Having qualified third for what was scheduled to be his final WorldSSP race Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) finally elected not to ride today at Imola. The most successful WorldSSP rider of all time was given a warm and rousing send off after the race was completed, as he began his retirement from on-track life. His team-mate Hikari Okubo (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) secured a top ten finish at Imola, his best of the season since he joined Kawasaki, and is now 18th in the championship rankings.
A few minutes before he was due to race at Imola Sofuoglu, elected to not line up for what would have been the final contest of a long WorldSSP career. Realising he was not fit enough to truly compete in a full race, particularly starting from a front row grid position in front of almost 30 other riders, Kenan did not want to potentially affect the outcome of a championship fight he would no longer be part of.
Promising his family he would not be injured again, and not wanting to pull out mid-race in case the fans thought his retirement was caused by a technical problem, the statistically greatest-ever WorldSSP rider decided to do a sighting lap and retire in pit lane. In practice, despite his lack of race fitness, he achieved the same lap time as he had last year and decided to leave his competitive career on that note.
Sofuoglu’s career sign off, in his team’s home country of Italy, was the focus of incredible media and public attention, with even many of his old and current rivals attending a special send-off for him on Saturday the 12th of May, at the WorldSBK Paddock Show.
Kenan’s career-ending stats are untouchable by any other rider since the FIM World Championship class was instigated in the late 1990s. No other rider has come close to Sofuoglu’s five world championship crowns, three of which have been attained using Kawasaki machinery, and the two most recent with Kawasaki Puccetti Racing.
The lone official Kawasaki Puccetti rider in the race was 2018 signing Hikari Okubo, who finished tenth and scored six valuable championship points.
After some misfortune at previous rounds, Okubo rode as hard as he could while ensuring he completed the race, and the Japanese rider now heads to the next round armed with much greater understanding of his machine package over full race distance.
Donington Park, in the UK, will host the sixth round of the championship, with raceday on Sunday the 27th of May.
Kenan Sofuoglu stated: “Friday went well and on Saturday we took a front row Superpole position. It was a very great moment for me to be here. Dorna, Kawasaki and my team organised a very nice event yesterday. I felt that if I raced today what was the reason that I would start? I felt I was not really physically ready to do this race. If I crashed with some of the championship challengers, if something happened, it could be very bad. I would feel I had damaged someone’s championship. I was here for the show, not here for the goal, and I think the show was over. I came on to the grid, onto the front row, and said goodbye to everyone. I think this was the best decision to make. Honestly, this morning I did not know what I was going to do. I only decided not to race a few minutes before the start. My team were surprised but they respected what I wanted. I did not want to break a promise to my family. Thank you to everybody; thanks to Jonathan Rea, who came to my goodbye event at the Paddock Show, and my Turkish riders for the future, plus all my Turkish fans. I was happy to be here but this is not my decision to retire, my family and everyone that surrounded me persuaded me to retire. I am here to say goodbye to racing – and to say thank you to everybody.”
Hikari Okubo, stated: “I enjoy riding at this track but it was a hard race. In the previous rounds I have had some crashes and a technical problem, so I have not done a full race yet on my Kawasaki. So I did not know how the bike would feel over 17-laps. It almost feels like today was my first race of the season. I understood some things about the machine and set-up today so now I need to go to the next step. I finished inside the top ten and it was an important result today. We can do better step-by-step from now on.”
Ken Ondo, Head of Motorsport for Kawasaki Heavy Industries, stated: “It has been a great pleasure having Kenan working with us for many years and losing him is a great loss for Kawasaki.”
Steve Guttridge, Race Planning Manager, Kawasaki Motors Europe, stated: “It’s been fantastic to work with Kenan, he gives 100% every time. He has full motivation and he works with a great team; we will really miss him.”
Manuel Puccetti, Team Manager, stated: “This is a difficult moment for the team. In our very first season in 2015 we got the title. He asks 100% of the team and gives more than 100% in return.”
Fabien Foret, 2002 WorldSSP champion, stated “I have been lucky to know him well and he is a very good person. On the track, he gave me a very hard time because he never gave up. He was the best rider in Supersport for a very long time; probably the best rider ever and a very good person.”
Kenan Sofuoglu WorldSSP Statistics
World Champion 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015 & 2016
Career Race Wins: 43 (26 for Kawasaki)
Career Podiums: 85 (46 for Kawasaki)
Career Poles: 34 (22 for Kawasaki)
With Sofuoglu not riding at Imola in the race Anthony West (EAB antwest Racing Kawasaki) was the top ranked Kawasaki rider, in sixth. This was a remarkably determined performance as he had to have an operation to repair a broken right wrist, suffered in Assen just three weeks ago. He was also suffering the effect of a virus, but battled his way to his second top six of the season. He is now ninth in the championship standings, and top Kawasaki rider.
With Okubo tenth, ESS Rider, Rob Hartog (Team Hartog Against Cancer) was 11th, and again the best of all the riders who only compete at the European rounds. Niccola Morrentino Jr. (Renzi Corse Kawasaki) scored a point for 15th as a wildcard rider today.
Peter Sebestyen (SSP Hungary Team) was 17th today, Michael Canducci (Team GoEleven Kawasaki) 18th and Wayne Tessels (Chromeburner Wayne’s Racingteam MTM) 21st, one place ahead of Nacho Calero (Orelac Racing VerdNatura Kawasaki). Javier Ezequiel Iturrioz (Team GoEleven Kawasaki) was unable to start.
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