All-time WorldSSP great Kenan Sofuoglu finally made the decision we all knew was coming just before what was his last race weekend.
The five-times champion, for two manufacturers, was injured his pelvis in a crash at Magny-Cours last season so badly that he was surely out until the end of the year. Until he confidently walked into the final round
at Losail in Qatar, to try and defend his championship title.
Bravery, huge talent and his trademark need to win saw him almost do just that.
This year, it was clearly going to be his sign-off season, if the signs could be believed.
Another massive fall, however, this time in the opening round, when his tyre let go at Phillip Island, and he uncharacteristically dropped back in the race itself, thinking about potential tyre issues and not sure his body could take another beating.
Back home in Turkey, he went into the kind of medical recuperation mode he had disturbed a few months earlier at Losail.
We expected his retirement news for the Aragon round, we expected news at Assen, but it proved to be Imola, in his team’s home round in Italy, that he decided to have one last hurrah - and then stop.
A more single minded and left-field thinking rider there has never been in WorldSSP, and of course the manner of his leaving was entirely his own creation. He did not want to retire at all, but after losing one brother in a road accident, another to a racing accident, and an infant son through illness a few years ago, he had already overcome personal and professional obstacles that would have seen of lesser competitors long before.
He had promised his mother, even the Turkish president, and his inner circle that he would not race at Imola, just go for a valedictory visit and maybe a lap of honour. It was something of a ‘goodbye Kenan’ weekend all through at Imola.
And right at the end of his career he went his own way again, opting to ride and see how fit he was. With two and a half months of no training to speak of, and no bike time, he was not only able to ride properly but qualified fifth on Friday. That led to him to qualify third, on the front row no less, for his final race.
But there was no final race.
He pulled another, and final, surprise.
Some said he would not ride at all, some said he would do a few laps and quit. But as he lined up for the sighting lap, he only just pulled off track as the race was about to start. That was it, a show but no go for one last podium. And promises to not race upheld. And no last crash to affect him or, even worse for his soon-to-be former rivals. And no few laps before the inevitable physical limitations made themselves felt.
He shook hands with the team outside his pitbox, went across pitlane to take the adulation of the crowd, and even inadvertently caused a micro-delay in the start of the race.
Then, it was up to the newer generation to carry on.
He said, after his showboating finish, after five titles, after making some enemies in WorldSSP who sometimes later became friends, “I felt that if I raced today what was the reason that I would start? I felt I was not really physically ready to do this race. If I crashed with some of the championship challengers, if something happened, it could be very bad. I would feel I had damaged someone’s championship.
I was here for the show, not here for the goal, and I think the show was over. I came on to the grid, onto the front row, and said goodbye to everyone. I think this was the best decision to make. Honestly, this morning I did not know what I was going to do. I only decided not to race a few minutes before the start. My team were surprised but they respected what I wanted.
I did not want to break a promise to my family. Thank you to everybody; thanks to Jonathan Rea, who came to my goodbye event at the Paddock Show, and my Turkish riders for the future, plus all my Turkish fans. I was happy to be here but this is not my decision to retire, my family and everyone that surrounded me persuaded me to retire. I am here to say goodbye to racing – and to say thank you to everybody.”
Sofuoglu bestrides WorldSSP like no other rider in its history.
After two years as a World Series, WorldSSP became a full FIM World Championship in 1999, and Kenan Sofuoglu has won five times since he started out full-time in 2006. Once he had emerged from some difficult early races with Ten Kate Honda, it usually needed riders of the calibre of Sebastien Charpentier, Sam Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Cal Crutchlow to beat him to a championship.
His ill-fated sojourns in WorldSBK and Moto2 aside, he has been the man to beat. Beat Kenan and you will be champion, has been the clarion call in WorldSSP for years.
His statistics are immense.
He was World Champion in 2007, 2010 (both for Honda) 2012, 2015 & 2016 (for Kawasaki).
He has scored 43 race wins. 85 podiums in all. And 34 pole positions. He has scored over 2000 championship points.
Nobody else gets close to that kind of career achievement in this class.