WSBK 2012: Marco Melandri Takes Championship Lead in Moscow

WSBK 2012: Marco Melandri Takes Championship Lead in Moscow

Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport has reason to celebrate again: at the first-ever Russian round of the FIM Superbike World Championship, factory rider Marco Melandri (ITA) took the lead in the Rider’s Classification by winning race two and finishing second in race one. It’s another milestone, as Marco is the first BMW rider to top this classification. In the Manufacturer’s Ranking, BMW further increased its lead. In addition, BMW Motorrad Motorsport claimed the fastest lap time in both races, with Leon Haslam (GBR) in heat one and Marco in race two.

Marco Melandri on the podium with a win and second place in Moscow.
Marco celebrates with a wheelie after his first place finish.

Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport began the first-ever Russian round by qualifying for the provisional first and third row. The 11th round of the 2012 season was held at the brand new “Moscow Raceway” near Volokolamsk, Russia. On Wednesday, the team took part in the official Infront testing to get familiar with the track and then on Friday, the normal race weekend began. Factory rider Marco Melandri (ITA) finished the first qualifying practice in fourth after having set the fastest lap in the free practice this morning. His teammate Leon Haslam (GBR) qualified provisional ninth on his BMW S1000RR. Ayrton Badovini and Michel Fabrizio (both ITA) of the BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team finished 15th and 16th respectively.

“It is difficult because the conditions are changing very quickly,” said Marco. “We have to try to understand which is the best tire for the race and the best one for a lap time. Unfortunately we are struggling with the soft tire. We get a lot of chatter and it is difficult to ride. But I am quite happy about the race. It will be difficult to fight for victory because the twin cylinder bikes are very fast on this track. They ride very easily in the first section. In the short tight corners there they gain four- to five-tenths on us so it will not be easy for us. For sure we will do our best.”

A strong performance was put on by Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport in Saturday’s qualifying. Despite the issues with the soft tires seen the previous day, the squad qualified for the first and second rows. In Superpole 1 and 2, Leon only made one outing each to progress to the next session. Both times Marco rode a time that qualified him for the next stage in the closing minutes of the session. In the deciding Superpole 3, Leon put in the fourth quickest time right at the beginning and held that position until the end. Marco started with the sixth fastest time but improved a further position, securing fifth on the grid.

Michel Fabrizio experienced a technical problem during the second qualifying session on Saturday that forced him back to the pits where the team worked to fix it quickly. Once he got back on track he faced rain drops in the first and fifth sector that prevented him from improving his best lap time enough to get into Superpole qualifying. Michel finished 17th — just outside the top-16 by just 8 thousands of a second. Ayrton Badovini lost the entire session due to an engine issue on his first quick lap attempt. His 1’36.326 personal best lap from yesterday meant he would start in 19th position.

Michel Fabrizio (#84) ahead of Leon Haslam (#91).

“I am really pleased,” said Leon. “It is always nice to be on the front row of the grid, and especially at Moscow where the first part of the track is quite twisty… It will be difficult to overtake, but there is no one in front of me I don’t think I can’t beat. Carlos has a fast pace but he has one of the slowest bikes on the straight. Hopefully if I can get in front of him and hold him up in the bits where he is strong and then pull away in the sections where I am fast.”

Race day started with a rain shower in the morning and a damp track when the grid formed for race one. It was therefore declared a wet race, but as the skies were already clearing up, all four BMW S1000RR riders went out on slicks. At the start, eventual winner Tom Sykes (GBR) took the lead, while Leon improved from fourth to second and Marco held his fifth position. Leon kept fighting at the top but ran off the track on lap five and slipped back from second to fifth. Marco was seventh at that point. As the race went on, several riders crashed and the two BMW factory riders moving up the field.

Leon Haslam rode well but suffered crashes in both races.

On lap 17, Leon was in a podium position again, being third in front of Marco, but when Leon tried to pass second-placed Chaz Davies (GBR) on lap 19, they made contact and Leon crashed. Davies had gone wide and Leon tried to take his chance to go through on the inside but the two riders collided. Leon jumped back on his S1000RR and rejoined in sixth position.

“I got stuck behind Chaz who was a bit quicker on the straight so I had to make the move in the twisty section. He kept running quite wide in one of the turns and I made my move, but he closed the door and we collided,” said Leon. “It was frustrating because I felt pretty comfortable and was taking it quite easy in that position and I even thought that we might have the chance to pulling Tom back in at one point but again it was not meant to be.”

Marco profited from the collision and took second between leader Sykes and third placed Davies. He brought his bike home in that position unthreatened while Leon finished sixth. After the podium ceremony, Marco had to go to the Clinica Mobile medical center because a wasp had stung his left knee during the race, causing massive swelling and pain. He was treated with an injection and was ready to go for race two.

Marco on the straight of the new "Moscow Raceway."

Meanwhile, BMW Italia rider Michel Fabrizio managed to make the best of the difficult track conditions in race one and moved from his starting 17th position on the grid to a final fifth place. Ayrton Badovini, who started from the 19th spot, was 12th at the end of the race.

In the opening stages of the second heat, Marco and Leon were part of an exciting fight for podium positions when Leon’s race ended abruptly and painfully. Entering the last corner of lap ten, he was hit from behind by Biaggi and both of them crashed heavily. Leon was taken to the medical center, as he was feeling dizzy and had severe pain in his leg. The examinations showed that he had no serious injuries. Marco meanwhile kept fighting at the very top and took the lead from Sykes on lap 15. He defended it to the checkered flag and celebrated his sixth victory of the season.

Michel Fabrizio

Michel Fabrizio also crashed after a collision with Hiroshi Aoyama, who was ahead of him, at turn five on the first lap. Ayrton Badovini rode well throughout the race and finished eighth.

“It is an unbelievable day,” said Marco. “To win here at the first-ever round of the Championship in this country is something special and I am just very, very happy. This morning it was cloudy and raining a little bit, so it was not easy. Race one was very tough at the beginning with the slick tire in the wet and the fact that a wasp stung my leg made it even more difficult. It was a very tough race and to finish second was like a win for me. For race two the team made a small modification to the bike and I felt very good from the first lap. Once I saw Biaggi was out I understood I had the chance to try to get a win and I did. I was worried a little bit about my rear tire, but it worked perfectly with my BMW. The team once more did a great job. Thanks to everyone.

“We are now leading the Rider’s Championship but we take it race by race. We have no time to think about defending our lead, because six races are a lot and anything can still happen. We have to stay focused and work hard and if I have the chance to fight for a win I will try to get it. For me it is important to have fun at every race and I cannot race without trying to do my best. Overall I am so happy. We had some bad luck in the past, but now we are working very well but you never know what will happen in the last races. I also want to thank the Clinica Mobile. They helped me a lot, not only with the sting but also with the back problem I had all weekend.”

In the Riders’ Championship, Marco is leading with 308.5 points, 18.5 more than second placed Biaggi. Leon is sixth with 180 points. In the Manufacturers’ Standings BMW now has 361 points and has extended its lead to 26.5 points over Aprilia.

Marco and the BMW Motorrad Motorsport Team.

Race 1

1. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 41’07.852
2. Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) + 8.878
3. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) + 12.603
5. Michel Fabrizio (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team) + 29.582
6. Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) + 30.587
12. Ayrton Badovini (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team) + 47.813

Race 2

1. Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) 40’14.677
2. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) + 0.976
3. Chaz Davies (Aprilia) + 4.213
8. Ayrton Badovini (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team) + 23.696
DNF. Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport)
DNF. Michel Fabrizio (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team)

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