Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu claimed the 2021 WorldSBK Championship crown after a determined year long battle with Jonathan Rea.
The Kawasaki king had long been in Razgatlioglu’s corner, from the Turkish rider’s debut and Superstock 600 class winning season in the paddock in 2015 through to joining the top flight with Puccetti in 2018. But after a surprise move for the 25-year-old to Pata Yamaha for 2020, the firm friends suddenly became on-track rivals.
“This year we are champion and also this year every race we are fighting with Johnny, very incredible season,” Razgatlioglu said of his impressive year. "Also many people watching because this [last] race maybe Johnny champion and maybe I'm champion.
“Not easy season, also for Johnny, I think he's feeling too much stress this season. He crashed, he make mistakes but at the end he says ‘congratulations’ and I say ‘thank you very much’.
‘I like Johnny, he is I think a World Superbike legend. Six-time World Champion. I remember 2018 and he's helping me every race weekend. Always respect, is better, but this is racing. Everybody try their best, everybody try every race to be the best. We are fighting on the track.”
The championship didn’t come easily to Razgatlioglu, despite a steadily improving record in the class which has seen him advance year-on-year on his previous record. The Turk has never completed a season outside of the top ten, claiming ninth on his maiden year before spending the past three inside the top five.
Fourth overall for his debut on the R1 saw him claim three victories and six further podiums in a season delayed and curtailed by the pandemic but 2021 certainly allowed him to come out fighting. A stellar 13 wins and 29 podiums were upset by just three DNF’s - all of which resulting from outside influence - and a lowest place finish of sixth across the 37 races, however his mid-season crash in the final race of the Dutch round, after tangling with GRT’s Garrett Gerloff at the front, brought doubts.
“After the Assen crash I think the championship was finished,” Razgatlioglu admitted. “Speaking with Kenan, he said 'We are not talking about the championship. We are just focused on the race. We just try to win'. And after Assen crash I just focused on the race.
“Last lap I say I need to try to pass because this is my character,” he continued, reflecting on the opening race at Most one event later. “Maybe if I not try to pass, I finish the race and maybe [will be] unreal for me. I’m really happy because last lap and last corner I pass Scott.
“I'm normally not really fast in wet conditions, first time Catalunya and last five laps electronic problems. Yeah, I was very angry for this because first time I am really fast in wet conditions, last five laps I'm winning but not possible finish the race.”
Alongside Rea, there has always been another paddock stalwart in Toprak’s corner, in the quiet but formidable form of Kenan Sofuoglu. The five-time World Supersport Champion was instrumental in bringing Razgatlioglu both to the Championship in the early years and also to Kawasaki, thanks to his links with the factory and the Puccetti team, and he has remained a firm mentor and friend throughout his career.
“I'm watching always Kenan,” Toprak explained. “He is experienced - five-time World Champion. He is my hero. We are training all together, he is also master. He's helping always, he is with me always. This is good because I'm very lucky that I have Kenan.
“My style I think, I like a slow corner because stop-go, and I try very hard braking, try very early to open the gas. Somebody say 'he is very dangerous' but I think not because I never crash with the other riders. Very clear passing. Sometimes okay, a little bit dangerous but nobody crash. I think this is important. But I think I'm not really special.
“Next year we are coming more stronger” he affirmed ominously. “We are just improving the bike. Also we are improving my style. I don't know, maybe we will improve in the wet condition. I don't see never Yamaha use number one. I think time to use number one, Next year I use number one.”