… | How Razgatlioglu is set to end the Rea era WorldSBK
The bristling WorldSBK 2021 Championship intensifies from this weekend with the first of three events on the rebound that could provide significant direction on which side the hard-fought title battle will fall.
Three events and nine races – in Barcelona, Jerez and Portimao – will increase the pace considerably, leaving just two flyaway races (yet to be confirmed) in Argentina and Indonesia to sort out the issue.
As for the contenders, they need no introduction with Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea set to face off in a two-friend rivalry that turned a bit bitter last time around at Magny-Cours after a complaint from Kawasaki about the limits. from the track saw the Turk lose one of his three deserved wins.
To his credit. Razgatlioglu didn’t take it too personally, but he definitely created a Yamaha v Kawasaki showdown in the paddock.
As we discussed the merits of the sentence – in short, Kawasaki and Rea would have been foolish not to raise the issue, but the sentence itself did not exactly match the crime – attention will turn to how whose two react in Spain this weekend the stakes having jumped.
For Rea, with six WorldSBK titles under his belt, he’s no stranger to championship fights, but it has been both his most error-ridden and his toughest fight to date, with the Ulsterman forcing himself no doubt finding the limit as he takes on a rival who he knows well and has even advised in the past, but who thrives in the material of a world champion that many predicted he would become.
Indeed, Razgatlioglu has been a joy to watch over the past few years. He is one of the few successful WorldSBK system products, focusing his attention on a Superstock course before multiplying his skills and experience on a private Kawasaki before being shot by Yamaha.
It’s admiring to see a runner with a clear career path in mind. It is known that Kawasaki was preparing him to replace Leon Haslam for the 2020 WorldSBK season, but when he took him to Japan as a late addition to his Suzuka 8 Hours only to decide not to use him, he l ‘took it as an affront, severed ties and agreed to a deal with Yamaha instead.
He did it again earlier this year when MotoGP struck a tempting deal to ride the Yamaha satellite next season, with Razgatlioglu turning it down in favor of two more years in WorldSBK. Eyebrows are raised, but he insists that he wants to become world champion first… at least he has time on his side.
The key development in Razgatlioglu’s quest for the WorldSBK title
As it turns out, that title just might come this year, with Razgatlioglu’s form snowballing into a momentum force that has for the first time in six seasons seen another runner compete with Rea for consistency.
Indeed, this was the key development of Razgatlioglu’s arsenal. Rea is incredibly quick all year round, but it is his metronomic consistency that his rivals have repeatedly said is the weapon needed to seize his iron grip on the WorldSBK crown.
With only one retirement this season – due to a thoughtless maneuver by Garrett Gerloff at the start of Race 3 at Assen – Razgatlioglu has a better track record than Rea and although it took him a bit of time to find both his best and his first victory, the Turk has since been a formidable competitor to Ulsterman.
This forced Rea to step out of his comfort zone, although it must be said that it wasn’t just because of Razgatlioglu. Indeed, Rea also made mistakes in trying to fend off Scott Redding, who then played Razgatlioglu’s game.
Why Toprak Razgatlioglu has the measure of Jonathan Rea
To understand why Razgatlioglu has been the most exciting thing to happen at WorldSBK in a long time, you have to go back to 2014.
Protected by Kenan Sofuoglu, Razgatlioglu grew up learning from his father’s stunt tricks – hence the famous “stoppies” – before turning to circuit racing, where he rose through the national ranks.
This led him to make his European debut in the final round of the 2014 Superstock 600 Championship at Magny-Cours on a bike that had barely scored any points in other hands all year. A young stranger with a name that was difficult to pronounce showed up and won. Accomplished job.
This led to a full season campaign in 2015 and he clinched a comfortable title win. The Superstock 1000 followed, where it finished second in 2017. WorldSBK was next with Magny-Cours, paving the way for a stunning double win from 15th on the grid in 2019.
Meanwhile, Razgatlioglu’s eye-catching riding style was the talk of the paddock. He had never been a big qualifier, but his confidence and aggressiveness in the opening laps meant it almost never mattered … and not once have you seen him do it angering them. other pilots or on exiting. In fact, Razgatlioglu plants very little.
It was an exciting but unrefined riding style that propelled Razgatlioglu forward but ultimately held him back in a more professional factory Yamaha setting. The R1 developed around Michael van der Mark didn’t quite suit him, and he spent much of 2020 looking like a heavily sterilized version of the Razgatlioglu that earned him a global fan base.
With the departure of van der Mark for BMW, Yamaha spent the winter developing the R1 around its lead rider and despite certain limitations (more below), it is thanks to the Crescent Racing team that it constantly trimmed the bike to align with Razgatlioglu’s. unique style.
Central to this goal has been getting the bike to stop properly, maximizing Razgatlioglu’s precision and bravery on the anchors, as demonstrated at Magny-Cours when he made most of his passes. on Rea in the braking zone of Adelaide’s hairpin.
By doing this correctly, the rest followed, with the R1 now pulling corners faster without chewing on its tires. More importantly, the “stoppies” are as epic as ever …
Has Kawasaki lost its WorldSBK advantage to Yamaha?
An argument for Rea’s occasional staccato form could be traced to the new Kawasaki ZX-10RR machine, which hasn’t looked as confident as in previous years.
Granted, Rea is keen to avoid suggestions that the bike is to blame and, despite its new look, it hasn’t changed much. In fact, there were so few changes to last year’s bike that the FIM didn’t feel the need to re-homologate it.
However, this is probably the first time Rea has really had to ask for more from his machines. In previous years, Rea would have almost played with his rivals as he planned his attack, but today he is fighting on all fronts against his main rivals with Razgatlioglu much better on the brakes, while Redding on the Ducati has a faster motorcycle in a straight line.
It’s that swinging pendulum that seems to get in the way of Rea on the Kawasaki, knowing he’ll have a hard time braking Razgatlioglu or keeping Redding behind him in a straight line. Finding balance has been key, but in the heat of the moment mistakes duly crept in as Rea tries to push back two runners who can pass him more easily than he can pass them.
As we hinted before, what’s interesting about the Razgatlioglu – Rea fight is that you wouldn’t necessarily say the Yamaha is faster than the Kawasaki. The R1 has always been safe and stable, but it always lacked straight-line punch.
What’s different here is that Razgatloioglu now seems to have a bike that performs to his liking, while Rea seems to run into unsavory answers when asking new questions about his ZX-10RR.
Much will therefore depend on the style of tracks we have ahead, but even then the two machines will be difficult to tell apart.
That said, while Barcelona saw a Yamaha 1-2 in 2020 with Michael van der Mark and Gerloff, Razgatlioglu did not start two of the races due to injury. Jerez has been well suited to Yamaha in the past, while Portimao leans towards Kawasaki.
Looking at past results doesn’t really help as the Yamaha R1 is definitely a step forward in 2021 and has been significantly faster across all venues in the hands of Razgatlioglu.
With the point margin between the two growing and contracting with each race, no one can guess who will win.
Rea has the experience but it seems to be putting the pressure on. Razgatlioglu does not have “match point” knowledge, but if he feels stress about what is at stake, he certainly does not show it.