Turkish racing legend Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) has taken to the grid for his last ever race this weekend at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo d Dino Ferrari di Imola, as the five time FIM Supersport World Champion looks ahead to a new chapter of his career in rider coaching and mentoring.
Sitting out of three of the four opening rounds of the 2018 championship, and narrowly missing out on retaining the WorldSSP title in 2017, the 33 year old has made the decision not to continue this season and beyond. With injuries sustained in Magny-Cours last year still causing him pain and discomfort, the most successful WorldSSP rider has decided to hang up his leathers and focus on his long term health.
Sofuoglu first burst onto the WorldSBK scene in 2003, making his debut in WorldSSP, but underwent three difficult races. Firmly planting his name in the series in 2004, the Turkish rider made an impact in the European Superstock 1000 Championship and finished in third overall, taking five podiums along the way with Yamaha. Taking on the competitive series once again in 2005 Sofuoglu narrowly missed out on the title by six points, after a season long battle with Didier van Keymeulen, which saw him secure six podium finishes.
2006 welcomed a move up into the WorldSSP class for Kenan with Ten Kate Honda, and the young talent found his feet very quickly in the 600cc category. Grasping two victories in his first full season – his first at TT Circuit Assen – the truly began in 2007 as he took 12 podiums from 13 races, clinching the title at Brands Hatch with three rounds remaining. Ending the season 143 points ahead of his closest rival Broc Parkes, Sofuoglu was already breaking records as he claimed the honor of the most wins secured over a season.
Making the traditional progression into the WorldSBK class the following season, 2008 was a testing season for the reigning champion in both her personal and racing life. Facing a big learning curve with his Junior Honda squad, he was able to take home points in 13 races that season. With a best result of ninth to his name, Sofuoglu took a step back to the more familiar territory of WorldSSP for 2009, and his dominance truly blossomed.
Finding his feet in 2009 and facing new rivals, the number 54 rider ended the season in the top three, an appropriate 54 points off the champion Cal Crutchlow. Taking the confidence of his six podiums and three victories into a new decade, 2010 welcomed Sofuoglu back to the top of the standings. Finishing on the podium at every race of the season, the Honda rider faced a season-long battle with Eugene Laverty and Joan Lascorz before clinching the title by 11 points in France.
Becoming an unstoppable force in WorldSSP, 2011 saw him make the step over to the MotoGP™ class, where he tried his hand at the 600cc Moto2™ series. Bringing home one second position around a wet TT Circuit Assen on his Suter, Sofuoglu made the move back into WorldSSP to continue to break records. Nevertheless a season of absence didn’t slow him down, and whilst making the switch to Kawasaki for 2012 he was able to win the title for a third time – with nine podiums and four victories. Beginning an intense rivalry with Fabien Foret, this kicked off in the opening race at Phillip Island which saw Sofuoglu take the victory by 0.078s over the line.
Facing some strong battles out on track, the Turkish rider was runner up in 2013 to Brit Sam Lowes and he missed out on the crown by 49 points overall, despite taking five victories and nine podiums, in what was his 10th year of racing on the world stage. 2014 was a tough season for the three time champion, as he could only muster a top eight finish in the standings with Dutch youngster Michael van der Mark taking the title.
Despite a disappointing year, the Kawasaki rider was able to bounce back in true champion style the following season as he joined Kawasaki Puccetti Racing. Going through a difficult period in his home life, the record breaker was crowned 2015 WorldSSP champion by a sensational 74 points ahead of Jules Cluzel. Only missing out on a podium finish on three occasions, it was clear he had not lost his WorldSSP winning style.
2016 saw Sofuoglu secure his fifth and final title, which he sealed in the penultimate round of the season at Circuito de Jerez. Facing a strong battle from his team-mate Randy Krummenacher, the Turkish rider shone through overall. Showing the utter dominance fans became used to with seven poles, nine podiums and six wins throughout the 12 rounds of the season, securing his status as a WorldSSP legend.
The 33 year old was able to portray his steely grit and determination right until the end of his career. Sitting out of the opening two rounds of the 2017 season, he returned at MotorLand Aragon but was involved in a crash which saw him unable to score points in the opening three races. However Sofuoglu went on to win the next four races in a row, and only finished off the podium when he was involved in a crash.
But the crash which ultimately became pivotal to his career at Magny-Cours was the most spectacular. Breaking his pelvis in three places, he was given a 12 week recovery period, but returned to his bike and to the podium five weeks after the crash. Stamping his status on the field, the legend of Sofuoglu will live on forever.
Retiring with 43 wins, 85 podiums and five world titles to his name, Kenan Sofuoglu will go down in WorldSSP history. Putting on one final show for his fans around Imola, he truly was a great showman. Pay your tributes to the five time world champion on social media with #ThankYouKenan.