Whether it was a title showdown, a crazy race, huge rivals or the emotions that came after, some races are simply magical
The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship may nearly be done and dusted for another season but the penultimate round at Portimao was absolutely breath-taking. The world reacted as Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) put on an astonishing show which featured 35 passes for the victory and battle was completely unchained. An instant classic that reminded us all why we love motorcycle racing in the first place – as well as undoubtedly captivating new fans into our awesome sport – we look back at other elite battles that were just that little bit more special and still get our hairs standing on end.
Without a doubt, the best race of the season, perhaps in recent years, Race 2 from the Pirelli Portuguese Round will go down in history as one of the most unchained, unhinged and on the limit battles of all time. Doing everything in his power, Toprak Razgatlioglu knew what he had to do in order to stay in contention with Alvaro Bautista, with the Spaniard able to pass him or remain in contention himself with a brilliant final corner and top speed down the straight. In the end, 35 passes for the race lead occurred from lights out to the chequered flag and despite putting in the most extraordinary of efforts, Razgatlioglu was beaten by Championship leader Bautista on the final run to the line by just 0.126s, the 12th time the Turk has been beaten by less than half a second. The scenes of dejection, elation, respect and sportsmanship in Parc Ferme afterwards were reminiscent of many before it, with one in particular springing instantly to mind.
Otherwise known as ‘The Showdown’, Imola’s Race 2 from 2002 will long live in the memory for being the ultimate Championship decider. Colin Edwards, who at one time was 63 points down on long-time Championship leader and reigning World Champion Troy Bayliss with nine races to go, entered the final race of the year with a six-point lead after a sensational win streak in the final third of the year. In front of 90,000 fans, the battled played out from the start. The race had everything; drama, passion, passing, tension and tactics. For Bayliss to win the title, he had to beat Edwards and hope that teammate Ruben Xaus or another Ducati, such as Neil Hodgson, could push the Honda star back to third. With a handful of laps to go, Xaus was with them and the gap from first to third was less than a second, although the ‘Texas Tornado’ Edwards hit the front and pulled the pin. Despite it now increasingly unlikely that Bayliss could take the crown, both took their gloves off for a heroic final lap, eventually going the way of Edwards who took a second title. The scenes in Parc Ferme remain some of the most iconic in WorldSBK history. Watch our ‘Showdown’ documentary here!
Another classic involving Troy Bayliss, although this time, with a different rival five years later. WorldSBK’s youngest World Champion James Toseland was back to form in 2007 with Honda, three years after becoming the ‘underdog’ Champion in 2004 against teammate Regis Laconi. Early in the season at ‘The Cathedral of Speed’ Assen, the British star, from Sheffield, looked set for a career-first double, after the pair swapped and changed positions four times in the final lap and a half. On the last lap, a sensational move at the fast Hoge Heide in the final sector – like on the penultimate lap – saw the #52 ahead. However, he went deep on the brakes into the final chicane to prevent Australian Bayliss from attacking him at the iconic last overtaking opportunity but in doing that, compromised his exit. The result? A mad dash for the line which saw Toseland celebrating too soon, as Bayliss and Ducati boomed on by to take victory by 0.009s. The crowd were on their feet, the emotions raw in Parc Ferme but once again, the sportsmanship said it all.
1996 and the World Superbike season is wide open; Troy Corser is doing the business for Ducati, rookie John Kocinski is in contention from the start, Pierfrancesco Chili continues to put on a show for the fans and of course, being Frankie, take off his clothes and Aaron Slight for Honda is chasing a first title. However, where’s reigning double World Champion Carl Fogarty? A move away from Ducati to Honda saw him break up the winning partnership with Ducati in the search of a new challenge but it wasn’t going his way so far. Without a win or podium in the opening five races and also not the best of friends with title contending teammate Aaron Slight, ‘Foggy’ was seeing red by the time Hockenheim’s Race 2 was here. Five different race leaders, 13 overtakes for the lead and it came down to a final lap pass from Fogarty, who hit the front for the first time, into the stadium section against his teammate Slight, who tried to draft by on the run to the line but it wasn’t to be. Fogarty had delivered the goods for a first of four wins for Honda.
Another Portuguese thriller between two modern heavyweights; we opened the article with Bautista and Razgatlioglu and we will close it with them too. Estoril 2022 would be one of the best weekends of racing in WorldSBK history, with all three winning overtakes coming on the final lap. The race featured Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea and Yamaha’s Razgatlioglu pass each other some ten times, mostly at Turn 1 under braking, however, as they did this, Alvaro Bautista was getting closer and closer. Rea made a crucial error at the start of Lap 16 which dropped him behind Bautista, who was now threatening Razgatlioglu for the lead. On the final lap, the defending Champion led out of the final corner but a small wheelie combined with Bautista’s Ducati power was enough to give the victory to the Championship-leading Spaniard. Almost a carbon copy of what would come a year and a half later 315km south in the Algarve.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: plenty of shootouts with Jonathan Rea
We can’t have the ultimate face-offs without a mention to the special rivalry between Razgatlioglu and Rea, which peaked on two occasions: the first at Magny-Cours in 2021’s title race during the Superpole Race where a late penalty for exceeding track limits gave Rea the win and the second when they took each other out at Assen in 2022’s Race 2. Other head-to-heads include the opening races of both the 2010 season – the closest WorldSBK finish ever – and the 2020 season, Toprak’s first win with Yamaha. The Turk then had an epic shootout with Scott Redding for victory in the first ever race at Most in 2021, whilst back in 2000, it was all about Colin Edwards vs Noriyuki Haga for victory at Kyalami.