Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport has added another podium to its tally in the FIM Superbike World Championship. Leon Haslam’s third and Marco Melandri’s fourth in race two at Misano, Italy, gave a happy end to a race Sunday that started in difficulty for the team. In race one, both factory riders were fighting for, but ultimately denied, the top positions. The BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet Superbike Team meanwhile had its best result of the season thanks to Ayrton Badovini finishing fifth and Michel Fabrizio in sixth in the second race.
Teams and riders arrived at the seventh round of the FIM Superbike World Championship to find really hot conditions for the first time this season. The air temperature rose to above 85°F (30°C) with track temps hitting 102°F (39°C). Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport proved to be competitive in these summery conditions. Factory rider Marco Melandri (ITA) was quickest in the free practice Friday morning and qualified for the provisional first row in the afternoon, finishing the first qualifying practice in fourth. In that session, his teammate Leon Haslam (GBR) was in the top three for a long time. At the end of the session he put his BMW S1000RR on the provisional second row being eighth. BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team rider Ayrton Badovini (ITA) finished the first qualifying practice in 12th; his teammate Michel Fabrizio crashed out in each session but was unhurt and finished the day in 18th.
Saturday saw temps reach 108°F (42°C) on track before a short afternoon thunderstorm cooled it down forcing a “wet” Superpole. After being third and fourth in the free practice before the Superpole qualifying, Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport had reason to be confident for the afternoon. In Superpole 1, Leon only used race tires and was putting in consistent top five times that qualified him for the top eight riders competing in Superpole 2. Marco, on the other hand, struggled with the difficult conditions after the rain shower. With four minutes to go, he put on a qualifying tire but was unable to significantly improve his time. He finished 13th. In the first half of Superpole 2, Leon used his two available qualifying tires, putting him second quickest. He then had to return to the harder and slower race tires for the closing minutes and slipped back to sixth.
“It has been a strange qualifying,” said Leon. “It was really hot and it rained just minutes before the first part so we had to go out on slick tires while the track was half dry and half wet. We stayed on the race tire in Superpole 1. The main objective was to get onto the first two rows – that is where we need to be. In Superpole 2, we had chatter again with the qualifying tire. We had a lot more grip but we could not make use of it.”
Ayrton of the BMW Motorrad Italia Team got the best out of the two Superpole tires available, finishing Superpole 1 in the top eight. By setting a very good lap in the following session, he recorded the best starting position, third place, in the team’s short Superbike history. Michel couldn’t qualify for Superpole 2 and would start from 12th.
Race Sunday was only slightly cooler but luckily the rain stayed away. In the opening stages of the first race both BMW Motorrad riders showed an incredible performance. Starting sixth and 13th respectively, Leon and Marco quickly fought their way to the front, both being in the top five after three laps. In the process, Marco set a new record lap time of 1:36.100 minutes. Halfway through the race Leon was second and his teammate fourth, less than half a second from the lead. But like several competitors, they then both suffered massive issues with tire wear. Fighting with blunt weapons, Leon and Marco slipped back one place after another. Marco retired after 22 laps having dropped back to 18th. Leon managed to hang on to 12th at the checkered flag.
“In race one we were unlucky with the tire, so we could not do anything,” said Leon. “We were fighting for a podium position but then had a tire issue and dropped three to four seconds a lap. The tire was unrideable, so I was quite happy to get four points but also frustrated because after these strong first laps we did not get the podium in race one.”
Race one saw Ayrton Badovini with a good start and good first half, in which he showed be was capable of maintaining his position until he suffered lack of grip as well. He had to slow down his pace and ride the remaining laps conservatively and eventually finished 11th. Michel finished in 14th.
For race two both crews made another tire choice with better results. Leon was challenging for the top positions from the start. Marco meanwhile started his chase from a bit further down the field, being ninth after the first lap. From lap six on, Leon was involved in exciting battles for second place, first with Tom Sykes (GBR) and then for more than half of the race with Jonathan Rea (GBR). In the end he crossed the line in third, just a few tenths shy of second placed Rea. Marco fought his way through the field and was fourth after 14 laps. He defended that position for the remaining 10 laps. With BMW Motorrad Italia riders Ayrton and Michel finishing fifth and sixth, four BMW S1000RRs were in the top six.
“In race 1 we used the smaller rear tire, and the grip level was quite ok,” said Marco. “Suddenly, after nine or 10 laps, the grip level dropped down. It took only another couple of laps and the tire was gone completely. It was impossible to continue riding, so I decided to come into the garage.
“In race 2 we used the bigger rear tire. I originally preferred this tire, but we only had one set to use before the races. When we tested the bigger tire in practice, we had more chattering than with the small one, but did not have the opportunity to fix this issue. As a result we focused on the small tire for race 1. In race 2 the bike felt much more consistent and the grip level was much better, but unfortunately the chattering was still really bad, so overtaking was tough.”
In the Riders’ Championship, Marco is fourth with 155.5 points and Leon is sixth with 123 points. In the Manufacturers’ Standings BMW lies in third with 197 points, 25.5 points off leader Ducati. Teams BMW Motorrad Motorsport will now head to the Spanish Motorland Aragón where it will conduct two days of testing on June 19th and 20th. The next races in the 2012 World Superbike Championship will then take place at the same venue on July 1st.
BMW provides this interview with Leon and Ayrton after the race: