2023 may be done and dusted but it featured the latest additions in a long line of hard riding between the pairing
The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship’s Pirelli Portuguese Round will live long in the memory of fans, riders and paddock personnel after the titanic fight between two heavyweight stars, whereas the following round at Jerez was likewise off the scale. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Toprak Razgatlioglu swapped and changed for the lead some 35 times at Portimao before it was 38 times in the second half of Race 2 at Jerez, in a rivalry that has always been full of respect. It’s happened before too, so we put down some of the most memorable below.
Earlier on in the day, we got a teaser of what was to come with the Superpole Race also being a gloves off battle. However, perhaps it could be expected to happen, with the shorter 10-lap race always providing opportunities – look at 2022, when Razgatlioglu rode to one of the best race wins of his career. In the Superpole Race this year, more of the same and despite leading throughout the last lap, the last sector for Bautista was too strong for the Turk to resist and be beat him on the run to the line. Razgatlioglu was angry then…
A decisive race in making sure that the title fight went as far as possible, the San Juan Superpole Race of last year was the latest in a catalogue of fights between Bautista and Razgatlioglu in their duel for the crown. This one featured Jonathan Rea too, who made a mistake at Turn 1 from the lead, with all three going bar-to-bar in the final three laps. Toprak made passes at Turn 1 to hold on to the coat tails of Bautista, whilst the Spaniard could ease through on the backstraight. On the last lap Razgatlioglu let the brakes off at Turn 8 (where he crashed out doing the same of Race 1 on Lap 1), pushing Bautista wide but it was enough to come away with the win.
Before Sunday at Portimao, we thought that this was the race where Toprak Razgatlioglu demonstrated his craziest determination yet, having fought to the front at Turn 13 with 16 to go. Lap after lap, Bautista would get alongside and often ahead on the front straight but Razgatlioglu’s resilience was unbelievable, letting the brakes off and continuously getting to the Turn 1 apex first. Then, with eight to go, Bautista finally changed tactic and went to the inside. However, overtake of the year had to go to the #54, who went around the outside to lead at the first chicane. After pulling away over the next two laps, it was an unfortunate end to Razgatlioglu’s charge, as a rear tyre failure ended his race on the exit of Turn 2.
So, we’ve arrived; the best race of 2023, maybe in recent times, Race 2 at Portimao has already been revered as not just a true WorldSBK classic but one of the greatest motorsport battles, in the words of Andrea Dosoli. Doing whatever he could, Razgatlioglu knew he had to bring his A-game to remain in contention with Bautista; the Spaniard able to pass him or remain in contention himself with a brilliant final corner and top speed down the straight. Ultimately, 35 passes for the race lead occurred from Lap 1 until the chequered flag and despite putting in the most unbelievable of efforts, the 2021 Champion was beaten by the Championship leader on the last 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 disappointment, celebration as well as sportsmanship, respect and a good rivalry immediately afterwards were reminiscent of many before it as these modern rivals continue to fight for the title.
The Championship had already been decided, Toprak Razgatlioglu was in his final race with Yamaha and Alvaro Bautista – after the title celebrations on Saturday – was back in yellow for the final race of the year. Jonathan Rea was likewise in his final race for Kawasaki and leading, until he crashed out with a second advantage. So, that promoted the Portimao protagonists into stardom at Jerez too: Bautista vs Razgatlioglu, part two. 38 passes for the lead, all but three corners – Turn 3, Turn 4 and Turn 7 – used for passing but still, with nothing but personal pride at stake, both took it to the final corner of the year. Bautista went for the inside, ran wide and Toprak carved back through, only to touch the green on the exit of the last corner – the only time he did so all race – resulting in him finishing second whilst Bautista took the last win of 2023.