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Friday, January 27, 2023

Colin Fraser: Razgatlioglu Ends Rea’s Reign

Colin Fraser

On November 22, Pata-Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu earned his World Superbike Championship in style at the final 2021 event at a just-opened circuit in Mandalika, Indonesia.

Prior to the event, there was much speculation about settling a close-fought World Championship at a brand-new circuit. But in the end, the typical challenge of changing weather was the main focal point.

Outgoing #1 Jonathan Rea did everything possible to hold on to the crown, even though the factory Kawasaki superstar faced long odds. Thirty points behind the Turkish ace entering the final events, Rea won both feature races, but was hurt by the fact the Super Pole sprint race was cancelled due to Saturday weather issues.

Razgatlioglu fought for the Race One win with Rea, in very tricky conditions on a drying track. Rea was at maximum focus and Razgatlioglu flinched first, two-wheel drifting off the track into the paved run-off. Still, the Yamaha ace charged back, and a second place confirmed his title.

The always cool Razgatlioglu reflected on his crazy 2021 campaign, stating that, “sometimes we crashed, sometimes we had good races and finally we are here with the championship. Now it is an incredible day for me.

“It’s a special dream for me today because the title is for my dad. It has always been my dream. My dad’s not here anymore, he passed away, but I feel he is watching.”

The pattern of the season was established mid-campaign, with Razgatlioglu stacking up wins, and Rea seemingly riding too hard and suffering several major crashes.

Razgatlioglu’s tumbles came when he was clobbered at the start of Assen by a teammate (Garrett Gerloff), and a fender jammed the front tire in Portugal.

Monster Kawasaki’s Jonny Rea didn’t give up his number one plate without a fight, taking two wins at the new WSBK venue of Mandalika. CREDIT Kawasaki Motors

While Rea’s streak of six consecutive Superbike crowns came to an end, the Northern Irish racer had one of his best weekends in Indonesia.

“We had a super day, and I’m super content with that,” started Rea after two victories. “After Free Practice One we faced some difficulties, but to come back – rebound – to win in the wet, then in the dry, I’m just super happy.”

Talking of rivals Razgatlioglu and Ducati’s Scott Redding, Rea confirmed that, “I could understand where they were fast. I rode with nothing to lose, to try and go out on a high. I tried to set the pace from the start, but Toprak and Scott were also very fast.

“We can honestly say we have no regrets this year. I rode my maximum; I rode my heart out every race and I’m very satisfied.”

“Congratulations to Toprak and his team,” continued Rea. “They’ve done an incredible season. They were very fast, and they really made me improve as a rider.

“I’ve looked at myself, to evaluate how I can do better, how my Ninja can be better, so this winter we will really be pushing Kawasaki to improve our ZX-10RR and try to come back with an even stronger package.”

Kawasaki’s main racing focus has been with the Superbike category since they pulled out of MotoGP in 2009, in the middle of that period’s global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, Yamaha competes in most categories, and had an incredible 2021 with Razgatlioglu, age 25, earning the Superbike crown aboard the works YZF-R1 and 22-year-old French ace Fabio Quartararo title in MotoGP with the factory YZR-M1.

While Rea sometimes seemed to over-ride the Kawasaki in desperation, Razgatlioglu’s performance during the season confirmed that the Turkish star is really something special.

Frequently out of shape, especially under hard braking, the Yamaha rider was able to control his bike regardless of outrageous pitch and yaw variations.

This style also had many insiders wondering why he is not moving to MotoGP, but Razgatlioglu is committed to defending his number one is WSBK in 2022. But don’t be surprised if Yamaha engineers a move to the Grand Prix tour in 2023. Quartararo’s rumoured departure from Yamaha at the end of next season might be the key to Yamaha’s decision.

(As a sidebar, please remember that until serious testing starts in Sepang and then Mandalika, February 2022, everything you hear and read is at best gossip.)

Not only was Razgatlioglu’s unique riding style ultra-entertaining, but it also made him very hard to pass – an issue frequently mentioned by Redding. At the final race of 2021, eventual runner-up Redding was again in the thick of the first-place fight, although just slightly too far back in the points to challenge for the crown.

The final 2021 Superbike race was delayed due to more torrential rain that shortened the race length, forcing the pace up front from the start. Both Rea and Redding wanted the race to go ahead, although for a while it looked like, with the title decided, the last race would get rained out.

“I was ready, and I said, ‘I don’t want to not race,’” started Redding, confusingly. “I wanted to at least to try and finish the championship, with all the fans, we had to try.

“Normally, I would be a bit more cautious,” confirmed the outgoing Ducati leader, destined for 2022 duty with BMW. “Today, I just said f**k it, overtake, overtake, overtake, because I wanted to make a show. I think Jonathan felt the same.

“None of us had any experience of the rain at this track, so I just committed at the first corner to see what would happen. We were adapting to the new conditions every lap. I felt quite good, but it was just this type of track that is not the best for the Ducati. It was really great to finish the season with a race like this.”

Scott Redding fought at the front for Ducati at the final World Superbike Championship event November 21 at Mandalika, and will lead BMW’s works effort in 2022. CREDIT: Ducati Media House

By Colin Fraser

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