Why Toprak Razgatlioglu is right to choose WorldSBK over MotoGP... for now

Toprak Razgatlioglu's decision to remain in WorldSBK rather than move to MotoGP raised some eyebrows... but this is why he is absolutely right in doing so

Toprak Razgatlioglu

For many motorcycle riders the offer of a ride in the MotoGP World Championship is considered the dream, from grassroots right up to those sitting on the cusp of the premier class in Moto2.

After all, as Jack Miller pointed out, when cynics began rounding on Darryn Binder for accepting the opportunity to make the jump from Moto3 to MotoGP, who would blame the man himself for signing on the dotted line?

Of course that particular seat filtered through a few names before the rebranded RNF Yamaha settled on Binder and Andrea Dovizioso. 

Several names were batted about the negotiation table but with KTM keeping Raul Fernandez under lock and key (in a contract sense… though some choice words by Fernandez himself might make you think otherwise), Jonathan Rea content in his long-term relationship with Kawasaki in WorldSBK and Marco Bezzecchi unlikely to defect against the VR46 programme that will almost certainly see him racing its colours in MotoGP next year, there were more than a few names crossed off in big red marker.

None of these were the first choice though, instead written in capital letters with stars doodled around it was Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Indeed, it’s reasonable to imagine Yamaha thought it had the perfect gift ready and waiting with a ribbon attached to make the step from WorldSBK to MotoGP in Razgatlioglu.

Joining the Iwata marque in 2020, he stands on the verge of ending Rea’s reign as WorldSBK Champion and deliver a first title to Yamaha since 2009.

Then he did something unexpected by choosing to stay in WorldSBK. There were gasps, followed by raised eyebrows and dismissive comments that he’d blown his best shot at reaching the premier class.

Yamaha itself was respectful to his wishes and it’s not often you see a rider referencing a deal he turned down in the official comment announcing the deal he did accept, but Razgatlioglu has a plan and he intends to stick to it. So WorldSBK 2022 and 2023 here he comes.

I say Toprak, but in matters of strategy, it is a decision-making double act with Kenan Sofuoglu, his manager, mentor and sensei. While you wouldn’t suggest Toprak is staying in WorldSBK under duress, it is Sofuoglu’s confidence that he doesn’t need to accept the first MotoGP offer that comes his way that is likely to have played a part in the decision.

With Razgatlioglu opining that he wants to win the WorldSBK title before he moves, it turns out this landmark may be reached perhaps earlier than planned in 2021 with the Turk taking a 30-point lead into a 62-max final round showdown with Rea in Indonesia. 

Whether that could trigger a clause that loosens up his availability for 2023 remains to be seen, but there is some respect to levelled at Razgatlioglu for sticking to his road to success, regardless of how fast he is now clicking off the milestones. 

Why WorldSBK loyalty beats MotoGP shot... for now

In fairness, the offer from Yamaha might not have been ‘all that’. RNF has use of only one A-spec Yamaha M1 in 2022 following Petronas’ withdrawal as sponsor, and with Andrea Dovizioso unlikely to have signed without being guaranteed that machine, it might have created a few headaches.

Indeed, with the team mired in a difficult 2021 campaign, a big drop in sponsorship cash and Yamaha’s rumoured aloofness with RNF when it came to agreeing a new supply deal, Razgatlioglu might have ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Which brings me to Razgatlioglu as a person and a rider. Supremely confident on a motorcycle, Razgatlioglu’s skills are the product of a man who relentlessly trains and perfects his strengths perhaps more than any other. Off the bike he is shy, thoughtful and calm, with the brazen Sofuoglu more forthright in his opinions.

Moreover, Razgatlioglu - as the rare product of the WorldSBK career ladder, starting in Superstock 600, then Superstock 1000 before succeeding in WorldSBK - will be looking to finish what he started. 

Incredibly, if Razgatlioglu wins the title this year he will become the FIRST rider in the 33 years WorldSBK has existed to do so via claiming a title in one of the support categories - that includes European Superstock 600 (which he won in 2015), European Superstock 1000 and WorldSSP. Let that sink in for a while…

At 25-years old he also has time on his side. Depending on Yamaha’s commitment and determination to nurture him, he could spend the next couple of years getting very comfortable on a Yamaha M1 in which to adapt his very particular skill set, with a first test scheduled for after the season. 

Indeed, with such a buzz around him, partly because of his achievements but also because of his flamboyant, almost outrageous riding style, you can’t blame him for wanting to get it right when he does go.

The Kenan Sofuoglu-effect 

It is believable to imagine Sofuoglu had a hand in convincing the steadier approach. A WorldSSP legend, Sofuoglu twice tried to diversify but that led to a disastrous WorldSBK campaign in 2008 and a much anticipated but high-profile flop in Moto2 in 2011, so is perhaps jaded enough not to instantly believe the hype of a MotoGP offer when it comes through the letterbox.

Few doubt Razgatlioglu has what it takes to succeed in MotoGP but with a style forged through WorldSBK and a less-than glittering roll-call of other riders making the step from production to prototype, once you remove the gravitas of racing in MotoGP at all costs, the logic in this particular deal starts to fade somewhat.

And if for nothing else, Razgatlioglu - with the greatest of respect to his innate talent - is unlikely to be winning a MotoGP World Championship straight away (though I’d happily be proven wrong).

Instead, he could become the first WorldSBK Champion hailing from Turkey - who are passionate about their sport stars and has a growing fanbase for its new motorcycling hero - before then taking the flag to the biggest racing stage of all.

When you put it like that, his ‘thanks but no thanks, maybe later’ seems to make more sense...