Another victory, another second place, another best race lap, the best ever points result and a move up to second place in the Riders’ and the Manufacturers’ classification for BMW in the FIM Superbike World Championship—for Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport, Memorial Day in Salt Lake City, Utah, was a memorable one. Factory rider Marco Melandri (ITA) took his second victory on the BMW S1000RR in race two at Miller Motorsports Park after finishing second in race one. With his teammate Leon Haslam (GBR) crossing the line in tenth and eighth, Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport collected a total of 59 points from the races yesterday. The previous best result was the 48 points collected at Imola, Italy, earlier this season.
The sixth round of the 2012 season started on a cold and windy Saturday at Miller Motorsport Park in Tooele, Utah (just outside Salt Lake City) with Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport qualifying provisionally for the first row. Teams were welcomed by heavy rain in the morning, cold temperatures and gusty winds. Factory rider Marco Melandri (ITA) finished the closely fought first qualifying practice in third. Marco’s teammate, Leon Haslam (GBR), qualified provisional 12th. The first 12 riders were separated by just 0.888 seconds. In Friday’s free practice session, Marco was second and Leon twelfth.
Leon Haslam wasn’t as comfortable with his bike as he was when he finished second two weeks before at Donington. “I face similar issues to last year,” said Leon. “We have issues with the engine brake, and we need to work on our electronics side to resolve this. Set-up wise I am riding the same as at Donington. Maybe it is the altitude here at Miller that makes the bike change the way it is working. I am confident that my crew and I will solve it.”
BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team rider Michel Fabrizio (ITA) finished the first qualifying practice in 13th with his teammate Ayrton Badovini (ITA) in 14th. The improved conditions in the afternoon allowed Michel and Ayrton to test new parts and set-up of their motorcycles. The changes weren’t satisfactory for the two riders, however, so they went back to their previous configuration for the rest of the weekend.
The Superpole qualifying didn’t go according to plan for Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport. On Leon’s first outing in Superpole 1, he suffered a puncture to his rear tire and had to return to the pits. With less than eight minutes to go, he put a qualifying tire on his RR and started his next attempt but struggled with this tire and finished 13th — missing Superpole 2 by only one position. Being seventh, Marco progressed to the second part of qualifying but while trying to qualify for Superpole 3, he was first held up by another competitor and then struggled in turn five.
While Marco had finished all previous sessions of the race weekend within the top three he would start the races from the third row (ninth place). Leon would start from the fourth row (13th place). BMW Motorrad Italia Goldbet SBK Team’s riders Michel and Ayrton would start from 10th and 18th respectively.
“It was a very tough Superpole for us,” said Marco. “In Superpole 1 we were struggling with the first tire, and when I put the qualifier on in Superpole 2, I suffered from chatter. I went to the pits and put a race tire on and was confident I would improve but on my first lap another rider was in my way in the middle of the corner, so I lost time. The following lap, I pushed more and was quite fast in the first sector. But every time we have more grip we struggle a bit with the engine brake so in turn five, I could not stop the bike, went out and lost the chance to do another lap. Anyway, I am positive about the race. The start can be good for us, because the straight is very long and we can use our powerful engine and I hope to be able to pass as many riders as I can there.”
At the start of race one, Marco did use the long straight and the powerful BMW engine of his RR to catapult himself from ninth to third by the first turn. Soon he was second and took the lead on lap five. He was able to build a slight gap but then it was Carlos Checa (ESP), who approached from behind and overtook Marco at the beginning of lap eight. Checa and Marco remained the leading duo until the checkered flag, pulling away from the rest of the field. In the closing stages of the race, Marco rode the fastest lap time at 1:48.867 min. He stayed on Checa’s tail, waiting for the right moment to pass, but then settled for second behind Checa on the final lap.
Leon improved from 13th to eighth in the first laps but then was suffering from the same issues he was struggling with throughout the weekend. He crossed the line in 10th. BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team’s Michel had a difficult start from the third row and dropped from 10th to 18th by the end of the first lap. Thanks to a good race pace, he recovered to finish ninth. Ayrton, who started well from 18th place, managed to overtake several riders during the opening lap and finished 14th. A fifth BMW was racing in Utah as well. American and AMA Pro Superbike Racer, Jake Holden, took to the grid on an S1000RR for the Grillini Progea Team and finished the first race 19th.
In race two, Marco had an even better start, passing the whole field on the outside and was leading going into the first corner. He fell back but was fighting in the lead group when the race had to be red flagged after lap four as the track had to be cleaned after an accident. At the restart, Marco was third on the grid while Leon had improved to ninth during the opening laps before the red flag. Marco again shot off the line, taking the lead but was passed by Checa while still on the first lap. Checa began to pull away and seemed to be on his way to another victory when he crashed on lap six. Marco was back at the top and a nail-biting battle began. On lap 11, the BMW Motorrad rider slipped back to third behind the new leader Jonathan Rea (GBR) and Chaz Davies (GBR). It did not take long for Marco to regain second position and he started to chase Rea. Before starting the last lap, he used the BMW’s power to catch and pass Rea on the long straight and defended it to the finish line.
Leon improved one position during the race and came home in eighth. Michel got a good start from the 14th position restart but during the race he suffered from lack of rear grip and finished 12th. Ayrton started from the 18th slot and crossed the line in 13th. Jake improved one position from the first race result and finished 18th.
“Here in Miller it was my worst weekend last year, and it was the worst for BMW, too,” said Marco. “So going home with two podiums, a win and a second place, is like a dream. In race one, I was pushing like in qualifying from the first lap until the end. The tire was working very well until the end… I was feeling even more comfortable on the bike with less fuel in the tank. I tried to make the life not easy to Carlos, but in some corners, I could not go his line with the four cylinder bike. I tried to catch him, but on the last lap I tried not to push too much because it was easy to make a mistake, and a second place and the podium was good after such a tough qualifying.
“In race two, for sure I had a little bit of luck with Carlo crashing. I was struggling a bit in the beginning, and when Johnny passed me I lost the concentration. It took me some time to catch him. But again, when the fuel level dropped down I felt so much better on the bike and fortunately I could pass Johnny on the straight because my BMW engine was so strong. Otherwise it would have been very difficult for me to try to make a pass. I am happy because the bike is working well on different types of tracks. But now we have to be focused, we cannot think that we are going to be on the top every Sunday so we have to keep working. But my team made a great job, thanks to everyone, to all the guys back in Germany. I am so happy and proud to be with BMW. This is the best team I ever worked with.”
In the Riders’ Championship, Marco improved from fifth to second with 142.5 points, 18 points behind the leader Max Biaggi (ITA). Leon is sixth with 103 points. In the Manufacturers’ Standings BMW improved to second with 176 points behind Ducati (195.5).
1. Carlos Checa (Ducati) 38’21.283
2. Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) + 2.313
3. Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing Team) + 5.338
9. Michel Fabrizio (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team) + 21.450
10. Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) + 23.433
14. Ayrton Badovini – (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team) + 31.222
1. Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) 32’56.257
2. Jonathan Rea (Honda) + 0.195
3. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) + 2.137
8. Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) + 12.715
12. Michel Fabrizio (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team) + 21.923
13. Ayrton Badovini (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team)