It seems that what you need to do to fill a stadium is to have a local hero that is universally loved by his compatriots. Istanbul Park had an attendance of 51,651 and it seemed they were all there for Kenan Sofuoglu. The event was the Turkish equivalent of Carl Fogarty at Brands Hatch in the 1990s, with the fans assured that their rider would be on the podium at the very least.
Sofuoglu did what his fans needed, with a pole position and a hard-fought win against his rival. While his championship hopes are all but dashed by Sam Lowes scoring points, but today, in front of his home crowd, with his mother in his garage, he was their champion. Other countries should take a long hard look at the numbers from today.
What was unlike Fogarty’s hey-day was the points scored by Ducati, with the first ever World Superbike race without a Ducati on the grid and the second with no points. While the new cost-cutting rules should suit Ducati next year, this year has been a year to forget.
Eugene Laverty, tipped to be leaving World Superbike for Aspar’s MotoGP team next year, put himself in contention for the title with today’s double victory. With three weekends left, 150 points up for grabs and what is arguably the best bike on the grid, the Irishman is sitting in third place, a mere 28 points off the leader Tom Sykes and 18 points behind his teammate Sylvain Guintoli. Guintoli is in second place through sheer consistency, with only one win all year, and his shoulder injury still plaguing him, so as long as Laverty can garner points in all the remaining races, and add to his tally of six wins, he could be the best placed to challenge Sykes for the title.
Tom Sykes may have extended his lead over Guintoli, but he reckoned with more track time he would have been better placed for victories, even though both races were won by a rider and team that had no big bike experience of the track. Sykes started both races well and led for the majority of both races, but the tyre-eating power of the Kawasaki could’t be tamed and Sykes wasn’t able to maintain the pace throughout the race. It’s possible that with Loris Baz adding data to the pool he could have had more of a chance, but he still leaves having extended his championship lead.
Marco Melandri was tipped by many as the man most likely to win at Istanbul, having won twice in MotoGP, but the BMW was too twitchy on a new tyre, causing visible wobbling down the fast back straight. Once his fuel load dropped and his bike came back to him, he was too far back to make a stab for the lead. In the first race, he was able to pass Guintoli and Sykes, but in the second race, he couldn’t get to his preferred pace until it was too late. His teammate Chaz Davies also suffered from a lack of setup time, but with Loris Baz and Jonathan Rea not scoring, his fifth place in the championship is safe.
Toni Elias was a newcomer in World Superbikes and, while a depleted grid helped his qualifying, his race performance showed that he can still race, with the Pirellis suiting him much more than, say, the Bridgestones he raced in the last couple of years in MotoGP. Elias will be racing the Red Devils Aprilia for the remainder of the year, and with twenty-one points in the bag already, a top-sixteen place is well within his grasp.
The World Supersport title could have been decided today, but Kenan Sofuoglu had something to prove. His win has merely delayed the inevitable, but in front of his home crowd, he gave them something to talk about. Sam Lowes, who could conceivably have settled for second from the off, was determined to win, more because that’s his default state of mind than any desire to end the title chase. Both riders were on the pace and determined to win, and when that happens, it’s not unusual for one or both to end up in the gravel, but Sofuoglu was on his best behaviour and the hard fight was clean from first to last lap.
Turkey put on a good show, in spite of worrying moments during qualifying. The weekend will likely be remembered for Sofuoglu’s win and a wonderful track full of racing fans instead of red-flagged sessions and a dirty track sidelining four riders.