How Toprak Razgatlioglu brought out the best in Jo …
We all knew it would take someone special to swing the sword that would force Jonathan Rea out of the WorldSBK throne he has comfortably occupied for six remarkable seasons … but that doesn’t mean many hadn’t assumed. that Toprak Razgatlioglu would be the one to do this.
But what is perhaps more surprising is that Razgatlioglu achieved it against an undisputed champion riding arguably better than ever, a master of his craft forced to raise his performances to limit pressure levels to fend off a loyal opponent. And everything was done with a level of calm to cool down even the most icy of queens.
Indeed, in terms of motorcycle racing, Rea had become the real iceberg of WorldSBK… a huge one, lime green on top of that.
Each season, the rivals spoke of their chances of finally conquering Rea, only to see their hopes crumble as the depth of Ulsterman’s metronomic consistency and raw pace emerged to penetrate the most relentless endeavors year after year.
Additionally, while Rea’s margin of dominance has fluctuated over the past six seasons, there is an argument that he has grown bigger, better and stronger over the seasons, stepping up his game to face and reject. new threats named Alvaro Bautista. and Scott Redding.
However, while these were daring newcomers empowered by their status as the next to defeat Rea, Razgatlioglu presented an entirely different challenge for the Ulsterman, whose road to the top was painstakingly methodical, preceded by a forged path with Rea’s throne in sight as the target destination.
In terms of WorldSBK, Razgatlioglu is a rare thing. A driver who not only rose through the ranks of production races, but in doing so becomes – quite remarkably – the first driver with a championship victory in the junior category (European SSTK 600) to win a WorldSBK title. This is the first time in 33 years of existence of the WorldSBK Championship.
As much a damning indictment of WorldSBK’s nurturing platform – relative to GP races anyway – as it is a resounding endorsement of what could be achieved for those new to the game. The entry point of this ladder, Razgatlioglu rose through the ranks by adapting to his machines without losing the essence of a driving style as delightfully eccentric as his.
In short, put Razgatlioglu in anonymous leathers and it wouldn’t take long to determine who was in control of a motorcycle… unless he happened to throw up one of his party stuff “stoppies”.
Razgatlioglu’s inspiration for success in WorldSBK
And yet, if Razgatlioglu’s style is directly associated with him, it is a style that has been nurtured and emboldened by drawing inspiration from many sources.
His calm and confident stunts on a bike – especially under braking – can be attributed to his stunt dad, Arif.
His formidable concentration under pressure is gleaned from his mentor and manager Kenan Sofuoglu, a runner whose uncompromising style has certainly rubbed off, but without the same limit pushing the hothead.
Even Yamaha, who deserves immense credit for working closely with Razgatlioglu to give him a bike that looked at his attributes, rather than demanding the other way around. All on an R1 that is not much different from the one that finished seconds away from each race two years ago.
Perhaps Razgatlioglu’s greatest inspiration, however, is Rea himself, an honor the Ulsterman can have heart in once the disappointment of losing his coveted No.1 plate wears off.
In a way, mentor of Razgatlioglu during their time at Kawasaki, the duo should have been associated with the factory team in 2020, but for a clumsy snub for the Suzuka 8 Hours that drove the Turk into the arms of Yamaha. It might not have seemed like then, but – much like a supporting actor evolving into a main star – the change of scene gave him a platform to stage his own.
Indeed, despite all his flamboyance and attitude on the track, while the crudeness of his driving style made Razgatlioglu fast, it is the refinement of the Rea imitation since that made him World Champion.
Imitation is the sincerest form of rivalry
While you wouldn’t say Rea and Razgatlioglu share a similar style, you can certainly see how each has learned from each other to maximize their arsenal this season.
While you have to go back to his Honda days to compare how often we saw Rea hit the bridge in 2021, the crashes were the mark of a man pushing both the machine and himself harder than ever to keep his title.
In fact, there are certainly parallels to those Honda years, where the occasional risk of going over the limit masked how much he outperformed his machine. Honda’s downfall to coincide with Rea’s move to Kawasaki in 2015 certainly revealed this fact.
Kawasaki – perhaps unfairly – blames itself for not giving Rea a ZX-10RR that was as stuck on the track as in previous years, but in reality Rea’s unusual crashes at Donington Park, Most and Portimao were proof that he had reached 11 years old. questions the ZX-10RR has never really needed to answer before.
The WorldSBK King is not dead… he is stronger than ever
Even so, that extra notch revealed Rea was the resilient runner some doubted he could be during his dominant years.
Forced to get his hands dirty a bit – arguably for the first time – while it certainly didn’t seem to come naturally to him at the start, at the end of the season he could fight fire against fire against Razgatlioglu and win.
So while the shocks and barges were a bit bare-handed at times, it put on a great show and proved that Rea can think on his feet and react in the moment like never before.
If anything, the final round in Indonesia was a great example. Slower than Razgatlioglu all weekend, Rea brought his great game experience to the table when it counted and didn’t back down, repeatedly coming back to his rival to increase the pressure.
Thanks to Razgatlioglu for not flinching – despite the odd nervous moment – but also kudos to Rea, who loses his title to a worthy opponent, but heads into winter with more weapons than ever to develop for 2022.
Razgatlioglu may be Champion… but the King is not yet dead. Long live the WorldSBK.