As previously reported by T-VINE, Toprak Razgatlıoğlu (Look out for Turkey’s rising motorcycle racing star Toprak Razgatlıoğlu, 24 July 2021) is making waves in the world of motorsport. The 24-year-old star from Alanya currently sits second in the World Superbike Championship, riding for the Pata Yamaha with Brixx team.
Despite a busy schedule, Toprak was kind enough to set aside some time for us to speak to him on the eve of the 5th round of the World Superbike Championship at Assen, Netherlands.
At the time of the interview, Toprak enjoyed a slender lead in the title race. However, his title rival, Jonathan Rea (six-time and current reigning champion), went on to achieve a clean sweep of the weekend, winning all three races, while Toprak scored a brace of third-place finishes and, unfortunately, was forced to retire from the final race after being taken out at the start heading into the first corner by another rider.
However, he fought back at the next round at Most, Czech Republic, taking two wins and a second-place, leaving him trailing championship leader Rea by just 3 points as they approach the season’s halfway point.
Under the wing of champion racer Kenan Sofuoğlu
Toprak Razgatlıoğlu was born on 26 October 1996 and by the tender of age of five had his first taste of two wheels on a 50cc motocross bike. By the age of eight, he was racing in Turkey’s Junior classes. His father, ‘Tek Teker Arif’, was already an established motorcycle stuntman in Turkey, so the apple obviously didn’t fall far from the tree…
At age 11, Arif decided it was time for his son to swap gravel for tarmac and compete on a road bike. It is worth noting that during this period, Kenan Sofuoğlu (currently Toprak’s manager-cum-mentor and abi– or big brother) was beginning to enjoy success on the world stage, winning the first of his five World Supersport Championships in 2007.
Perhaps sensing his son had the potential to follow in Sofuoğlu’s footsteps (or indeed tyre marks), Arif’s intuition would prove to be correct with Toprak spending the next few years cutting his teeth in numerous domestic and European championships, claiming the Turkish Road Race 600cc title in 2012.
However, the real turning point in Toprak’s fledgling career came in 2014 when competing in the Red Bull Rookies Cup. He was spotted by Sofuoğlu, who took the then 17-year-old under his wing, providing his young protégé with much need financial support and guidance.
As Toprak recalls: “Kenan abi took me by the hand. His plan was for me to compete in the 2015 European Superstock 600 Championship, so he entered me into the final round of the 2014 Superstock Championship at Magny Cours, France. He wanted to see if I was good enough to compete at that level, and despite having never raced at that track, I won.”
For non-racing enthusiasts, the European Superstock 600 Championship is one of the support classes to World Superbike.
Impressed with his young charge, Sofuoğlu used his standing to secure Toprak a ride for the 2015 season. And the young gun would pick up where he left off, stamping his authority on the European Superstock 600 class by winning the first five races and wrapping up the title before the championship had even run its course (eight races in total).
He smiles wryly as he recounts this period: “Kenan abi told me to enjoy my success and make the most of it, as things would get harder as my career progressed.”
The man behind the helmet
Fast forward six years, and Toprak has now worked his way up through the ranks to establish himself as Yamaha’s factory ‘No1.’ rider in the World Superbike Championship.
Now approaching 25 years of age, he is no longer the promising young pretender with some potential. Rather, he is now considered by peers, pundits and fans alike to be one of the most talented riders in the world of motorcycle racing – more on that later.
T-VINE asked Toprak about his life outside of the frenetic world of motorcycle racing and what he gets up to when he’s not hitting speeds of almost 200mph on the racetrack. Riding more motorcycles, as it turns out:
“My daily routine when back home is to ride motorbikes at Kenan Sofuoğlu Pisti. I’m not a big fan of weight training, running, or cycling, so only if the weather’s bad will I go to the gym to work out. Providing I work up a sweat, then I feel like I’ve trained hard, and I’m happy.”
When asked what he thinks he would have done had he not become a professional motorcycle racer:
“We have a motorcycle rental shop in Alanya, which my father started, and my older brother now runs. I wasn’t very academic and disliked school, so I probably would have joined my brother in the shop.”
Toprak lost his father Arif Razgatlıoğlu four years ago, when he and his girlfriend were tragically killed in a road traffic accident in Antalya in 2017.
It’s clear that Toprak lives and breathes motorcycles, so we try and steer the conversation in a slightly different direction – what’s it like being away from home when racing and travelling from one country to the next?
“I live with my mum, so of course you miss home and your mum’s cooking (who doesn’t?). The worst part of this sport is that I love home and don’t enjoy living in Europe.
“Once the races have finished, my only desire is to return home to Turkey, especially if I’ve had a successful weekend and I’m in high spirits.”
He goes on to expand on this yearning to return home when he had to quarantine in Europe before being allowed to enter the UK to race. It meant spending almost a month away from home in total, which he found really difficult, but which he endured.
And how did he feel about racing during the pandemic last year in front of empty grandstands?
“During the races, there was no real difference. Obviously, our sport isn’t like football, where the fans play a much bigger role in providing atmosphere. However, we did feel the absence of the fans after the races where there was no one trackside or at the podium to support and celebrate with us.”
Speaking of football, Toprak is a Beşiktaş supporter. Hopefully, he can replicate his team’s success this year, given that Beşiktaş are the reigning Super Lig champions, for those who don’t follow Turkish football.
Flying the flag
Many of us will never know what it feels like to ride a fast motorbike, let alone race one. It takes a particular disposition, mindset, and mettle to put one’s life at risk in the pursuit of adrenaline, and ultimately the spoils that come with victory and adoration.
As Toprak explains: “When I’m preparing for a race, I usually call my brother, and he helps to calm any nerves I might have. If Kenan abi is not with me during a race weekend, I’ll also call him. After that, I’ll say a prayer.
“Once on track, the excitement I feel is indescribable – in particular, the build-up to a race as you wait on the grid for the lights to go out. However, that initial nervous excitement subsides once you pull the visor down and complete the warm-up lap.
“The best thing about what I do is finishing first and seeing the Turkish flag being raised on the rostrum.”
But what of the lack of media exposure and coverage of his chosen discipline back in his native Turkey? Surely it would help to have a ‘home’ Turkish round as part of the World Superbike calendar?
“Of course, I’m very keen to race at Istanbul Park, but at the moment, there is no chance of this happening,” admits Toprak.
“Kenan abi is also very keen for this to happen as we have a Turkish rider across three different classes now – myself in World Superbike, Can [Öncü] in World Supersport and Bahattin [Sofuoğlu – Kenan Sofuoğlu’s nephew] in World Supersport 300.”
He further explains that any potential negotiations to add Istanbul Park to the World Superbike calendar would be handled between the Turkish Government, his Kenan abi (himself an AKP Member of Parliament) and Dorna (the owners of the World Superbike Championship).
With time pressing on, T-VINE has a last couple of questions to ask – firstly, if he wins the World Superbike Championship will Toprak swap his customary No.54 for the fabled No.1 plate? In Turkey, the ’54’ prefix on a vehicle’s number plate denotes it as being registered in Sakarya province.
Another wry smile appears on Toprak’s face as he’s quick to respond candidly:
“Racing with the No.1 is definitely something I want to do. Let’s say I win the championship this year; I might never get the chance to win another championship again. So yes, the No.1 does appeal to me.”
It doesn’t take too much to read between the lines here and pick up on Toprak’s tone; when you race motorcycles for a living, in the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind, you know each time you take to the grid could be your last.
And lastly, what of his ambitions short and long term?
“My main aim is to become World Superbike Champion, the same goal I had when I first arrived in the World Superbike paddock. However, things have changed; I’ve established myself in this class, and we’ve now had offers from teams to ride in MotoGP.
“When I first started this journey, MotoGP seemed like a faraway universe. Now it’s within touching distance, and I can go there whenever I want.”
The last Yamaha rider to become World Superbike Champion was back in 2009…
Again, reading between the lines and going by the little glint in his eye, it’s apparent that Toprak now believes he is good enough to challenge the sport’s elite. His tone is assured, and he exudes confidence when talking about his future. He is a man on a mission!
MotoGP is the pinnacle of two-wheeled Motorsport – the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing, if you will.
Whereas World Superbike is a ‘silhouette’ class, using bikes that are ostensibly highly modified versions of production bikes that anyone can purchase from a showroom, MotoGP bikes are bespoke prototypes that are not available to the public.
Rightly or wrongly, no World Superbike rider, irrespective of their success in that class, can ever be considered the best rider in the world… The exotic machinery, big budgets, prestige and recognition are the sole domain of MotoGP.
On paper, Toprak is tailor-made for MotoGP – he is intelligent, measured and has an amiable and calm persona. Not only does he have the raw talent and character to succeed at the highest level, additionally, his all-action, late-breaking style make him a very formidable opponent.
So accomplished and unique is Toprak’s late braking technique that he has earned himself the nickname ‘Stoprak’. This innate ability allows him to not only pull off daring ‘do or die’ passes, but also to defend his position against an otherwise faster rider.
Toprak recently signed a two-year extension to continue riding for Pata Yamaha with Brixx until the end of the 2023 season. As such, the soonest he could conceivably make the switch to MotoGP would be at the start of the 2024 season, unless he has a ‘break’ clause in his contract allowing him to leave the team early under a specific set of circumstances.
T-VINE, for one, can’t wait to see how the young Turk’s career pans out over the coming years. We wish him all the best in his pursuit of becoming World Superbike Champion and beyond!
*If you want to watch Toprak race, then you can do so by tuning into British Eurosport 1 & 2 on any given race weekend. These channels are available on most pay TV services.
There are three races held across the weekend: Race 1 on Saturday afternoon, a shorter sprint race on Sunday morning and Race 2 on Sunday afternoon.
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