On the face of it, Kenan Sofuoglu is by far the most successful rider to have ever competed in the Supersport World Championship. Not only does the hold records in practically every area but he has now become a four-time World Champion, having already been the only rider to enjoy the honour three times. However, in 2015 the 31-year-old has faced an immense struggle off the track as well as on it.
Hailing from the Turkish town of Akyazi (whose postcode is 54 and the number with which Sofuoglu has always raced), he began his professional career in 2003, missing out on the IDM Supersport title by just ten points. Also that year, he made his debut in World Supersport, competing in the races of Valencia, Oschersleben and Magny-Cours. Valencia was also the scene of his debut pole position, in 2007, but the first win came at Assen in 2006 as he beat his nearest opponent by four and a half seconds.
His first two titles came with Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, in 2007 and 2010 respectively. He achieved the crown again in 2012, this time with Lorenzini Kawasaki. During this phase Sofuoglu also starred in the Moto2 World Championship, in 2010 and 2011. In the second of the two years, he finished on the podium at Assen, beaten only by future MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez.
Sofuoglu’s story of 2015 is one of triumph mixed with tragedy. Following a difficult period with MAHI Racing Team India last year, his Kawasaki Puccetti Racing partnership was hoped to deliver the title. Phillip Island in February presented a difficult start, as he was forced to recover to sixth place after an incident with Gino Rea, but there was a pole position and return to the podium in Thailand as he finished second behind first-time winner Ratthapark Wilairot. Then came a pivotal run of four straight wins at Aragon, Assen, Imola and Donington, but reading off results alone tells barely half of the story; not least as title rival Jules Cluzel’s MV Agusta lost a potential 50 points due to engine failures in both the MotorLand and Buriram rounds.
However, it is events away from the race track that have most characterised this year for the Sofuoglu family. Ahead of Imola, Manuel Puccetti’s team announced that Hamza Sofuoglu, newly-born son of Kenan and wife Julia, was fighting for his life in a Turkish hospital. Against all odds, Kenan fought on to win the race in Italy before hurriedly returning home. Following his four consecutive victories, there was second in Portugal after a second massive scrap with Cluzel (the first having come at Assen), while 11th at Misano was the blot on the copybook as Sofuoglu was pushed into a mistake by Lorenzo Zanetti while defending third place on the final lap.
By the time the paddock regrouped at Sepang, the fraternity had received the tragic news that baby Hamza had succumb to his illness. In the Malaysian race, channeling emotion into determination in one of sport’s most remarkable displays of courage, Sofuoglu finished fourth behind PJ Jacobsen, Cluzel and Zanetti.
Jerez came around in mid-September. Sofuoglu’s championship lead – as great as 45 points after Donington – was now down to just 13. Then came the next twist, as Cluzel was harshly ruled out of the championship chase following a heavy crash in Friday practice. “I am very sorry for Jules,” Sofuoglu was quick to mention. “He also deserved to win the title. Maybe we have been a little lucky, but I have also had some very difficult times this year. Life can give us some very hard moments and this is a very hard moment for him. I’m very sorry for him and his team.”
Sofuoglu’s title was sewn up with second place at Magny-Cours on Sunday 4th October, historically winning the World Supersport crown for the fourth time as only challenger Jacobsen ended proceedings in first place.
Look for a racer as resolutely determined as Kenan Sofuoglu and you will struggle, as confirmed by his fierce battles with Cluzel this year in The Netherlands and Portugal. However, Turkey’s national hero has demonstrated the absolute qualities of a gentleman and of a competitor who overcomes the cruelest of heartbreaks to source energy and encouragement to his family, friends and team. A true sportsman.
Date of birth 25 August 1984
Place of birth Akyazi, Turkey
Race starts in World Supersport 103
Pole positions 22
Fastest laps 25
First race Valencia, 2003
First pole Valencia, 2007
First win Assen, 2006
First podium Losail, 2006
First fastest lap Lausitzring, 2006
2015 World Supersport: Kawasaki Puccetti Racing, World Champion, 213 points (5 wins, 8 podiums, 3 poles, 3 fastest laps)
2014 World Supersport: MAHI Racing Team India, San Carlo Puccetti Racing, 8th, 94 points (1 win, 3 podiums, 2 poles, 3 fastest laps)
2013 World Supersport: MAHI Racing Team India, 2nd, 201 points (5 wins, 9 podiums, 4 poles, 3 fastest laps)
2012 World Supersport: Kawasaki DeltaFin Lorenzini, Kawasaki Lorenzini, World Champion, 231 points (4 wins, 9 podiums, 1 poles, 1 fastest lap)
2011 Moto2: Technomag-CIP, 17th, 59 points (1 podium)
2010 World Supersport: Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, World Champion, 263 points (3 wins, 13 podiums, 5 poles, 5 fastest laps)
Moto2: Technomag-CIP, 2 races, 29th, 11 points
2009 World Supersport: Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, 3rd, 189 points (3 wins, 6 podiums, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap)
2008 World Superbike: Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, 18th, 54 points
World Supersport: Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, 1 race, 19th, 25 points (1 win, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap)
2007 World Supersport: Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, World Champion, 276 points (8 wins, 12 podiums, 5 poles, 6 fastest laps)
2006 World Supersport: Winston Ten Kate Honda, 3rd, 157 points (2 wins, 7 podiums, 2 fastest laps)
2005 Superstock 1000: Yamaha Motor Germany, 2nd, 157 points (3 wins, 7 podiums, 4 poles, 2 fastest laps)
2004 IDM Superbike: 22nd, 16 points
Superstock 1000: Yamaha Motor Germany, 3rd, 104 points (5 podiums)
2003 World Supersport: Yamaha Motor Deutschland, Yamaha Voiges, 3 races
IDM SSP: 2nd, 143 points