Race two proved more fruitful for Corser when he finished an impressive seventh. Haydon did not finish the race.

But the rest of 2003 was a nightmare. A catalogue of reliability and overheating problems and a general lack of power meant the bike was never truly competitive. Finishes for both riders were few and far between and in the first nine races they chalked up 17 DNFs between them. At the team's home round at Brands Hatch, Corser failed to finish either leg and Haydon could only manage a dismal 17th and a DNF.

Corser ended the season a lowly 12th, never coming close to the win he predicted after the first round. Haydon's year was even more dismal, parting company with the team after finishing the season 26th equal. Once released from his Petronas contract he gave an insight into what the FP1 was like to ride. "I never managed to get it set to anything I could ride and feel," he said.

In October of 2003, 18 months after the first drawings of the FP1 road bike were revealed, Petronas unveiled the finished machine at Sepang. Prospective buyers were invited to place orders for the £25,000 superbike while the firm revealed plans to build a range of motorcycles.

For the 2004 WSB season, Foggy signed Chris Walker as the replacement for Haydon. He also sacked Eskil Suter, and contracted the engine work out to British-based specialists Ricardo. Fogarty felt the design of the original triple was fundamentally flawed and was responsible for the crippling overheating problems which had plagued the team in its debut year. The switch also had implications for the road bike, forcing its release to be further delayed as the bikes had to be re-engineered. The road bikes were now expected in mid-2004.

It was another setback for the team but there was still a glimmer of hope. The new one-make Pirelli tyre rule was looming in WSB and led to most of the major Japanese factories pulling out. This at least would give the FP1 a better chance against reduced competition.

Chris Walker took full advantage in the opening round at Valencia by handing the team its first podium. It was a fantastic result but was at least partly down to a correct tyre choice on a damp but drying circuit. Walker could only manage seventh in the drier second leg but this was still much better than Troy Corser's results of a DNF and 11th.

Both riders were still having to make do with the old Suter engine as the new motors were not expected until mid-season. But it didn't seem to affect Corser at Misano. He built up a huge lead in the opening leg and looked set to give the team its first race win before Regis Laconi pushed Corser back to second at the flag. That second place remains the FP1's best-ever result.

But there were other moments to celebrate in 2004, one of them being the team's first ever pole position, achieved by Corser in Germany. He repeated the feat in the final round at Magny-Cours. The team had shown sparks of real promise in 2004 with solid top 10 results and those two pole positions but reliability had once again been their undoing. As Chris Walker noted at the end of the season: "I have finished 11th, but I only made one mistake all year. The number of races I haven't finished has been the problem."

Corser finished the season in ninth then parted company with the team. Once released from his contract, he claimed Foggy was, "Not much of a communicator, not a talker and not a team leader," and criticised him for taking too many holidays when he should have been putting more time into running his team.


Carl Fogarty - Game OverThe team always looked forward to watching 'Deal or no Deal'

For 2005, Fogarty signed two new riders, both Australian: former GP winner Garry McCoy and ex-Australian Superbike champion Steve Martin. As part of the team overhaul, Foggy also enlisted Jack Valentine as team manager following the departure of Nigel Bosworth. Valentine had been one half of the V&M team which had enjoyed so much success at the TT, and he immediately set about the task of improving the FP1. By April a new higher-revving engine and a seven-kilo weight reduction helped Steve Martin slash several seconds off his lap times at a Phillip Island test. But when the team turned up at Valencia the following week, both riders dumped the new generation engine and ran with the older model as they claimed the new motor didn't offer any advantages round the tight and twisty track.

By the middle of 2005, a lack of results and progress was taking its toll on Foggy and for the first time he talked about turning his back on team management. While praising his team, sponsors and riders, the four-time WSB champ was not used to being beaten and when McCoy and Martin only managed one 13th place between them from both legs at Silverstone, Foggy admitted he was sick of being beaten.

Steve Martin eventually finished the season in 18th place with Garry McCoy a dismal 22nd. McCoy parted company with the team after a year; Martin's slightly better run of results and his head-down, 'get on with it' attitude had impressed Foggy enough to keep him on for 2006, while he also signed rising British Supersport star Craig Jones.

With the full return of the Japanese factories in WSB this year, the Petronas bikes have been ever more outclassed. Despite Martin displaying once again that the bikes are good for one quick Superpole lap, his two front row starts at Phillip Island and Valencia have so far been the highlight of the season. At the time of writing, the FP1's sheer lack of speed was shown at Monza where Martin qualified 23rd and Craig Jones a dismal 30th and last.

It doesn't look like Team Foggy Petronas is going to bow out on a high. In fact, it could be argued that the team shouldn't be racing at all. WSB rules state that all homologation road bikes should be made available to the public within a year of being approved and, in the case of the FP1, this hasn't happened. The FIM has admitted that if they had received a complaint from another team, it would be hard to justify Team FPR's presence. But since the Petronas bikes are not seen as a threat, everyone is happy just to have another manufacturer involved in WSB.

The road bike saga continues. Excuses, delays and reliability problems have been rife since the bike was unveiled in 2002. But the official line was that it could not establish a UK dealer network to sell the bikes. In March 2005 the firm announced that the FP1 was available to buy - but there was a hitch. The only dealer stocking them was Malaysian based NAZA Bikers Dream. With no infrastructure in the UK there was little interest from buyers in this country and, as yet, no British owners have been traced. Since then, the trail has gone cold and no-one seems to know what has become of the 150 homologation road bikes.

Despite FPR's lack of success in its five-year history, Foggy remains brim full of confidence in his ability and remains convinced that the only thing which stopped his team winning the WSB title was having the right bikes. With the FP1 headed for a museum after this season and Petronas withdrawing from the sport, Foggy now finds himself with a team and the infrastructure to go racing but he's got no bikes and no sponsor. Rumours suggest he's been holding talks with Ducati about running a factory WSB or MotoGP team, but no announcement has yet been made.br>Five years down the line, the sums don't add up. £30 million in sponsorship, the legendary Carl Fogarty, some of the best riders in the series, the swankiest outfit in the paddock and yet only two pole positions and two podiums to show for it. And we don't have a road bike to ride...

So what really went wrong? Two major factors combined to scupper the FP1 project. The first was the choice to run a three-cylinder engine; the second was the rule change which allowed 1000cc four-cylinder machines to race in WSB. When WSB upped the limit for four-cylinder bikes from 750cc to 1000cc in 2004, the FP1 was outgunned by the bottom-end grunt of the litre bikes. Since the FP1 was homologated as a 900cc bike, Foggy could not build a bigger engine without having to repeat the entire homologation process, and since the original road bikes have still not gone on general sale, this was not an option.

We shouldn't be too hard on Team Foggy Petronas - to design and build a new bike from scratch and to build a team around it to take on the might of the Japanese and Italian factories was never going to be an easy task. Team FPR has put in more than five years of hard work for precious little in the way of results or success. But if we know one thing about Carl Fogarty, it's that he's a fighter - and a fighter who doesn't like being beaten. If Foggy can secure competitive machinery for 2007, there's no reason why he can't win his first title as a team owner.

FPR: The Rise And Fall

March '01: New engine unveiled at the first GP of the 2001 season at Suzuka, Japan

October '01: Niall Mackenzie gives the Sauber Petronas its first, and only, public outing at Sepang

December '01: Foggy announces that 10,000 FP1 road bikes will be built in the coming years

May '02: £1.5m team workshops in Burton-upon-Trent include a prayer room for Muslim engineers

June '02: The FP1 race bike is finally unveiled at a glitzy ceremony in a top London nightclub

July '02: Foggy joins David Beckham and other celebs in the Commonwealth Games parade

March '03: The 2003 WSB season gets off to a good start when Troy Corser qualifies fourth at Valencia

October '03: Just 18 months after theinitial drawings , the road bike is finally revealed at Sepang

February '04: Chris Walker's tyre choice sees him finish third at Valencia, his first race for FPR

May '04: Troy Corser set to win first race at Misano but comes second after a battle with Regis Laconi

May '04: Corser achieves first ever pole position for FPR in Germany. He does it again at Magny Cours

July ' 05: NAZA Bikers Dream in Malaysia is appointed sole dealer for the FP1. Not much good for UK buyers

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."

Continue the trials & tribulations of Foggy Petronas

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