Master vs apprentice no more – it’s 3-3 in terms of last lap battles
The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is witnessing what is vastly becoming one of the most emblematic rivalries in the Championship’s history. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) are head-to-head for the title, leaving nothing on the table and both going all-out for victory. The Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours saw them battle victory hard, both at the top of their game, particularly in the Tissot Superpole Race, where there were two overtakes for the lead in the final two sectors on the last lap. However, this rivalry has been building ever since Toprak’s move to WorldSBK: let’s look at it in detail.
2018: a rookie’s good first impressions
Razgatlioglu graduated to WorldSBK in 2018 with the Puccetti Kawasaki outfit, where he had a rather unassuming start to the season, although consolidated his status as a solid top ten finisher. However, by the time the Championship reached the UK and Donington and having only had a best result of eighth prior to this, Razgatlioglu erupted onto the scene. He battled hard with Jonathan Rea in Race 2 and eventually got second place from him on the final lap, making a bold move at the Old Hairpin. Beating the factory Kawasaki of Rea on an Independent Kawasaki, the Turkish youngster was the apprentice learning his trade from one of the best. A star was born, and a rivalry ignited.
2019: the fight for victory ignites
Into his second full season of action, Razgatlioglu was now aiming to start challenging for regular podiums – however, it was at Misano where it was clear that Toprak could be a real threat to Rea. A last lap battle in Race 2 would be just the first of many battles to come. At Donington Park, Race 2 saw them locked together, although Rea resisted Toprak’s pressure in the closing stages. Despite this, the biggest battle was to come at Magny-Cours in France, when Toprak stormed through from 16th on the grid to take the lead at Turn 13 on the last lap of Race 1, taking his first ever WorldSBK win. He repeated it in the Tissot Superpole Race, doubling up and again, pipping Rea. With a switch to the factory Yamaha team for 2020 coming, the rivalry was only going to grow stronger.
2020 and 2021: things get serious
With Toprak moving into the Pata Yamaha team, he was always going to be a direct threat to Jonathan Rea. With Rea crashing in the first race of the year, Toprak drew first blood, but a final corner, final lap pass from Rea on Toprak in the Superpole Race saw the Champion fight back. It was the only time in 2020 where both went head-to-head on the final lap, although they enjoyed plenty of podiums together.
However, 2021 was the year we were waiting for, a vintage season where the top two in the world are riding at the top of their game and with huge hunger to win. They locked horns at Donington Park in Race 2, after Toprak’s mesmerising opening lap in the first race. With both on the limit of adhesion, mistakes came, a big one for Rea at Coppice, as he crashed out of the lead. Then, Rea was invincible at Assen meanwhile it was Razgatlioglu’s turn for misfortune, being taken out at Turn 1 by Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team). Toprak was irrepressible at Most as Rea crashed not once but twice in Race 1. They battled hard again in the opening laps of the Superpole Race at Navarra, before then moving to Magny-Cours and their biggest on-track fight yet in the Superpole Race, which then spilt off-track too.
The future: it’s only going to get more intense
The good news is that both riders are going to stay in the WorldSBK paddock for at least the next year (in Toprak’s case, until 2023), meaning we can get used to our Saturday and Sunday afternoons being filled with both going head-to-head. As one beats the other, the other’s desire to win will only increase. However, it’s a rivalry with great respect too, with both riders pushing themselves and each other to the limit, whilst always reflecting on the moment together and having nothing but admiration. With the latest off-track turn of events regarding the Kawasaki protest at Magny-Cours for Razgatlioglu exceeding track limits, it’s another dynamic and another storyline in what is quickly becoming one of the most entertaining rivalries. Razgatlioglu has a seven-point lead over Rea, but it could all change in a moment’s notice.
Who will come out on top in the war for WorldSBK supremacy? Watch it all LIVE and OnDemand with the WorldSBK VideoPass!