In what has been a remarkable points swing, Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea took the gloves off once again at Portimao…
The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship just keeps on giving surprise after surprise and the Motul Portuguese Round’s opening race on Saturday could have possibly given the most defining moment of the season yet. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) raced to victory, his first in WorldSBK at Portimao and his 11th of the year, whilst Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) crashed at speed from the lead of the race at Turn 15. The Championship gap is now 45 points with Toprak leading the way, whilst Rea loses more ground.
In what was one of the most intense opening five laps of the season, neither Razgatlioglu or Rea wanted to give an inch as they duelled hard. On Lap 2, Rea put a superb pass on Razgatlioglu at Turn 11 but Toprak held on at Turn 12, firing his Yamaha back through. Rea tried again at Turn 13 but ran slightly wide, whilst Razgatlioglu scythed back through, colliding with Rea. The fight continued as Rea had a huge moment at Turn 1 on Lap 5 before getting under Razgatlioglu again at Turn 11, whilst race leader Scott Redding ran wide at Turn 13, with Rea coming back through to the lead. Then, disaster, as Rea tucked the front at Turn 15, his Kawasaki ZX-10 RR barrelling through the gravel.
At the front, Scott Redding was leading the way until Toprak took back the lead at Turn 1 with just less than four laps to go, and whilst Redding continued to try and retaliate, he couldn’t keep Toprak at bay. Razgatlioglu delivered Yamaha a first Portimao win since Marco Melandri in 2011 in Race 2, and also became the fourth rider to win three consecutive races for the manufacturer after Fabrizio Pirovano, Noriyuki Haga and Ben Spies.
Speaking after the race, Razgatlioglu said: “It wasn’t an easy race because Jonny and Scott were very strong. After Jonny’s crash, we are fighting with Scott; we are fighting with both of them, but I am happy, because we win again. Some corners, I wasn’t very strong because I felt some electronic problems but tomorrow, I think we will improve. We will come back again stronger, every race we are improving and also yesterday, I didn’t feel very good whereas now, the bike is much better.”
Talking about the battle with Redding, Razgatlioglu said that his strategy to wait until the closing stages of the race paid dividends: “It wasn’t easy because he is strong. We are fighting again but after I understood that we are together, I decide to wait for the last two laps. In the last two laps, I try my best again and we made it.”
Over at Kawasaki, Jonathan Rea was taken to the medical centre, where he was diagnosed with multiple contusions and a left elbow abrasion. He will be reviewed on Sunday morning prior to Warm-Up. Up until Race 1, it had been a sparkling weekend for Rea, who said on Friday that he ‘felt like he had his bike back’ and that he could ‘do things on the bike that he’d not been able to do all year’. Topping Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions, Rea was second on the grid after Superpole, but couldn’t convert it in Race 1.
Talking at the end of the day about his crash and the race until that point, Rea commented: “I am relatively OK, just a little bit beaten up because when I crashed and hit the gravel, I started tumbling. Apart from some bumps and bruises, relatively, I am quite fine. I can’t say ifs and buts because I crashed; I know my pace was good but inside the battle, it wasn’t good because every time I had track position, there was a bike on the inside releasing the brake. I couldn’t really make any rhythm. When Scott made the mistake at Turn 13, I thought ‘OK, I have to go’ because if I can’t go on the straight with some advantage, then I’ll be in the battle again. Congratulations to the guys at the front, I felt like I could’ve been there battling because my pace all weekend has been quite strong. I have another chance tomorrow, so we’ll try to do a good job."
Adding in his media debrief on Saturday and reflecting on the battle with Razgatlioglu, Rea expressed that he’s ready for the challenge, even if Toprak can be without “consideration” when going for an apex: “I don’t want to put s**t on Toprak about how he rides, because he is clearly doing a good job and he’s not even at his limit. However, the guy he’s passing is on their limit with the bike and tyres and the combination of everything.
"I’m ready to fight like that and I’m going to fight like that"
“I don’t want to complain too much; I’m ready to fight like that and I’m going to fight like that. I can shake his hand after that and not complain, but I’m happy to let the brakes off and use him as a berm. That’s pretty much what he did to me at Turn 13; he committed to the pass on the apex. I’m not going to grumble; rubbing is racing. He can train on his kart track in Turkey, but I grew up motocrossing, and that’s also hard.
“Of course, there’s a line and these are big bikes and you can’t just come from miles away to make a pass because you feel brave in yourself that you can stop at the apex. I don’t know if Scott was complaining a lot but I don’t want to cry about because I get labelled a cry-baby… I can roll my sleeves up to.”
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