You always stood out as one of the most determined riders on the grid – almost intimidating to other riders – where did this uncompromising attitude come from?
To reach the world level was very difficult. From my country I was one of the people who started racing in Turkey. I was always scared to lose my job, I always passed through hard times and I always survived these hard fights. I was in Germany and had to beat many young German riders to fid a job in the European level, and I reached my early levels without any support or sponsors. Without anyone else. I am not a loser. I cannot accept losing. Of course you cannot win all the time, but after I lost I would be very hard on myself, too much. This made me an aggressive rider. I had to keep ‘tight’ all the time, so maybe that made me aggressive.
You and the Ninja ZX-6R seemed like the perfect partnership – how much help and advice did you give the KHI factory on the development of new models?
When I arrived on the 2012 model of the Kawasaki I believe until that time the riders never made the bike on a good set-up level. We worked a lot with the bike, on the bike, and also you must like the bike you are riding. Many times people arrive and feel that the Kawasaki 600 was difficult. The first feeling for me was the same. But I know in life that this is the opportunity, this is the chance, and I must use it. I started to like the bike day-by-day and I believe in 2013 we brought the bike in another level and in 2015 with Puccetti we did in incredible work. The reason I won so many races with Kawasaki is that I loved it more and anyone else in this world. If it were up to me today, no question mark - I would use Kawasaki 600 again.
It seems to have been very much your choice to come back to the grid for some races with injuries that would have stopped other riders – how do you make these decisions to race even of you are in pain?
I loved my job so much, maybe more than other people. I still, three years after retirement I still love it so much. I would like to be back on the bike but I promised my President I would not race, but still in my mind… why not in a few years, if I feel fit? I still feel I could ride one more season. I ride in training all the time with the young Turkish riders and – you know what is strange – I am faster than before in the training! Working with the young riders gives me motivation to be faster.
With so many victories and championships to your name can you tell us your single most favourite race win and why it is so special?
At Turkey, in Istanbul when I won on the Kawasaki. I think I was not in the level to beat Sam Lowes. He was so strong at that moment and his bike and tyres were working so well at the Istanbul track. He pulled a gap of almost two seconds and he just went on. But for me, the feeling was that maybe this would be the only time in my career that we raced in my country, and all my family and friends were there. Maybe they had no more chance to see me again. I really made my mind strong enough to do this and I did not give up. I caught him up in the last three laps and fought incredibly with him. I think that day was a different day. Something happened there because I was not strong enough to beat him there, but we won. My most special season… was 2015 season.
The Puccetti team have been a major part of the Kenan Sofuoglu story – tell us why this rider/team partnership is so special?
Puccetti is like a small team but I had a very bad season before so when I arrived in the Puccetti team I saw people with a real hunger to win championships. A lot of experience but no world title, so those were the people I needed to give me full support, full motivation to win the championship, not to be in business to make money. They spent everything to make things better. Puccetti was like sunshine to me after some cloudy days.
In Turkey you are one of the most famous sports personalities in recent history – how do you deal with this fame?
I think I got famous because I stated motorsport as a big sport in Turkey, which is a big country of 80 million people, with a growing economy. If you are a person who starts growing up motorsport, everybody knows me. Plus I did a lot of charity work. The money I earned from racing I helped a lot of people. Not only in Turkey but Africa and other countries. That makes me like a ‘hero’ in my country and incredibly famous. But I remember where I came from and did not love anything more than my job. Not money, not being famous, not to earn millions. I love racing and riding a bike more than anything. I think people respect that character so much. They made so much news about me, so many companies gave me commercials, this made me very famous. It is honestly not very relaxed because I am still living in the same city I was born and grew up in. Honestly, it is disturbing (to be so well-known) but I am used to it. Actually, now I am in politics it is even more difficult!