Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport celebrated its first double podium in the FIM World Superbike Championship (WSBK). At the second round of the 2012 season at Imola, Italy, factory rider Leon Haslam (GBR) proved that his injured right leg would not hold him back. The S1000RR rider finished third in both races and thus collected 32 points on race Sunday, more than any other BMW rider before. His teammate Marco Melandri (ITA) was sixth and tenth respectively. Overall, Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport collected 48 points this weekend, more than ever before.
Having made a successful start to the year at Phillip Island, Australia, Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport looked forward to the first European leg of the WSBK 2012 season. The second of 14 rounds of this year’s WSBK was held at the iconic “Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari,” which saw Superbike racing for the tenth time.
The week before, the team spent two days testing at Motorland Aragón, Spain, in preparation for Imola. The team successfully tested a new engine spec for the BMW S1000RR and worked on the chassis and electronics. The test also confirmed that Leon had almost fully recovered from the broken tibia he suffered on February 20th at Phillip Island while testing ahead of the opening race weekend.
The BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet Superbike Team, meanwhile, took advantage of the one-month break between the first two rounds by trying to improve the on-track behavior of the S1000RR, especially the bike’s balancing. A test was carried out on March 16th at the Autodromo of Vairano specifically to practice starts. Rider Michel Fabrizio is currently the only Italian who has scored a World Superbike race victory at Imola (2009).
Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport started the race weekend with a place on the provisional second row with Leon finishing the first qualifying practice in sixth. Marco qualified a provisional 14th. The team was confident they would move up the grid in Superpole qualifying.
“In the qualifying practice we worked on chassis set-up and on engine management,” said Leon. “The new characteristic of the engine feels better, but it is more sensitive to the grip level. We are working on finding a strategy that is well balanced to the different grip levels. Last year we didn’t get any benefit from a new tire and that has improved a lot this year. Now, we just need to find the right set-up for the new engine spec. For race distance it is working quite well, but we still have some more work to do. My leg is not affecting me too much. I don’t need any painkillers and I have minimal strapping on it, so it is definitely better than in Australia.”
For the BMW Italia Team, the changes made to their S1000RR by the team technicians and engineers during the break between the first two rounds allowed Ayrton Badovini to feel more comfortable with the bike and to find a convincing set-up right from the start of the first practice session in which he set the fastest lap-time. Ayrton fell back to 12th place in the afternoon partly due to a small mistake made during the fast-lap attempt at the end of the available 45 minutes. Michel Fabrizio, on the other hand, faced some minor issues during qualifying. This year’s one bike rule meant that, while the technician worked on the bike, Michel couldn’t continue his on-track mission and he finished the day in 19th.
Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport made the promised step forward during Superpole qualifying. Throughout all the Superpole sessions, Leon and Marco were inside the top six. In Superpole 2, both riders only needed one outing to securely qualify for the deciding third Superpole. Leon finished fourth (first row) and local hero Marco would start sixth (second row) on the grid.
“I can say I am happy because after we struggled yesterday I did not expect to make it to the second row.” said Marco. “For the last session we kept the race tire, as we remembered that last year on this track nearly everyone was struggling with chattering with the qualifying tire. It was quite a good decision. For tomorrow I hope that it will be cooler than today because we go well on hard tires.”
The BMW Italia Team didn’t move up in the standings with Ayrton qualifying 16th and Michel 18th. At the end of the day, Serafino Foti, BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet Superbike Team Manager, remarked “It’s been a troubled day and we’re definitely not happy. A series of unexpected events didn’t help us to get the results we were looking for. Ayrton made some small mistakes in Superpole 1 and he didn’t get to the next session. He will have to work hard to climb up the classification during the two races.
“Michel had a faulty sensor on the bike which forced him to spend a long time in the pits following which we have worked on finding the right balance on the bike for him. During tomorrow’s warm-up we will try to find new solutions so we can get back up where we belong.”
On Sunday, Leon started the race fourth on the grid but slipped back two positions in the early stages of race one. He was soon back in fourth and began to chase third-placed Max Biaggi (ITA). Halfway through the race he had closed the gap to the Italian and the two started to fight an exciting battle for the podium. With five laps to go, Leon passed Biaggi and he defended this third place to the finish line. Marco started sixth, but at the end of lap two, he had an issue while shifting down and was forced to ride straight into the pit lane entrance. He rejoined the race in 16th position and started an impressive catch-up, regaining 10 positions and he finished sixth. In race two, Leon overtook Biaggi for third on lap 13 and then battled for the rest of the race with Tom Sykes (GBR) for second, holding off some late attacks from Biaggi. Marco was lying in fifth for a long time in the second race, but due to some chattering issues he dropped back to tenth.
“It has been a good weekend,” said Leon. “We had a good first race and managed to get a podium position which was my first in Imola. I made a mistake in the beginning and third was the best result we could get. In 2010, Max beat me in the world championship here in Imola, so it was nice to win that fight for the podium. In race two I got a better start, but the top three got away again. I managed to catch up and I really did feel that I could beat Tom, but in the end I made a few mistakes again. Every time I pushed, I got a little bit of chatter and lost my line.”
Marco reflected on his race issues, “We have been struggling with the gearbox and in race one I went straight into the pit lane entrance. Afterwards I was working hard to catch up. My pace was not too far from the top three guys. In race two I had quite a lot of issues with chattering, as was the case at Phillip Island. I could not push properly, and I destroyed the tires so much more than in race one. I could not do anything. We do not know yet why the bike is changing. We will work on this tomorrow and I hope that we will be able to make some steps forward.”
BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team’s rider Ayrton finished 15th in both races, while his teammate Michel had to retire in both heats. Serafino Foti said, “It’s been a very hard weekend and we’re far from happy. Tonight we’ll do a careful check of the data for tomorrow’s tests. We have to start from scratch as clearly there’s something going on, but now our goal is to work hard to get back on track.
The races were both won by Carlos Checa (ESP). In the riders’ championship, Leon lies in fourth with 47 points. Marco is fifth with 46 points. In the manufacturers’ standings BMW is fourth with 63 points.
FIM Superstock 1000 Cup
In the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, Sylvain Barrier (FRA) of the BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet Team won the first race of the season. Markus Reiterberger (GER) of Team Alpha Racing missed his first podium in this series only by one tenth, finishing fourth on his BMW S1000RR.
The race day started with Lorenzo Baroni of the BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet Superbike Team sharing the lead with La Marra, while Sylvain Barrier was running in fourth position when a crash caused the race to be red flagged on the seventh lap. The race was restarted with the grid positions determined by the positions at the end of lap six, with just a five lap sprint to the checkered flag.
At the restart, Lorenzo was forced to take a ride through penalty and he got back on track last in the classification. Sylvain, on the other hand, was eighth at the first turn but managed to quickly recover to first place, winning the first race of the season.