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Subscriber Feature: Long Live The King - A Look Back At Kenan Sofuoglu's Unmatched Supersport Reign

Kenan Sofuoglu bowed out of competition at Imola and afterwards he recounted his career to Steve English for

Five world championships, 43 WorldSSP victories and 85 podiums in the class are the records that Kenan Sofuoglu will leave on the World Supersport class, but the mark he leaves is indelible. The Turkish superstar retired from racing at the recent Imola WorldSBK round and afterwards said that it was a family decision to step away from racing.

“It was nice to have qualified on the front row but I asked myself why should I race? I felt that I was physically unwilling to do it but also if I had an incident with one of the title contenders and took them out of the race, that would have been very bad. I might have destroyed their season. I could say goodbye to everyone on the grid and this was the best thing to do. I also did not want to break the promise that I made to my family not to race,” reflected Sofuoglu.

Family has played a role in the 33 year old's career for many years and it also provided the most dramatic moments of his career. In a heartbreaking 2015 season the Turkish rider was flying to and from races while his newborn son was in intensive care. Ultimately Hamza would lose his battle, but the spirit and determination showed by Sofuoglu was nothing short of Herculean. To claim the title that season was incredible, and in the depths of a personal hell he was able to claim four consecutive victories.

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Subscriber Feature: The Importance Of Test Riders, Part 3: Davide Tardozzi On The Importance Of Michele Pirro, And Ducati's Role As A Pioneer

In the third part of our series on test riders, we come to the rider who has arguably had the biggest impact on the factory he has worked with. Michele Pirro has been the workhorse for Ducati's test program, putting in the miles to do the hard work, while at the same time being fast enough to be genuinely competitive during his wildcard appearances. Ducati's use of Michele Pirro has clearly inspired other factories to pursue similar avenues, with KTM taking Mika Kallio and Suzuki using Sylvain Guintoli.

In the next couple of days, we will have an interview with Pirro on how it feels to be a test rider, but first, Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi on Pirro's role as a test rider for Ducati. Tardozzi talks about the importance Pirro's speed has had to the development of the Desmosedici, and how Ducati try to cultivate that speed through competition, either in the Italian CIV championship or by scheduling tests with other manufactures to encourage riders to try to beat each other's lap times.

Q: How important has Pirro been to Ducati?

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Subscriber Feature: The Importance Of Test Riders, Part 1 - KTM's Mike Leitner On Why Size Matters

Test riders are one of the most crucial elements of success for any modern MotoGP team. As testing has been restricted for the factory riders, to cut costs and make a more level playing field for the smaller manufacturers in MotoGP, the importance of having a genuinely fast test rider has grown. In the past, test riders would be 3 seconds off the pace of the factory riders. Now, test riders have to be capable of worrying the multi-million dollar faces of the factory, and making onlookers wonder why other teams or factories haven't signed them up to a permanent contract.

The reasons behind this shift are fascinating. Over the next couple of weeks, we will have a series of interviews with factory bosses on how important their test riders have been to the development programs of KTM, Suzuki, and Ducati. We will round off the series with an interview with Michele Pirro, the unsung hero of Ducati's test program, and the man who did most of the donkey work to get the Desmosedici GP18 where it is today.

We start off with KTM MotoGP team boss Mike Leitner, however. The Austrian was brought in to lead KTM's MotoGP project from the very beginning, after a brief period away from racing when he left the Repsol Honda team, where he had been crew chief for Dani Pedrosa. Leitner was instrumental in driving the direction of the KTM RC16, and was responsible for recruiting Mika Kallio as a test rider, after the Finnish rider was left without a Moto2 ride at the end of 2015.

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Subscriber Interview: Cristian Gabarrini On Working With World Champions, How Ducati Has Changed, And Carbon Fiber In Racing

There are few crew chiefs in MotoGP quite as revered as Cristian Gabarrini. And with good reason: the Italian has worked with some of the most successful riders in the history of the sport. After a spell as data engineer for the LCR team in 250s, Gabarrini moved to Ducati to work on electronics. In 2007, he was paired with Casey Stoner after then Ducati team manager Livio Suppo had dropped Sete Gibernau in favor of Casey Stoner.

It was a match made in heaven. The pairing of Gabarrini and Stoner proved a formidable one, Stoner winning his first race on the Ducati Desmosedici GP7, and going on to take the title at the first attempt. Gabarrini moved to Honda with Stoner for the 2011 season, where they repeated the feat, winning the championship that year as well.

After Stoner retired at the end of 2012, Gabarrini stayed on to work with Marc Márquez and his crew chief Santi Hernandez, helping the pair adapt to MotoGP. After a year as an engineer for HRC, we was paired with another Australian, this time working with Jack Miller to help him make the massive jump from Moto3 straight to MotoGP.

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A Life Less Ordinary - Jack Miller On Moto3-MotoGP, The Necessity Of Training, And Lessons Learned

At the Qatar Grand Prix sat down with Jack Miller to talk about life lessons and how much his life has changed since claiming his first Grand Prix victory in the desert four years ago.

Jack Miller on the grid at Qatar

Jack Miller poses questions unlike any other racer in MotoGP. Over the last three years the Australian has seen every side of racing. He's gone from being the protégé of HRC fast tracked into MotoGP, to being discarded by them as quickly as he was chosen. Miller was a constant paradox for the paddock during the early steps of his MotoGP adventure.

He was Charlie Bucket handed the golden ticket to the HRC factory, but instead of it being the childhood dream it turned out to be a double-edged sword. In Wonka's World children faced morality tests, and in Miller's World he faced tests of his will. It took Miller time to learn the ways of the world in the premier class, but by the midpoint of his rookie campaign he was certainly showing his promise once again.

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Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

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Subscriber Interview: Alex Rins On Why He Races, What He Learned In 2017, And Being Compared To A Giraffe

The life of a motorcycle racer is not always a glamorous one. On Saturday, Suzuki ECSTAR rider Alex Rins got up at 3:15am, drove the two-and-a-half hours from his home to Barcelona airport to catch a 7am flight, then slept for a couple of hours on the plane to Amsterdam. From there, he was driven to Utrecht, to make an appearance at the Motorbeurs Utrecht, the traditional opening of the motorcycle season in The Netherlands.

In Utrecht, Rins was interviewed on the Suzuki stand, signed autographs, and posed for photos with fans. After a quick lunch, he did the fan meet-and-greet experience again, before heading back to Schiphol airport and a 5pm flight back to Barcelona, to arrive back home an hour or so before midnight. In Utrecht, in between meeting the fans and appearing on the Suzuki stand, he found time for a couple of interviews.

Though he does not relish days like this, he remained cheerful throughout, meeting the day's events with a quiet and relaxed calm, and without complaint. "It's work," he shrugged when asked about such a long day, a day on which he could have been training to prepare for the upcoming season. There was never a hint of irritation or frustration, he smiled, waved, and greeted fans and familiar faces with a friendly and professional demeanor.

A winning record

It is perhaps that calmness that explains his success in motorcycle racing. An open and positive approach, coupled with a keen intelligence, are the hallmark of all great racers. Rins has yet to win a Grand Prix championship – he was runner up in Moto3 in 2013, and in Moto2 in 2016 – but he has achieved that other mark of being exceptional: podiums and victories in (almost) every year he has been in Grand Prix.

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Photo Gallery: Andrew Gosling Shoots The Phillip Island WorldSBK Test - Monday

Phillip Island feels like a Ducati track. Marco Melandri agreed on Monday

Leon Camier hopes to revive Honda's fortunes in WorldSBK. So far, so good

Not the best of starts to the test for Jonathan Rea. Still third fastest, despite the highside

The brains of the operation

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Davide Brivio Interview, Part 2: On Johann Zarco, Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales, And Identifying Talent

In the second part of my interview with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio on talent, the Italian talks about the process of identifying and developing talent. We talked about Johann Zarco, and Suzuki's decision to choose Alex Rins over Johann Zarco, and the difference between being a factory and a satellite rider. We discussed the merits of having a feeder system, teams at various levels of racing to channel talent into MotoGP.

Brivio also spoke at some length about how he came to choose to sign Maverick Viñales. He compares that process to the decision to sign Alex Rins, and how he goes about identifying and deciding on talent. There are no guarantees, Brivio says, but all you can do is follow a process and hope the gamble pays off.

The second half of the interview appears below. Though the second half of this interview stands up on its own, reading it in combination with the first half will put it into a better perspective, and add more depth. The first half of the interview with Davide Brivio can be found here.

Q: Do you regret not signing Johann Zarco? [Suzuki had a pre-contract with Zarco during the 2016 season, but ended up taking Alex Rins instead.]

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Davide Brivio Interview, Part 1: On Replacing Rossi, Choosing Viñales, And Managing Talent

Contract season is upon us in MotoGP. Everyone bar Cal Crutchlow and Xavier Simeon is out of contract at the end of 2018, and only Maverick Viñales has signed a new deal to remain where he is. The coming Silly Season could either be hyperactive and extended, or given the early Viñales signing, it could be all over in a few weeks.

One of the key players in the coming rider reshuffle is Valentino Rossi. At the moment, all signs are pointing to Rossi signing on for at least another year with Yamaha, and probably two. But if he doesn't – and there will come a time in the future when even Valentino Rossi has had enough and decides to retire – then Yamaha face some difficult choices. Who to choose to take the place of the Italian legend?

Through the first half of last year, I spoke to three factory bosses about how they would go about the task. Taking the need to replace Rossi as the starting point, the conversation expanded to the wider underlying question of identifying talented riders before they make it to the premier class, and how you approach building a team of two riders with different needs and abilities.

The two other interviews – with Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti and Livio Suppo of Honda – were published last year, but still well worth reading. The final episode, with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio, the man who persuaded Rossi to go to Yamaha in the first place, is the most expansive of the series. In a lengthy and fascinating conversation, Brivio talked about Rossi's place in the Yamaha team, Suzuki's choice to sign Maverick Viñales, their decision not to sign Johann Zarco, how to build a successful team, and what he learned working with some of the greatest riders in the world.

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