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|08-13-2015, 06:30 AM||#1|
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Top 10 British bike racers since Carl Fogarty
In a world without King Carl who is the top Brit rider
20 YEARS ago Carl Fogarty was busy wrapping up his second World Superbike Championship riding the iconic Ducati 916.
He would go on to clinch another two world championships before injury forced his early retirement. He rejuvinated British bike racing and introduced a whole new generation to the sport.
On track Foggy was cut-throat, daring and - at his peak - unstoppable; off track he was terse, intense and strangely magnetic. It was a winning combination for sponsors and fans, but didn't exactly win him many friends in the paddock.
In the 15 years since his retirement those who have followed in his wake have benefited from the popularity he drew to the sport... but they have also had his giant boots to fill. So who has been the best British racer post Fogarty?
Although Foggy won at the TT we have discounted road racers (so John McGuinness is not eligible). Road racing has become more specialist with fewer and fewer track stars competing in road events.
10. Scott Redding
Scott Redding is the showman of MotoGP paddock - he's flamboyant and fearless.
In 2008 he blitzed the field on home soil at Donington Park with a dominating victory for Aprilia in the 125cc world championship. He is still the youngest rider to win a race in GPs, taking the honour from Marco Melandri.
In 2013 riding a Kalex in the Moto2 Championship Redding came within a whisker of becoming Britain's first Moto2 champion before a wrist injury derailed his bid.In the smaller classes Redding particularly struggled with his size, so a move to MotoGP held promise. In his first race on the big bike he finished seventh, raising some eyebrows in the paddock. He has repeated this feat two more times.
Of course, Redding will always be remembered for being the first rider to touch his helmet down at extreme lean.
9. Bradley Smith
If Scott Redding is Mr Flamboyant then Bradley Smith is Mr Consistency. He's thoughtful, he's determined but he perhaps lacks that cut-throat attitude that made Carl Fogarty such a natural winner.
What he lacks in ruthlessness he makes up for in speed and Smith is Britain's most experienced campaigner in the Grand Prix paddock, having raced everything from 125s, Moto2 all the way up to MotoGP machinery.
Arguably he is at his best when he's out front and setting the pace. His three 125cc world championship wins have all come riding an Aprilia 125.
Since graduating to the premier class he has been solid without exactly setting the paddock on fire. A podium in Australia last year hinted at an upturn in form and this season he has consistently beaten his team-mate Pol Espagaro.
Smith also earned valuable brownie points from Yamaha by riding the R1 to Suzuka 8 Hour victory, the Japanese manufacturer's first win in 20 years.
8. Danny Kent
At 21, Danny Kent is the youngest rider on our list but he's already achieved enough to earn his spot in our top ten. There's every chance in five years time he will be topping it.
Coming through the ranks of the Spanish 125cc championship and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, Kent showed the talent to earn a regular ride for Aprilia in the 125cc world championship.
When the two-strokes were replaced by the four-stroke Moto3 format, Kent switched to KTM and showed his potential with victories in Japan and Valencia. After a wilderness year in Moto2, Kent returned to the smaller bikes refreshed and ready to challenge for the lead.
This year Kent has been unstoppable with podiums in eight of the first 10 rounds, including five trips to the top step. Touching wood, crossing fingers and barring any major downturn in his blistering pace - Kent could well be the first British GP world champion since Barry Sheene in 1977.
7. Tom Sykes
Is Tom Sykes the best qualifier World Superbikes has ever known?
Since moving to Kawasaki in 2011 he has notched up 22 wins and 24 pole positions. More importantly he won the World Superbike Championship for Kawasaki in 2013.
However, despite his impressive form it's hard to escape the fact that he could have won so much more. In 2012 he lost the title by just half a point, and in 2014 he finished second to Sylvain Guintoli by six points (albeit in a campaign hindered by his team mate Loris Baz).
Sykes looks likely to bag himself another second place in the championship this year, crucially finishing behind his team mate Jonathan Rea. Is he destined to be always the bridesmaid?
6. Shane Byrne
Officially the best British Superbike rider of all time. Shane Byrne has notched a record four British Superbike championships, winning his first back in 2003. He narrowly missed out on a fifth when he lost in the final race of the year to a storming Alex Lowes in 2013.
This versatile rider has won on a Suzuki, Ducati, Honda, and Kawasaki - enjoying most of his success under the stewardship of team owner Paul Bird.
Byrne has also proven his talent on the world stage and did the double at Brands Hatch riding as a wild card in the World Superbike championship.
You can't help wonder what might have been had it not been for his spell in MotoGP in 2004 and 2005. Riding the almost unrideable Aprilia Ride Smart Cube, Byrne amassed injuries and lost further confidence on KTM's GP bike. By the time he got his big chance replacing the injured Troy Bayliss on a Camel Honda he looked a shadow of his former self.
His resilience and return to form proves the mental strength of Byrne and his desire to keep winning.
5. Sam Lowes
In 2013 Sam Lowes swept all before him to claim the World Supersport title, beating Kenan Sofuoglu (arguably the best World Supersport rider of all time). Lowes clearly loves 600s and has also won the competitive British Supersport Championship in 2010.
Lowes is currently riding in Moto2 on a two-year deal for Speed Up. 2014 was a year he would rather forget but improvements in the bike have seen him more competitive this season, although it's fair to say he's still a lot faster than the bike beneath him.
Despite the bike's shortcomings, Lowes won at the Circuit of the Americas and significantly raised his stock in the paddock. If he gets the right bike next year then Lowes easily has the talent to become Moto2 champion.Let's also make an honourable mention to twin-brother Alex, who beat experienced racer Shane Byrne to become British Superbike Champion in 2013.
4. Jonathan Rea
Soon to be World Superbike Champion, Jonathan Rea should have had a lot more championship trophies by now.Loyally sticking with the Honda Fireblade for six long seasons when it was never quite competitive he always rode well beyond the limits of his machine.
In each of these years he ensured a win for the manufacturer, often through sheer grit and mindedness.Last year he finished a creditable third on a bike long since past its use-by-date.
As a marker of his performance, Rea's team-mate Leon Haslam, a vastly experienced campaigner, finished 147 points behind him.
People always said if you gave him the right bike he would win... and he did. What nobody expected was the level of domination.
In the first 20 races of the season he has racked up 12 wins, six second places and two thirds. Even Carl Fogarty at his peak never managed to annihilate the opposition like this! (but somebody else did - see number 3)
And it's not for lack of competition. Rea has managed to beat Tom Sykes on the bike he has been riding and winning on since 2011.
3. Neil Hodgson
Mr Nice Guy Neil Hodgson always seemed a bit too soft and cuddly to cut it at the sharp end. As Fogarty's team mate on the Ducati he barely got a look in, cold in the shadow of all-conquering Carl.
Then something strange happened... or Chris Walker to be more precise. In 2000 - perhaps the best British Superbike Championship ever - Hodgson on his Ducati and Walker riding a Suzuki fought tooth and nail across the UK. The highlight was at Oulton Park when Hodgson started from the back of the grid and still won the race. He also took wild card wins that year in the World Superbike championship at both Donington and Brands Hatch.
Hodgson's British championship was secured when Walker's Suzuki blew up in a cloud of blue smoke in the final round.
If you think Rea is dominating the World Superbike Championship this year then it's nothing compared to Neil Hodgson in 2003. Then he won 11 of the first 12 rounds... he all but killed the season as a sporting spectacle and finished the year over 100 points ahead of team mate Ruben Xaus.
Hodgson certainly isn't the first British rider to make an ill-advised venture to MotoGP on the wrong bike and he won't be the last. Hodgson's mistake was the fierce and fickle d'Antin Ducati. His best result was an eighth place, but he finished the year 17th.
He ended his career in the AMA Superbike championship. He was a steady performer and at least the weather was better than the Isle of Man.
2. James Toseland
Handsome, charming, a maestro on the piano and the lead singer of his own band - James Toseland was everything Carl Fogarty wasn't. He also managed to win World Superbike championships on a Ducati and a Honda, one of the few feats King Carl failed to conquer.
Toseland stormed the Honda CB500 Cup and went straight to the world stage with Castrol Honda's World Supersport team. He failed to capitalise and needed to return to British Superbike racing to rejuvenate himself.
He entered the World Superbike championship in 2001 riding a Ducati and he slowly built up the momentum that took him to a tightly contested title victory in 2004. It seemed even the Ducati factory wanted his team mate Regis Laconi to win, but Toseland showed the mental toughness to seal the championship against the odds on his rival's home soil at Magny-Cours.
Toseland joined the Tech 3 Yamaha team in MotoGP and impressed with six sixth place finishes in his first year. His aggression upset a few of his fellow MotoGP riders who perhaps weren't so accustomed to the fairing-bashing Superbike style.
In World Superbikes he's beaten the likes of Max Biaggi, Troy Bayliss, Chris Vermeulen and Noriyuki Haga. But when he raced in the same Yamaha team as the next man on our list he eventually lost out...
1. Cal Crutchlow
Cheeky, sardonic and one of the most devilish motorcycle racers Britain has ever produced.
When Cal Crutchlow followed in Toseland's footsteps by joining MotoGP on the Tech 3 Yamaha few people expected him to set the world alight... and in the first year he didn't. However, a fourth place at the final round was to set the tone for the next season.
Flying out of the blocks in 2012, Crutchlow bagged four top five finishes in the first five rounds. By round 12 at Brno he was making up the podium with Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. He matched his performance in Australia with another third place.
By 2013 the cat was out of the bag and nobody was surprised when Crutchlow started the season at the same scolding pace he finished 2012. In this vintage season he started from pole position twice and took four podiums, including two second places. Crutchlow finished the season in fifth place just 49 points behind Valentino Rossi riding the full factory Yamaha.
Many were surprised when Crutchlow opted to leave the magic formula he had discovered at Tech 3 for Ducati, a bike that even Valentino Rossi struggled to make work. It could have worked... but it didn't and in a frustrating year aggravated by injury Crutchlow racked up nine non-scoring rounds. He eventually found the podium at Aragon but by then he had already committed his future to Honda.
A third manufacturer in three years enabled Crutchlow to join an elite club this April after his podium in Argentina - he became the first rider since Eddie Lawson in 1991 to score podiums in three consecutive years for three different bike manufacturers.
Of all the British riders since Carl Fogarty hung up his leathers Crutchlow has come the closest to standing on the top step of a MotoGP podium and for that reason he tops our list. Oh... and let's not also forget he is also a former World Supersport champion and has five wins to his name in British and World Superbikes.
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