As well as a healthy number of official teams in the WorldSBK championship in 2019 the Independent Riders offer genuine podium potential. This was certainly true of Turkish rider Toprak Razgatlioglu in 2018.
In his rookie year Razgatlioglu scored two podiums; one in the UK and one in Argentina. The ambitious young rider is very hungry for more, especially with a new model Ninja ZX-10RR at his disposal this season.
Still just 22 years of age Toprak brings a whole different slant on WorldSBK racing. He is a compatriot and also a protégé of all-time WorldSSP legend Kenan Sofuoglu, who won three of his five championships with Kawasaki.
Back for his second year in succession with the Orelac VerdNatura Kawasaki squad, and now facing three races per weekend like his peers, is Argentinean rider ‘Tati’ Mercado. The 27-year-old native of Cordoba is looking to have nothing less than his best WorldSBK season yet.
Superstock 1000 Champion in 2014, Leandro is experienced in WorldSBK now, having first ridden a WorldSBK Kawasaki in 2015. Embarking on a reconditioning and training programme to match in with the three-race format of WorldSBK race weekends in 2019, Mercado is more than ready to go, especially on his higher-revving new Ninja.
Last but not least of the Kawasaki Independent riders in 2019 is Jordi Torres, a proven WorldSBK race winner in 2015 - the first year he came across from Moto2 to compete in WorldSBK.
Now joining the revamped and refreshed one-rider Pedercini Superbike squad for 2019, Torres has already been strong in winter testing, as were Razgatlioglu and Mercado.
The second-best independent rider at the recent Phillip Island official test sessions, Razgatlioglu was sixth fastest overall and just over half a second from the fastest rider.
Torres, still getting used to his Kawasaki, was tenth fastest in the pre-season tests, with Mercado 11th of the 19 riders on track.
Now the talented trio of Kawasaki Supported Independent Team riders will face the first race weekend of the season, to be held at Phillip Island in Australia between Friday the 22nd and Sunday the 24th of February.
Toprak Razgatlioglu, stated: “I tried, at this test, the new engine and latest suspension. The new suspension was better for me, as it helps the bike turn better. In my second year in Superbike I am feeling good and I can adapt the bike better now. Now I understand the bike feeling more and can adapt to all tracks. I think things will be better this year. I made two podiums in 2018 and this year my dream is to secure many more podiums. Here in Australia it will not be easy, because of tyre wear at this particular circuit.”
Leandro Mercado, stated: “We have the new engine for 2019; I tried it the first time in the Jerez test. The team worked a lot during this winter and we have changed a lot of things on the balance of the bike. The engine is new and the character of the bike is quite different. I like this bike and we have found the positive things that we looked for all of last year. We are closer now to where we want to be, which is important. For sure the experience of last year helped us, but I am still learning. We retained Michele as the crew chief but have new mechanics and new electronics guy. The new bike is going to help; I am looking forward to it all. We have three races each weekend in 2019 and one is a short sprint – but races are races. So I have prepared better to keep the level high over all three days on track, and especially in the final part of the races. The last five or six laps are very important. I think three races are new for everyone and we have to be prepared for the sprint race, where you give everything. And the longer races where you have to make a strategy of where you have to push and where you have to be smart to save the tyres. Two different approaches, so we have to be smart.”
Jordi Torres, stated: “Adapting to the Kawasaki has been easy because the Pedercini team is a family team. The Kawasaki is also an easy bike to learn, but always when you get towards the limit, it is difficult. We are working a lot and adapting to the Kawasaki style and how we need to work to be more competitive is the most important area that we work in. We will work on the rear of the bike and rear shock, and it is quite reactive. With Rea, and now Haslam, the bike is always really comfortable but at the moment there is a lot of movement with ours. I am also working to be smoother with the traction control. We have a lot of work to do with the new short race as well as the two longer ones and maybe we need a different set-up to do this weekend. It is one more item of work to do but it is the same for everybody, not just me.”