Foggy's Little Wonder: The Petronas FP1 Story

Clean-sheet design to front-row start in the WSB opener in 16 months? Here's how...

Just sixteen months between signing on the dotted line with Petronas and Troy Corser lining up on the grid in fourth place on the grid for the first round of the 2003 World Superbike race at Valencia.

James Haydon scored points in the first ever race for the new bike in 12th position, while in race two, Troy Corser took 7th.

Think about that for a moment.

A few paddock doubters were probably hoping for poor results. After all, when the original deadline for the Foggy Petronas FP1 to go racing at the 2002 round at Laguna Seca in the US was missed, and then postponed indefinitely, you could almost hear the said knockers rubbing their hands in glee. Carl had failed, he'd screwed up, they said.

But others who'd witnessed his determination on track, as well as seeing the quality of the team he was building around him, could see that betting against Carl was likely to be a mug's game.

"We were never going racing last year, to be honest. We didn't like letting people down for sure," says Carl, "but we had to set such short deadlines so that we would all aim for something and get the maximum done in the time available. To be honest, despite the extra time we had, we could still have done with an extra month before that first race."

And what a lot to do.

At the beginning, the nucleus of the team spent most of their time around a table sifting through designs for the bike, transporters, and hospitality units, interviewing riders. If you've seen the 'Against All Odds' programme on Men and Motors or DVD you'll know what I mean. The first hour or so isn't rivetting watching, as you see co-owners Foggy, Michaela Fogarty, team-manager Nigel Bosworth, Chief Executive Murray Treece and Marketing and PR boss Neil Bramwell discussing subjects like what the colour of the hospitality shag-pile should be, while they sit in all the opulence of a conference room in a Manchester Travel Inn. Despite the lure of bottomless coffee cups and free Bourbons, amazingly they got it all done.

To build a race-bike in such a stringent time-frame was tough, but to do that while building the team to run these bikes, finding premises for the team to operate out of, organising the selection and construction of team transporters etc must had been rock hard.

Add into the mix the secondary but vitally important ancillaries such as hiring riders for a team no-one had heard of and with bikes that weren't built and it's amazing they got anything done at all.

They built a team around them which is very compact (only about '17-18 strong', according to chief exec Treece) and then promptly setting about doing the business. Within nine weeks they'd moved into and furnished their premises in Burton. Impressive isn't the word when you visit the place. As well as all the corporate bells and whistles you'd expect with a team HQ that has to accommodate suits as well as team-shirts and overalls, FPR has built a state-of-the-art dyno room. Inside is a Superflow dyno, fitted with an Eddy-Current load cell that allows the team to simulate real life conditions such as wind loadings, circuit inclines and tyre friction through the data-acquisition system. Rob Mathewson (he once of RMD Dynos) is the man who gets to play with it. And yes, it did cost. It cost plenty but, as Foggy himself says: "It's not an open cheque book. We have budgets we have to stick to, although we are a works team."

Budgets. Important. Money comes from Malaysian oil giants Petronas, who signed a five-year deal with Foggy to go racing in WSB and - just as importantly - build a rockin' road bike, Malaysia's first. Be proud, though, as it stems from Britain. By February and March of 2002, the team and Piper Designs had made the mock-up clay model and plonked it in the wind tunnel for testing.

But why a triple? Well, it's a throwback to Petronas' original thought of going GP racing, but that's not all.

Foggy says: "Experts at Queens University in Belfast and have run the whole simulation thing through computers and it came out that the three-cylinder configuration is the best compromise for the motor, it's just that no-one has made it successful yet. We're at the start of development. We know where to get more horsepower and torque from the motor. We were very happy during testing that nothing major went wrong. The motor has changed a bit since the GP-1 bike that it was intended for, but it's nice to do something different from what else is out there, like a twin. I'm not sure if the bike and it's power characteristics will be particularly suited to any tracks, maybe places where mid-corner speed is essential, like Donington Park. Shame we don't race there."

While the engine is constantly improving, one side of things that was almost spot on by the first race was handling.

"I had a wobble around on the bike in Malaysia and I'm very confident on the chassis side of things," explains Carl. "Both Troy and James have said that, so the chassis is very strong." Hopefully, all this will come across in the road bike, which will come to a select few rich people later this year. Carl: "It's not everyday you get a road-bike named after you. It really looks the part, but I'm not sure when they'll be available. Petronas will decide when we launch the bike, sometime later this year."

Team manager is Nigel Bosworth. Boz was a quality 250 rider in his day, turned quality test and development rider, turned top team-boss and he explains one interesting feature of the bike, where the motor sits the other way around to a normal inline design.

"My major worry with the bike was that this engine is the other way around in the frame, with the cylinders reversed, so the motor revolves opposite to the way the rear-wheel goes around. No-one actually knows much about how this affects things like handling on a bike, it's a real unknown quantity. Steve Thompson put the bike together as a package and he knew it would work and wouldn't cause a problem although we still had a question mark over the counter-rotating crank, this was a worry until we took the bike on track and it's proved to be no problem. There's no inherent advantages or disadvantages with the crank spinning that way. The strength of our bike is that we could package everything correctly, weight distribution, aerodynamics, the lot."

Chief engineer Steve Thompson has been the nervous mid-wife of the engineering project. In fact, it would be fair to say that while Foggy has his name on the bike, there's probably a lot of Steve Thompson under that turquoise fairing. With a wealth of history in bike racing covering two-stroke GP bikes and more recently the Reve Red Bull Ducatis of 2001 British Superbike champ John Reynolds, there's not much Steve doesn't know about making a race bike work well, but when the offer of building the FP1 came along, he hesistated. "It took Boz a few times of asking to get me to take the job. I think that I said yes on the fourth time of asking. I knew I would have to put my life, heart and soul into this project and with Carl at the top, you have to give your best."

Unsurprisingly, Steve isn't married.

From about December 2001, Steve had a blank piece of paper with a sketch of a 900cc three-cylinder motor in the middle of it. All he had to do was fill in the gaps and join the dots to make a World Superbike.

"The bike we ended up with has numerous advantages," reckons Steve. "It's aerodynamic, and it's agile. In the past riders have said to me 'Steve, if only we can get the bike to turn quicker.' I kept this in mind, and now Troy has been coming back to me saying 'we have to slow the steering down.' That's great for me to hear that." And just think about this for a moment. There's no ordering race kits or spare parts with the FP1. You design and build it. And with riders that try as hard as Corser and Haydon, you build lots of them, just in case. That's pricier than a phone call to Hamamatsu...

Despite all this dedication, there are certain areas of the bike where Steve isn't entirely happy. "We've had some cooling problems that we didn't think we would have. And I really wanted to move the engine," Steve says. "I wanted it in the position it is in at the moment but I just wanted to move it forward just a little bit. I was convinced of where I wanted the weight distribution to be, but designers and others all want to put their interpretations on your design. I had to keep a pretty tight rein on things at some points." Still, the bike does have a 50:50 weight distribution front and rear.

Hiccups were plainly going to happen. The switch from Sauber Petronas Engineering handling the development of the motor to ex-racer Eskil Suter's set-up, Suter Racing Technology was one which happened just two months after the start of the whole project. Understandably the problems of grafting together a chassis in the UK and an engine in Switzerland led to some delays - it was touch-and-go whether the team would have the two engines for the team launch last July.

Boz agrees that this was the rough patch for the project. "The engines were late turning up and because of problems we couldn't use them as we wanted to. We couldn't cut corners and rush things as the four-stroke has so many moving parts so many things can go wrong. It was a difficult period for us."

After every race the engines go back to Suter's outfit in Switzerland and at 600km the motor is stripped down.

Testing was initially done at such exotic locations as Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground and on a Donington Park track day. "It was difficult," says Boz. "We couldn't ask Troy Corser to test somewhere like Oulton Park or Cadwell, although James would have been happy. "And," he adds with a smile, "as for the track day we didn't want the guys to go out in the fast group!"

With a race under their belt, the sky's the limit. "What do we want for the rest of 2003?" says Carl. " Everytime I think of this I just see a big number one. I can't help it. But I know we have to walk before we can run. I hope all the journalists will be surprised at how well we eventually go. I would like a few rostrums before the end of the season. Who's getting the first trophy and climbing the steps to the podium? "I'm having the first trophy that we win," says Carl. "Why? Because I'm selfish."

'Nuff said.