‘Razgatlioglu is most naturally gifted rider I’ve seen in a long time’

Five-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea lavishes high-praise on Kawasaki counterpart Toprak Razgatlioglu as the Turk prepares to leave Yamaha

Toprak Razgatlioglu - Puccetti Kawasaki

Five-time WorldSBK Champion Jonathan Rea has heaped praise on protégé-turned-rival Toprak Razgatlioglu as the Turkish rider prepares for his final race with Kawasaki.

In only his second season of Superbikes, Razgatlioglu has emerged as the revelation of the year, evolving from a fast but inconsistent upstart, to a blisteringly quick frequent front-runner with ten podiums from the most recent 15 races.

Achieving his success with the privateer Puccetti Kawasaki team, Razgatlioglu heads to Yamaha for the 2020 WorldSBK season for what will be his first tenure in a factory set up.

It brings to an end to a long and successful period with Kawasaki, including in Superstock 1000 and 600, that has been guided by mentor Kenan Sofuoglu, a four-time WorldSSP champion.

During his time at Kawasaki, Razgatlioglu has also received tuition from the manufacturer’s talisman in Rea, whose guidance has worked so well that they are now staunch rivals bar-to-bar on track. Indeed, Razgatlioglu first win in France was achieved by passing Rea just two corners from the flag.

Waxing lyrical about Razgatlioglu, Rea calls him the ‘most naturally gifted rider’ he has seen for a long time and certain he is heading for a WorldSBK title even if it comes at his own expense.

“Honestly, he’s the most naturally gifted rider I’ve seen here in a long time. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be a World Champion in the next few years. I just hope that I can delay it for as long as possible! When you’re a young rider there’s so much learning to do. If you get on a Superbike early – like I did, or Toprak has – it can really help you, but you’ve got to sacrifice those first years as learning years. You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself.

“The most important thing is to try and remain uninjured. If I could talk to my 19-year-old self I would have just said, be calm. You’ve got to be very fortunate to keep getting opportunities like I did because I crashed a lot, learning lessons. I was racking up damage bills for teams and that’s tough. 

“Toprak has managed to learn without too much crashing. He’s managed to stay healthy through his rookie years. From watching his level in the Superstock class I actually expected him to win earlier because you could see how strong his level was already. Being a Kawasaki guy, I could understand how well he rode that bike.

“I was a big fan of his and when he moved to WorldSBK, I was always offering a helping hand. In his first year he didn’t gel as quickly with things, but it seems working with Phil Marron has been really good for him. The family atmosphere inside Puccetti is working well. It’s nice to see him do well. He’s now beaten us straight up in Magny-Cours and that was tough for me!”

Is Toprak Razgatlioglu the rider that can halt Jonathan Rea?

Yes, he probably is.

He may not be the only rider capable of doing that – we’ll have to wait and see how Scott Redding fares in WorldSBK and if Honda can give Alvaro Bautista a fast package – but Razgatlioglu is definitely the one that has room for further growth.

He’s also the rider Dorna and WorldSBK are secretly hoping emerges as Rea’s biggest rival as he has gone against the grain of recent years by climbing through its ranks. A fledgling talent working his way to the top via Superstock or Supersport… it makes for a better headline than a MotoGP rider coming in to sweep all before him.

More than that though, Razgatlioglu’s riding style is a veritable thrill to watch. His Puccetti Kawasaki ZX-10RR is probably 10% adrift of the factory bikes, but the way he rides it is 10% more physical, more intuitive. If Rea is silky smooth on the bike, then Razgatlioglu is raggedly robust, but it’s producing the same results (unless it rains…).

The style was there is Superstock and early days of WorldSBK but the latter two-thirds of this season has shown consistency and it’s become unusual not to see Razgatlioglu on the podium.

Excitingly, he isn’t a complete rider yet. He still struggles to get the most from the qualifying tyre though his aggressive style in the opening bends often counters that, as demonstrated by his two Magny-Cours wins, achieved from 16th on the grid. It’s very reminiscent of Valentino Rossi.

Moving to Yamaha is a risk but a necessary one. It is hard to see where Razgatlioglu fitted into the factory Kawasaki team – partly because of his own Red Bull backing against the works team’s Monster backing – but also because he is a burgeoning #1 rider and Kawasaki is probably the only team he’d never assume that status at as long as Rea was there.

Still, he is heading into the off-season needing to develop a new motorcycle in the Yamaha R1 – which could prove tricky given his unorthodox style – while he still has a very fast team-mate in Michael van der Mark to stamp his authority over as well. 

But the 2019 WorldSBK season – only his second in Superbikes – demonstrates exactly why he is feared and admired by his rivals.