Having dominated the 2010 French Superbike Championship from start to finish, BMW Motorrad France was hoping for a strong start to the first of this year’s seven rounds. Fielding the same line-up of riders at the historic Bugatti Circuit, Sébastien Gimbert not only qualified on the pole position, but also enjoyed the team’s first victory of the year, although a combination of bad weather and the wrong tire choice prevented a repeat of this in race two.
With official testing taking place at the 4.185 km circuit on the Friday prior to the race weekend, it was Sébastien Gimbert who was consistently the fastest of more than 40 riders that participated. Gimbert also dominated each timed qualifying session on Saturday, with team-mate (and current French Superbike Champion) Erwan Nigon second fastest. But it was Gimbert’s scorching Superpole lap of 1:36.418 (itself a class record) that proved he would be the man to beat in Sunday’s two races.
Despite deteriorating weather conditions for race one, Sébastien was the clear victor in the shortened 10-lap sprint, with Ducati rider David Muscat the only other participant able to mount a challenge.
Having crashed on a wet track during the morning warm-up, Erwan Nigon lost the benefit of his front row qualifying position and was forced to start from the back of the grid on his RR – in last place. Despite this, Nigon fought his way through many riders to finish in fifth place, a remarkable achievement in the tricky conditions.
More rain delayed the start of race two, making tire choice a real gamble. Having opted for full wet weather tires, both Gimbert and Nigon were caught out by the rapidly drying track, which soon caused their tires to degrade quickly. Despite a significant loss of grip, Sébastien and Erwan still managed to salvage sixth and seventh place respectively.
Those who gambled on intermediate or slick tires were the ones who benefited though, including eventual winner Julien Da Costa, as well as privateer BMW RR rider Sébastien Pruhlier, who finished in second place.
In the end, the opening weekend of the 2011 series still proved to be a successful one for the team, according to BMW Motorrad France team manager Pascal Herisson, who said: “I am very satisfied with this new team and the start to the season we’ve made, especially since there has been so little preparation time. We were pleased to be constantly quickest throughout the official test, as well as qualifying on pole position and winning race one.
“Race two was a gamble of course, due to the weather, and sadly our choices did not pay off this time. However, it’s been a good season opener for BMW riders in general, as there are four RRs in the top six of the championship standings, so congratulations to Sébastien Pruhlier and Guillaume Dietrich who finished second and fourth in tough conditions in race two. There is still a lot of work to do but we’re feeling confident for the year ahead.”
The next race in this year’s seven round series will be at Nogaro on May 7-8.