WSB 2024: Toprak leads the way

Published: June 28, 2024

Toprak leads the way

Despite the fact it started in late February, the World Superbike Championship (WSB) is still only four rounds old with numerous breaks in the calendar, some of them lengthy, preventing any real momentum to have been built up.

But with six wins in the last nine races, it’s Toprak Razgatlioglu who’s currently leading the way.

Proving the doubters wrong

When Razgatlioglu announced last year he was leaving Yamaha for BMW many of the paddock experts scoffed and were left dumbfounded.

The general consensus was that he was moving purely for the big bucks on offer – why else would he make the move from a race-winning machine to one languishing at the wrong end of the top ten?

Both Razgatlioglu and manager Kenan Sofuoglu, himself a five-time World Supersport champion, thought otherwise and knew it wasn’t about the money.

They’d seen enough in the BMW project, run by the UK-based SMR team, which made them believe they could not only win races but fight for the title too. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Toprak WSB
Toprak Razgatlioglu Image Credit BMW Motorrad

The Turkish rider won at Catalunya to give BMW their first win at a track they’d traditionally struggled at and then, earlier this month, won all three races at Misano to hammer Ducati in their own back yard. If ever there was a statement of intent, that was it.

With all the breaks in the calendar the series is only a third of a way through its season, so they’ll be well aware there’s a long way to go but Razgatlioglu is a special talent.

This can be seen in the fact he’s, in truth, the only rider to make the BMW work. Indeed, he’s scored 57 more points than the other three works BMW riders put together!

He’s already mastered the machine and won at a variety of circuits so the dream of him and BMW winning the world title is very much alive and well.

Ducati less dominant so far

Reigning and double World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista has found the going tough so far in 2024 or, at least, tougher than previous seasons.

With just two wins to his name so far, it’s a far cry from the sequence of victories he regularly strung together on his way to those two world titles.

The added weight to the Ducati, to meet the new rider/bike combined weight ruling, has clearly played a major part and whilst it’s not slowed him down per se, he’s still understanding how the Ducati Panigale performs with that weight both in the early stages of the race and with a full tank of fuel, and in the latter part when the weight and fuel load reduces.

Alvaro Bautista WSB
Alvaro Bautista Image Credit Ducati Racing

He’s also been making life difficult for himself with lowly qualifying performances which has been giving him too much work to do in the first two races on the three-race weekend. Nevertheless, he still sits in a comfortable third place, only 24 points down on Razgatlioglu.

Sandwiched in between the two is Bautista’s team-mate Nicolo Bulega, the Italian excelling in his maiden WSB campaign.

Victory first time out in Australia was something special and whilst the reigning World Supersport champion hasn’t been able to replicate that since, regular podium positions – seven so far – see him sit pretty in second overall.

He tested the bike regularly last year and he’s taking his opportunity with both hands.

Lowes leads British challenge

Perhaps surprisingly, the leading Brit after the opening rounds is Alex Lowes – and perhaps more surprisingly is that he’s doing it on the Kawasaki, a bike which many considered to be long past it’s best. That was undoubtedly a reason why Jonathan Rea left and maybe the main one.

Lowes is proving that theory wrong and he’s clearly benefitted from stepping out of Rea’s shadow as well as inheriting his old crew chief Pere Riba. The Spaniard is credited for playing a large and vital role in Rea’s success and he’s now sprinkling his magic on Lowes.

Alex Lowes
Alex Lowes Image Credit

The combination of that and Lowes now being the main man at Kawasaki has seen him rejuvenated.

A race winner at the opening round, Lowes has backed that up with strong showings elsewhere and whilst he’s only appeared on the podium twice more since the opening round, he’s very much the best of the rest after Razgatlioglu, Bulega and Bautista.

The mistakes, and crashes, have been minimalised and having only failed to finish in one race, his consistent leaderboard results see him sit in a comfortable fourth place so long may that run of results continue.

Iannone and Gardner impresses

Two riders who have impressed in the early part of the season, for several reasons, are Italian Andrea Iannone and 2021 Moto 2 World Champion Remy Gardner. Both have finished on the podium, and both have been regular leaderboard me so are well poised when the racing gets back underway.

Gardner WSB
Gardner leads Razgatlioglu Image Credit Yamaha Racing

Iannone has resumed his racing career after his well-documented four-year ban for a failed drugs test, which he has always maintained was down to contaminated food. Whatever the reason, it robbed him of four prime years of racing and to come back from that ban so strongly has been impressive.

Fast from the outset, he podiumed first time out in Australia and has featured prominently since although his form did tail off at the last couple of rounds.

The break will have done the 34-year old good and both he and Gardner should be well to the fore again at the next round at Donington Park.

Australian Gardner, meanwhile, had a mixed debut season, but he’s looked a different proposition this year and is more determined and more focused in 2024, a combination that has seen his pace quicken considerably.

Andrea Iannone Image Credit

He can consider himself unlucky to have just the solitary podium to his name so far in 2024 but he’s a lot higher up the order in qualifying which is allowing him to put himself in the right positions in the races.

The second highest placed Yamaha rider, he – like Iannone – has everything in place for more podium positions to come his way as the season progresses.

Ongoing struggles for Rea and Redding

To say Jonathan Rea’s move to PATA Yamaha hasn’t, as yet, worked out as either he or the team had hoped is an understatement to say the least.

After nine years at Kawasaki, moving to a new team and manufacture was always going to present challenges but few would have thought it would pan out as it has.

With four rounds and twelve races gone, the Northern Irishman finds himself in a lowly 14th in the championship table having scored points in just five races. His best result has been a sixth at Holland and a lack of pace combined with rare mistakes and crashes has seen him struggle to make the top ten in the majority of races.

Jonathan Rea WSB
Jonathan Rea Image Credit Yamaha Racing

He knows the R1 Yamaha can be competitive. Team-mate Andrea Locatelli has scored three times as many points as Rea to sit fifth in the standings whilst Gardner on the sister GYTR GRT machine has finished on the podium and often ran towards the front. For whatever reason, Rea and the Yamaha aren’t gelling and with a lack of confidence, no doubt enhanced by some high-speed crashes, he can’t extract the most out of the package.

The break will have done him good to reassess, rebuild and get back to full fitness. Chances of a seventh title have gone but with the next round at Donington Park in mid-July, he’ll be looking to finally get his season up and running in front of his home crowd.

The same applies to Scott Redding who’s four places behind Rea in the table having scored even less points. His Bonovo team recently announced they would be withdrawing from the series at the end of the year and that uncertainty may have been weighing heavily on his mind. But having spent a season and a half in the doldrums, he needs to get out of them quickly if he’s to find a new team in 2025.

Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for almost 20 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News, Classic Racer and Road Racing Ireland, as well as being a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport.

He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including PBM Ducati, John McGuinness, KTS Racing and Jackson Racing. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races working with the race organisation, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing the TV and radio broadcasting teams with statistical information.

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