The BMW Motorrad Motorsport Team celebrating their first World Superbike victory thanks to rider Marco Melandri.
The European round of the World Superbike Championship at Donington Park will be remembered by the BMW Motorrad team for a very long time. In Race 1 they made history to secure their first ever win in the series with an emphatic first and second place thanks to factory riders Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam. But before any celebrations could take place the team was thrown in to turmoil on the final lap of the second race when both riders crashed out of the lead after being hit by Honda Superbike rider Jonathan Rea at the final turn.
It was a dramatic finale to a brilliant race that had seen five riders – Melandri, Haslam, Rea, Max Biaggi and Tom Sykes produce one of the greatest WSB races of all time. Throughout the 23-lap race the five men not only swapped positions but were covered by just over one second all race long.
And if it wasn’t exciting enough the final lap and especially the final two corners – Melbourne Loop and Goddards (both hairpins) produced drama and controversy in equal measures. With just the two corners remaining home favorite Leon Haslam looked to have the race sewn up with Melandri second, Biaggi third and Rea fourth. But Melandri had obviously failed to read the script and went for an optimistic pass on his BMW teammate Haslam at the Melbourne Loop. The pass failed with Melandri cutting across the front of Haslam before the British rider held a tight line to maintain his lead.
Behind them Biaggi ran a few inches wide and with a fired up Rea right behind him the Honda man dived underneath Biaggi to move into third. With Haslam now seeming to be clear at the front with just one corner remaining he looked set to secure his first win on a BMW and BMW’s second WSB victory of the day, but once again Melandri was keen to change events and dived underneath Haslam again taking his teammate wide as he ran to the edge of the track. With Rea just behind he dived for the inside line vacated by Haslam, but subsequently smashed into the side of his fellow countryman. While Rea was able to stay upright, Haslam crashed, sliding into Melandri and wiping him out.
A fierce battle between four riders toward the end of Race 2 led to Haslam and Melandri going down in the final lap.
With the two BMW men fuming at the edge of the track Rea powered to the checkered line to secure the win ahead of Biaggi and Sykes.
Melandri’s rage was centered around Rea who he accused of crazy riding in the final corner and at numerous other stage of the race. But in contrast Haslam didn’t blame Rea instead his and his side of the BMW garage focused their rage on Melandri due to his overly ambitious attempted passes which he felt cost him the win.
Tempers boiled over in the BMW pitbox and despite the garage doors coming down quickly there were reports of serious arguments and Haslam’s father Ron having to be restrained when he confronted Melandri.
When the dust settled and tempers calmed this is what Haslam had to say: “Right now I just want to forget about it. I’m so frustrated because I was going for my first win for BMW and it was my home round. I don’t blame Rea for what happened. Marco took a big lunge at me and was never going to stop, but it forced us both wide and it was that that let Rea through.”
Melandri defended his actions of why he felt he had to try and make the pass and in the same breath lambasted Rea for his aggressive riding. He said: “I was trying to pass Leon in the final corner, although I knew it would be difficult, but I am a racer and I had to try. I ran a little wide and expected Leon to pass me back as finishing second would have been ok for me. But then Rea hit Leon and we know the rest.
“For me Rea rode a crazy race. Earlier on he hit me so hard when he passed me I thought he’d dislocated my shoulder. Something should be done about this because this type of riding is too dangerous.”
Despite his words the decision stood and no one was penalized by Race Direction for their actions. For Rea it represented an unexpected win and 25 championship points which escalated him up into third in the overall standings.
Some though Rea “rode a crazy race” but the Honda rider “saw a gap on the inside” and took it for the win in Race 2.
“It got scrappy and there were some big moves going on all race long,” said Rea. “I arrived at the final corner and there was a gap on the inside and I took it. I didn’t mean to hit Leon and I’m sorry that he crashed.
“It was an amazing race to be a part of. I don’t know what it looked like on TV, but I think that was one of the best races for a long time.”
Second place finisher Max Biaggi echoed Rea’s comments and was philosophical about securing second-place on the line. His podium means that he continues to lead the standings with a five point lead over factory Kawasaki man Tom Sykes.
Sykes left Donington with two third-place podium results but was disappointed at not being able to fight for the win in the closing lap. During the second race he led faultlessly for 16 laps before being overhauled by the two BMW men and he never recovered.
“Unfortunately we seemed to struggle at one particular part of the track and that definitely affected our race,” said Sykes. “I led for a lot of laps, but I was missing some feeling from the bike especially through the fast corner onto the back straight. I made one mistake and all the other guys caught me and seamed to spit me out the back!
“I didn’t really see exactly how it all unfolded at the last corner, but it was obviously good for me to get another podium in what was a tough weekend.”
Carlos Checa won at Donington in 2011, but failed to earn a podium in either Race 1 or Race 2 this past weekend.
One man that was conspicuous by his absence at the front of the field was world champion Carlos Checa. The Althea Ducati rider who won a race at Donington in 2011 was expected to be among the front runners at the mainly flowing and not so fast Donington track. But after opting for the softer ‘A’ compound Pirelli rear tire he found that he did not have the grip he needed at the end of the race and could only finish sixth. Keen to make amends in Race 2, the 39-year-old Spaniard made a good start from his third row grid position but by Turn 2 he was out of the race after clipping the back of Eugene Laverty’s factory Aprilia and crashing out unhurt.
He said: “This is a big disappointment for me. In Race 1 we didn’t have the pace and in Race 2 I was right behind Laverty when he slowed. I don’t know why he stopped mid corner, maybe something happened in front of him, but I had nowhere to go. Now I will go away forget about this weekend and in a few days start to prepare for America and the race at Miller.”
Just like the two WSB races the World Supersport race also delivered high drama. British contender Sam Lowes overcame food poisoning and a heavy crash in qualifying that ground away his little finger to win the race – his first of his world championship career.
The next round of the World Superbike Championship takes place at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah on May 26-28.