The Portugal fans were treated during the penultimate round at Portimao, witnessing what has now been called one of the greatest race in WorldSBK in recent years, but most certainly the best race of the season.
While mathematically, Bautista could have wrapped up the 2023 World Championship title in Portimao, claiming the maximum amount of points and making it a Portuguese hat-trick of all three wins, Razgatlioglu wasn’t letting Bautista out of his sights. With three race wins for Bautista, and Razgatlioglu hot in pursuit claiming second across all three races, Bautista is now only two points away from claiming the 2023 World Championship at the final round in Jerez at the end of this month.
The Autodromo Internacional Algarve circuit set the scene for what has since been named one of the greatest WorldSBK races of all time on Sunday’s Race 2, between none other than 2021 World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu [Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK] and Reigning World Champion Alvaro Bautista [Aruba.it Racing – Ducati].
Race 2 featured 35 passes between the two World Champions, all in their fight to victory. Despite Razgatlioglu putting in one of his hardest fought races in an extraordinary effort to keep the Championship title fight alive, Razgaltioglu was eventually beaten by Bautista on the final run to the line by just 0.126s.
Giving his own version of how Race 2 unfolded, Alvaro Bautista said: “Basically, Toprak had nothing to lose and he tried everything. Sometimes when I was behind, I tried for a couple of laps to not stay so close to him to cool down the front tyre. When you are too close, especially in the flowing section, the temperature comes up and you lose a bit of performance, so I wanted some space. I tried to close the doors a lot but he always put the bike inside! It’s normal, I expected this from him. It was great because we saw a Toprak without anything more than that. He did his best in every moment and many times, I thought ‘shit, if he crashes, I’ll go down with him’. He entered on the limit and almost every time, I had to pick the bike up otherwise we’d touch. I enjoyed it; I didn’t just stay in second until the end or try and get points for the title. I wanted to fight with him and beat him. It was like a normal race, not a race that can decide a lot of things.”
“In Spain, we say ‘the devil knows more for being old than for being the devil’. I expected this move from Toprak, he knew I’d try on the last corner on the inside and already, in the morning, I was on the outside but he was using all the kerbs and I changed the line! In Race 2, I kept the outside because I thought maybe he’ll close the corner. Instead, I saw him not open more the gas more to stay inside, so then I said, ‘he’ll close the corner’. So, I went full throttle with the bike spinning a lot and I can carry more speed exiting on the outside Toprak is one of the toughest rivals I have fought with.”
Anger, disappointment and determination were just some of the emotions for Toprak Razgatlioglu, who gave it his all in a pulsating Race 2: “Normally, my character is not like this but I wasn’t thinking good. I was just focused on winning. I saw the chequered flag and Bautista on the inside. I picked the bike up but my bike didn’t accelerate, so he passed me on the outside easily. If my bike starts spinning, I have no acceleration. On the last lap, I did what I thought was a good line. pick the bike up and open the gas. This time, no acceleration.”
While there were no World Championship celebrations from Bautista at Round 11, the Spaniard’s Race 2 win saw his name again be put into WorldSBK history books, claiming his 56th win on Ducati machinery to pass four-time Championship Carl Fogarty’s record.
It was a weekend of both celebration and despair from Australia’s Remy Gardner [GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team], who claimed his best race finish of fourth place in Superpole. While Race 2 was shaping up to be yet another strong finish for the Aussie, it ended in a mechanical heartbreak for the 25-year-old.
Gardner got off to a blistering start from P4 on the grid in Race 2, making his way into podium contention right from the moment the lights went out. He slotted himself nicely into 3rd place on the opening two laps, with Andrea Locatelli [Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK], Michael Ruben Rinaldi [Aruba.it Racing – Ducati], Iker Lecuona [Team HRC] and Garrett Gerloff [Bonovo Action BMW] following close behind.
Lap 3 saw Gardner relegated from 3rd to 5th, as he left the door open further allowing Rinaldi and Locatelli to come through. The relegation from P3 to P5 clearly unsettling his rhythm, further seeing another pass by Honda’s Iker Lecuona.
It was then a tight battle between Gardner and Gerloff towards the end of Lap 3, that saw Gardner now battling to hold that 6th position, with Gerloff making that move on Gardner to take 6th place in Sector 1 of Lap 5.
While Gardner was able to sit comfortably in 7th place, saying he believed he had the position to continue fighting for his first Top 5 position in the feature length races. Unfortunately, it all came crumbling down on Lap 11 when his promising weekend came to an unfortunate end, sadly being forced to retire from the race due to a technical issue.