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World Superbikes - Motorsports: Tense title tussle expected again

The F1 title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton wasn't the only motorsport crown that produced a dramatic finish in 2021.

Turkey's Toprak Razgatlioglu emerged victorious after a lengthy battle with six-time champion Jonathan Rea of Northern Ireland in the World Superbikes Championship, and those two rivals look set to go head-to-head again in 2022.

Rea did everything he could on the final weekend of the season in Indonesia, winning both races, but second and fourth places in those contests were enough for Razgatlioglu to hold on by 13 points, with the pair finishing 50 points clear of third-placed British rider Scott Redding - with a huge 210-point gap back to the rest of the field.

Rivals head the market again

Razgatlioglu and Rea remain with their respective Yamaha and Kawasaki teams for this season, and the new champion is 6/4 to retain his crown, with Rea at 7/4 to add to the title he won in six successive seasons from 2015 to 2020.

However, it's far from a two-horse race this time, with Spanish veteran Alvaro Bautista priced at just 3/1, while Redding is 20/1 and American Garrett Gerloff is 20/1.

Champion out to prove success was no fluke

Razgatlioglu's sensational title win was the culmination of four years of progress in his World Superbikes career after finishing ninth, fifth and fourth in the championship in his first three seasons.

He had two podium finishes in his debut season with Kawasaki in 2018, scored two wins at Magny-Cours in France in 2019 and had three wins after switching to Yamaha for the curtailed 2020 campaign.

He didn't get his first race win until the second race of the third weekend of the season last year, but never looked back after that, crossing the line first 13 times in all.

Still only 25, the man from Alanya in Turkey looks a real talent and testing times suggest he should be just as strong this time around.

Razgatlioglu was fastest in the first two pre-season practice sessions at Motorland Aragon, and second to Rea in three of the other four, so he looks sure to be challenging for the title again.

Rea sets sights on seventh title

There was no sign of any complacency from Jonathan Rea in 2021, despite the Northern Irishman having dominated the championship for more than half a decade.

He still matched Razgatlioglu's tally of 13 wins and finished on the podium 30 times, so it was hardly a bad year.

The Kawasaki team leader topped the overall times for the Aragon test and the 35-year-old from Larne will be doing everything he can to get the crown back from his younger rival.

Spanish veteran a threat to top two

Another close title race looks likely in the 2022 season, but it may not be contested by just two protagonists this time. Spanish veteran Alvaro Bautista should be banging knees with Rea and Razgatlioglu on the track after switching back to Ducati following two tough years at Honda.

Bautista was the 2006 125cc world champion and spent nine seasons at the top level of the sport in MotoGP, with a highest championship finish of fifth in 2012.

He made a fantastic start after moving to the World SBK series with Ducati in 2019, winning the first 11 races before being overhauled by Rea, who dominated the second half of the season.

He has finished ninth and 10th in two miserable seasons with Honda since, but a return to his former manufacturer looks to have been the right move and he was best of the rest behind the big two in testing, topping the times in the fourth session.

American wildcard is one to watch

It has been a testing time for American racer Garrett Gerloff, a highly-touted Texan who was once expected to go right to the top, but is now looking to relaunch his career after a couple of frustrating seasons.

With the latest parts on his Yamaha this year, Gerloff looks set for a revival and showed he retains plenty of speed when finishing fourth overall in the Aragon test.

Talent throughout the field

The good news for Superbikes spectators is that a wide range of riders and teams were represented on the leaderboard in the tests and a season of close racing is expected.

There is no shortage of talent in the field, with Razgatlioglu's Yamaha team-mate Andrea Locatelli a very capable performer, while Rea's team-mate Alex Lowes and fellow Brit Redding are capable of getting in the mix for the top six.

The Team HRC Hondas of Spanish rookies Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge will also be worth keeping an eye on, following moves to this series from MotoGP and Moto2 respectively.

An exciting season is in store, with Rea looking worth a nibble to reclaim the title in a close race, while Gerloff has each-way appeal at a relatively big price.

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