Once again a confident and entertaining Toprak Razgatlioglu dominated a race in WorldSBK, this time Saturday's opening action at Portimao.
Long jumping in practice, devastatingly fast in Superpole until pipped at the last by Jonathan Rea, the Pata Yamaha rider would ease away to win a shortened 14-lap race one, after the long delays caused by the serious accident suffered by Victor Steeman in WorldSSP300.
Once the minds had to be focused on the racing again, as they must be if you are a professional racer like Razgatlioglu, his leading plan worked out well once Rea had made a great start from pole position.
“In first laps I’m not pushing,” Razgatlioglu explained from Portugal on Saturday afternoon. “I’m just watching Johnny. After that, I was starting. I just tried to keep the rear tyre all the race. After, I’m just riding like my style because I know my pace is very strong.
“After I passed Johnny, I’m just riding. Last five laps, four laps, I see the gap and I ride more relaxed. I see [Alvaro] Bautista last two laps is coming, but I don’t take the risk. Because I’m feeling the front right side of the tyre does not have good grip. I’m feeling some sliding. I don’t take the risk the last two laps. I’m just normal riding.”
Razgatlioglu seemed very motivated this weekend, especially having to see Bautista win three times from three in Catalunya. “Again, we win because I say I see Catalunya…” said Toprak. “Bautista three times won. I said, ‘OK, enough. I need Portimao. One more win again. We are happy for this,” he went serious for a moment as he stated what a lot of people were thinking. “But, we are not super happy because a 300 rider had a big crash today. We are waiting good news. We are not celebrating (the race win). Also I have a plan after the race. I hope I win. I have some plan in the Superpole, but today… better not. Maybe this weekend. Tomorrow we have two more races. I need some improving.”
The sudden 14-lap race, not the expected 21-lap distance, threw a curve ball to the teams and riders.
“Today my big problem was the front tyre,” the reigning champion admitted. “I think tomorrow we improve the setup. I think it’s much better. 21 laps in hot conditions is not easy at this track but 14 laps we are very strong. We need six laps more for tomorrow. I think this is no problem. Tomorrow it looks Alvaro is very strong. We see this, but we keep fighting again.”
Razgatlioglu looked a nailed-on Superpole winner until Rea demoted him one place but his biggest problem was equipment related.
“Strange but I forget my knee sliders in the first run,” the Yamaha rider said, half laughing and half embarrassed. “Normally I put new one on but I’m talking with the team and I forget. I followed [Andrea] Locatelli. First corner, I touched my knee. I forgot. I said, ‘how was I was riding?’ I just focus again.
“I ride like a Tom Sykes style. Stop, go, stop, go. Not touch the sliders. I ride like this. I see 39.8 with no sliders. My best time was without the knee sliders. I put the sliders on and not so fast. Maybe next time again ride without sliders!”
Razgatlioglu is still well behind runaway leader Bautista, who he beat into second place on Friday, but he wants more competition, not less, it seems.
“I think this is not good for the championship. We are just fighting with Alvaro and Jonny. We are waiting all riders to fighting. But this year, everybody is very fast. We know also especially here. We know the lap time, 39.6 and 39.7, and with the race tyre, not the qualifying tyre [No SCQs available at Portimao this time].
“Everybody this year is very fast. Maybe the next year some riders start fast, but Bassani now is big improved. I’m happy for him. Just he needs to learn a lot because his first laps, pushing a lot. I see just the tyre smoke! Maybe [if] he’s learning for the next year, he’s fighting the championship easy.”
Razgatlioglu was ready for any race that he was asked to run in, from a ten lap sprint to a full 21-lapper, and he would not have been surprised if the organisers had decided to not race at all on Saturday. Referring to Steeman’s accident, he said, “We are not happy today. Just we are waiting, but normally I say ‘I think we cancel today’, but we ride again. I try focus again my job. For me, is a good day but we are not happy.” He stresses that he is not saying that we should not have ridden on Saturday. “No, I don’t say this,” he confirmed. “Dorna says we ride, everybody rides. But, Dorna says we don’t ride for the respect, I [would] not say anything.”
At time of press Steeman is in a serious condition in hospital, with head injuries and polytrauma.