The BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK Team has started the 2013 season by celebrating a podium position finish. At the opening round of the FIM Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island is Australia, factory rider Marco Melandri (ITA) finished third in the second race. It was a bravely fought podium for him after his already injured shoulder was further aggrevated after a crash in race one. Marco’s new teammate Chaz Davies (GBR) impressed with a fourth place in his debut race on the BMW S1000RR but had bad luck in race two with a crash and a ride-through penalty.
The new season kicked off last Friday with the BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK Team on the provisional first and second rows after first qualifying practice. Marco was holding third while his new teammate Chaz Davies was fifth in his first ever qualifying session on his S1000RR. Marco began the first qualifying session with the fastest times and was leading for a long time. In the end, he had a gap of just 0.222 seconds behind former BMW racer, Michel Fabrizio (ITA), who qualified for the provisional pole position aboard his Ducati he races for Red Devils Roma. Chaz was in the middle of the field but catapulted himself up to fifth in the final minute of the session staying under the 1:32-mark for the first time.
On Saturday, Marco set the fastest time in the free practice session and then progressed comfortably through the first two Superpole sessions to reach the final and deciding session, Superpole 3. In both the first and second sessions he only rode one fast lap to securely qualify for the next part, once on a race tire and once on a qualifying tire. In Superpole 3 he completed one outing on his second qualifying tire, setting the fastest lap time of 1:30.615 minutes up to that point. Later, Tom Sykes (GBR) clocked exactly the same time and due to the regulations was classified in front of Marco. The pair topped the time sheets until the closing stages of Superpole 3 when they were forced down into the second row of the grid. Chaz started the day confidently after achieving two top-five-results yesterday. In Superpole 1, the Welshman did two outings, one on a race tire and one on a qualifying tire. With the ninth fastest time he progressed easily to the second session. There, he went out but returned to the pits immediately due to a technical issue. With three and a half minutes to go, he made another attempt but had to settle with 12th place on the grid.
The BMW team was then set up for race day with Marco on the second row (fifth overall) with Chaz on the fourth row (12th). A rule change for this season means the individual grid rows consist of three riders rather than four seen previously. Marco commented after the session, “Compared to last year, when we struggled a lot on this track, we have improved a lot. Now the bike is performing quite well and we had a good qualifying session. This afternoon the track conditions were worse than yesterday and this morning, but the team has done a great job on the bike to improve the tires’ life. In the end we are satisfied and we got the best out of our bike. Tomorrow’s races will not be easy for all of us because of the high temperatures and the wind. While I hope that the wind will not be too strong, I don’t mind if it is warm. My shoulder is also getting a little better, probably because it is getting used to the stress from being on the bike. I am confident that tomorrow we will be consistent on the long distance of the race.”
At the start of race one, Marco improved from fifth on the grid to third. His strategic approach was to save his tires in the first half of the race and then to start his chase for the front in the latter half. This plan worked well in the beginning of the race. During the opening laps he dropped back to seventh but then proceeded to work his way back through the field. His ambitions came to an involuntary end, however, on lap 13. While in third place, Marco was hit from behind by Carlos Checa (ESP) when entering turn four ending his race. His teammate Chaz gave a great performance in his first ever race aboard the RR. The Welshman started from 12th but charged his way towards the front over the course of the race, fighting a number of exciting battles. With three laps to go, he had improved to fourth, defending this position against several attacks from Tom Sykes (GBR) right up until the finish line.
In race two, luck changed sides within the team garage. On lap two, Marco improved to third and from then on the Italian stayed hot on the heels of the leading duo, consisting of Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) and Eugene Laverty (IRL). Marco didn’t let the gap get any larger than a few tenths of a second as he was preparing to overtake them in the closing stages of the race. Marco completed part one of the plan by overtaking Laverty for second position on lap 16. He then started to close the gap to leader Guintoli, but the battle between the three wasn’t over. On lap 20, Laverty passed Marco and Guintoli to take the lead, meaning that Marco dropped back to third place. He defied the pain in his shoulder and fought off Michel Fabrizio (ITA) to secure a podium finish. Meanwhile, it was Chaz who was having some bad luck. He made a good start to the race and initially improved to eighth, but unfortunately crashed on the opening lap. With a flat rear tire from the crash, he rode back to the pits, got it changed and returned to the track in last place with a gap of a whole lap to the rest of the field. Not only this, but Chaz was given a ride-through penalty after race direction decided that it was not a correct wheel change. Chaz continued the race bravely and finished the race in 17th place.
Marco said after the races, “In race one I was working my way towards the front and had improved to third place, when I was hit from behind by Carlos and unfortunately I fell on my right shoulder. I don’t know why it happened, maybe he made a mistake or he had a technical issue, I just went down suddenly. I am sorry for Carlos, he is a professional rider and I wish him a speedy recovery. In race two, I fought within the leading group from the very beginning, despite the pain in my shoulder. In the closing laps I had Michel really close behind me trying to overtake me, but I succeeded in defending my position and battled for my place on the podium. In this type of situation, it is like winning for me. Regarding my shoulder, I have surgey planned on Wednesday, following a medical examination on Monday to define which kind of surgery I have.”
Chaz added, “After race one, I was happy with the points I received for my fourth position finish, but honestly I would have liked to have a podium. I knew after warm-up that a podium was realistic. I was almost a little bit disappointed when I didn’t get it, despite the fact that I achieved far more than I expected before I started the weekend here. The race was quite hectic. To overtake in Phillip Island you need to make a split second decision and there are a lot of close moves, especially ones that use the brakes. The bike was working great on the brakes, so that was an advantage. It was a little bit of a shame that I was held up in the very beginning. I think if I could have stayed directly behind the leading group I would have had the speed to move away with them. In the opening lap of race two I lost the rear as I turned in. I’m not exactly sure why. The only reason I can give is either that somebody tapped me or that the extreme right hand side of the tire wasn’t quite scrubbed in and that made the rear spin around. Unfortunately, Loris was on the outside of me and he had nowhere to go. Of course that was very disappointing but we are mostly taking the positives from the first race and will build on those for the future rounds.”
In the Riders’ championship, Marco is fifth after the first round with 16 points, while Chaz sits in tenth with 13 points. In the Manufacturers’ classification, BMW lies in second with 29 points. The two races were won by Guintoli and Laverty respectively.