Mar 10, 2002
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Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>By Glenn LeSanto<BR><BR>Saturday, March 9 marked the exit of one three-cylinder motorcycle while another was waiting in the wings. Benelli, beset by financial problems caused by the collapse of the Italian scooter market, threw in the towel at Valencia after a weekend of engine failures. Meanwhile, the Foggy Petronas Racing team swaggered into town insisting that their ambitious project to invent a motorcycle company from scratch was on schedule.<BR><BR>It's a sad day when the market for 50cc stink-wheels can sink a racing bike as beautiful as the Benelli Tornado. But these are the simple facts of life, money is power, and in the case of racing, money is horsepower.<BR><BR>Benelli enginees took risks to increase the power output from their three-cylinder engine. During the winter they were forced to concentrate their dwindling resources on getting the road version of the Tornado ready and so the racing project lay almost dormant from after Imola to just prior to Valencia. Then, in order to make up for lost time they made a few quick fixes in the last weeks prior to the start of the season. Unfortunately for the Benelli men the new parts weren't tested properly, and one of them, possibly the camshaft, hadn't been properly heat-treated and failed after only three laps every time the bike took to the track.<BR><BR>To make the whole situation even more poignant for the little Italian factory, two of the company's road bikes showed up at Valencia. The bikes had been ridden the 1700 kms from the factory at Pesaro in Italy to Spain in one day, proof at least that the road bike has inherent reliability where the racer doesn't. One of the machines had more than 10,000 kms on the clock and Benelli's owner, Andrea Merloni, insisted these had all been covered trouble-free. The company won't be at any of the fly-away rounds at Australia, South Africa or Japan. A question mark hangs over whether or not they'll even be back at Monza, where they had originally promised to launch the road bike version of the Tornado. The little David trying to compete with the Goliaths of Honda and Ducati found its sling empty in Valencia.<BR><BR>Enter FPR, or Foggy Petronas Racing, in a whirl of hype. "Our project is right on schedule," insisted former Superbike rider and four-time World Champion Carl Fogarty.<BR><BR>Fogarty said that the original Sauber-designed engine was a pile of junk that "wouldn't have lasted more than a few laps," but insisted that the new bike would race at Laguna. The new engine builders, Suter Racing Technology, were doing a better job with the new 900cc version of the Triple, according to Fogarty, who said the engine had to be engineered from ground up again.<BR><BR>Even the need to produce 75 working bikes to satisfy the FIM homologation rules to compete in the World Superbike series won't hold them back, insisted Fogarty. "The road bikes will be here soon," he said. The former racer turned team owner told the gathered press that the project is funded by one of the world's largest companies and so should be taken seriously. "Don't believe the crap that you read in some of the press, because they just make it all up," said Foggy, looking directly at the man from the English weekly paper, Motorcycle News.<BR><BR>The FPR set up looks professional enough, and the crew roll call, both inside the offices and downstairs in the workshop, is impressive. But the press pack had one glaring omission, there were no pictures of the motorcycle in it. So far all are left asking, "where are the bikes?" The team is insisting all will be revealed very soon.<BR><BR>With Benelli out, for the time being at least, and FPR in sometime soon, it's a case of one down and one up for World Superbike racing.