BMW factory rider, Marco Melandri (ITA) finished the 2012 FIM Superbike World Championship in third position overall. While it marks the highest placed BMW rider finish ever in this series, it still must feel like a disappointment. After moving into the lead in Moscow with a first and second place results, Marco did not finish, or receive any points, in five of the last six races of the season. At the season finale in Magny-Cours, France, Marco finished second in the first race but crashed out of the second. His teammate, Leon Haslam (GBR), who was competing in his last round as a BMW Motorrad factory rider, finished fifth in the first race but also crashed in the second heat. The BMW Motorrad Italia Goldbet SBK Team, who will take over as the sole BMW factory team next year, saw Ayrton Badovini cross the line in sixth and ninth while Michel Fabrizio was 12th in the first race and crashed in the second and final race.
The BMW Motorrad Motorsport Team was hopeful leading up to the final races of the season. BMW was second in the Manufacturers’ Championship with 394 points – 28.5 points behind leader Aprilia. Marco was in third in the Riders’ Championship with 308.5 points — 38.5 behind leader Max Biaggi (ITA) but with a maximum 50 points still available.
Marco had spent the previous week at his home in Italy recovering from the injuries he picked up in Portimão, Portugal. He suffered two broken ribs and serious bruising to his back when he was hit by another bike after crashing at the start of the first race. Meanwhile, Leon had fully recovered from the injuries he picked up in Moscow and at the Nürburgring.
Marco’s injuries still caused him a lot of pain but he managed to finish the first day of qualifying at Magny-Cours in third. Leon was provisionally qualified eighth putting him on the second row. Leon had hurt his right hand when he crashed at the beginning of the first free practice on a still-damp part of the track. After some medical treatment he was able to jump back on the bike and continue his prep work for the races. During the first qualifying practice, both factory riders were temporarily topping the time sheets. Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini of the BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK Team finished the first qualifying practice in sixth and 12th respectively.
“It was nice to be back on the RR,” said Marco, “but it is not easy because every time I try to move a little bit faster on the bike it feels like I have a knife in my back. Lap by lap, when I get warmer, it gets better and I can do one or two stronger laps but then I get pain again and feel tired. It is difficult because I cannot use the leg and the back to change direction. To do one fast lap is one thing, to do the race will be difficult but it is good to be here and to be able to do one fast lap.”
Despite the pain, the next day saw Marco setting the fastest lap times in both of the qualifying practices and the free practice. In Superpole 1, Marco and Leon made one outing with race tires to easily progress to the second section. There both of them opted for the qualifying tires for their first outings. While Marco comfortably qualified for the deciding Superpole 3, Leon was struggling with his tire and returned to the garage immediately without having done a timed lap. His crew fitted Leon’s second qualifying tire with which the Englishman also progressed to the last part of the session. In Superpole 3, Marco secured fourth position on his second qualifying tire while Leon had to set his times on the race tires and finished seventh. Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini would finish and start the races from 11th and 17th position respectively.
It rained throughout the night and the morning leading up to the races. Even though the rain stopped before the first race, the track was still wet and the conditions tricky. Both Marco and Leon, who were fourth and seventh respectively on the grid, started steadily into the first heat, so not to risk too much in the treacherous conditions. Marco slipped back a few positions but made his way up towards the front by overtaking competitors and benefitting from several riders’ crashes. Halfway through the race, Marco was already third, on lap 13 he improved to second. He then fought an exciting battle with Sykes and Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) for the top position. The French local hero took the lead in front of Marco and was able to build a gap during the remaining laps. Marco comfortably secured second. Leon lost a few positions when he rode off track for a short time on lap four but regained the places afterwards and crossed the line in fifth.
Ayrton Badovini, who moved off well from 17th on the grid, was able to get a decent start in the first race but struggled a bit in the opening laps. As the race progressed Ayrton showed a good race pace that allowed him to climb up to sixth at the end, taking this position from Eugene Laverty on the last lap. Michel Fabrizio, who didn’t get a good start, came back to the pits to change the rear tire before returning to the track and finishing 12th.
For the second race the track had mostly dried out but was still damp in places. Leon had a good start and improved to fourth immediately and was fighting for the podium positions on the following laps. Marco slipped back to sixth but kept up with the front runners and was preparing to work his way back to the top. But on lap seven he lost control over his rear wheel and crashed. Shortly afterwards Leon rode off the track and rejoined in eighth, losing four positions. On lap 17 his race also was ended by a crash. Ayrton finished the race in ninth while Michel crashed out on lap nine – at Turn 13 – that wasted what was a good first part of the race. The second heat was won by Sykes.
“It felt good to finish a race on the podium again after the last two unfortunate race weekends,” said Marco. “My BMW S1000RR was working very well. In the first couple of laps of race one I was still struggling a bit with warming up the tire, but once the tire was working I could go at quite a good pace. Anyhow, it was a tough race and I did not want to overpace and risk too much. Unfortunately the track dried up more and more, which did not play into my hands. When I finally passed Tom the track was not really wet anymore, and in these conditions I had no chance to follow Sylvain who really showed a strong performance today. The track conditions were very difficult in race two. I pushed 100 percent but I could not change direction quickly. When I crashed I must have hit a wet patch, and I lost the rear of my RR. My back and my leg are very sore now. Overall, this was a great season for us. We can be proud of what we have achieved. When we started the season we were quite far from the top guys. We closed the gap quickly and fought with them for the rest of the season. We won races, but we also had some bad luck and I made mistakes. Everything was possible this year, and we can be happy. I hope to start from that point next year. A big ‘Thank You’ to all the team in Germany and at the track.”
In the Manufacturers’ championship, BMW claimed its best ever result by finishing second with 421 points, 23.5 points behind winner Aprilia. In the Riders’ classification Marco finished the season in third with 328.5 points, so becoming the highest placed ever BMW rider in this championship. Leon is eighth with 200 points. Max Biaggi (ITA) claimed the title just 0.5 points ahead of Tom Sykes (GBR) and 29 points ahead of Marco.
Bernhard Gobmeier, BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director, summed it up, “The final race Sunday of the 2012 season was really a day of mixed emotions for us. In race one, Marco cleverly managed the race – like he had done more than once this season. This was impressive. Leon finished the race in a solid fifth position. In the second race lady luck was not on our side once more. Both Marco and Leon crashed on wet parts of the track and could not finish the race. This result does not reflect the season for BMW Motorrad Motorsport: Until the very last race of the year we fought for the World Championship. At the start of the season not one of us would have dreamt of this. We are all proud of having finished the riders’ standings in a very good third position and the constructors’ standings in a fantastic second place. These results are due to the efforts of the entire team. Everybody involved has played their part and can be proud of this outcome. That’s why I would not only like to say Thank You to just Marco and Leon, but to all the team members in Munich, Stephanskirchen and at the track. Congratulations to Tom Sykes and his team who showed an unbelievable will to win and to the 2012 World Champions Max Biaggi and Aprilia.”