Ride Review: The 2012 BMW World Superbike Race Bikes

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As often happens when a major manufacturer decides to take a major leap by participating in a World Championship series the media goes crazy, which is exactly what happened when BMW Motorrad decided to descend on the tracks of the WSBK Championship. At the time, there were those who said that the BMW bike would have never been able to win a race, but the majority of the voices in and out of the paddock were pretty united in the concept that “if BMW decides it wants to win, sooner or later it will reach its objective,” something that as we have seen that happened in relatively little time.

After three seasons of “apprenticeship” that were necessary to get all the cogs working smoothly and to acquire the necessary experience on the track, BMW has finally reached the necessary competitive edge to reach the front of the pack, and from the beginning of the 2012 season the S1000RR has established itself as a contender at the top of the leaderboards. BMW Motorrad for the third year in a row, has given its most accredited journalists the possibility to try its racebikes mid-season, and we were clearly not going to let this opportunity slip by us.

The first time we were given this opportunity, it was BMW Motorrad Italy who gave us the handlebars of the S1000RR Superstock bike with which Andrea Badovini dominated the FIM Superstock Cup, and the success of this journalist test was so great that BMW Motorrad proper (the Germans) decided to open up the test to the official team bikes. In the meantime the Italian BMW team had debuted in WSBK, and so in 2011 we had the incredible opportunity to try all three types of racebikes.

So here we are in 2012, with the S1000RR which won its first victories in the WSBK Championship. More competitive and intriguing than ever and as has become a tradition, we are again ready to try the newest racing bikes with the famous BMW propeller on their tanks. The location may be different, as we now find ourselves in Misano Adriatico (which should make the Monza track haters among us quite happy), but everything else remains basically the same.

For the format, there are now four bikes to try. The warm-up laps to learn the track will be done on a stock S1000RR street bike, followed by a ride on the Superstock bike belonging to Sylvain Barrier and Lorenzo Baroni. Following these we get some laps aboard the BMW Motorrad factory bikes of Leon Haslam and Marco Melandri, and the day on the BMW Motorrad Italia machines that are campaigned by Ayrton Badovini and Michel Fabrizio.

Before jumping in the saddle though, we wanted to interview two key people on the BMW World Superbike team, Andrea Buzzoni (General Director of BMW Motorrad Italy and Team Manager) as well as Andrea Dosoli (Technical Director of the BMW Motorrad team.)

Q: Andrea, give us an idea of how you evaluate these past three years of BMW Motorrad’s track participation, are you happy with what you’ve achieved or did you expect more?

ANDREA BUZZONI: 2010 went very well, we had a spectacular Championship battle with Ayrton in Superstock. 2011, considering the fact that our top rider was injured almost immediately and that we ended up finishing in the top 10 with Badovini, we can consider ourselves happy with the result. This year, starting from the first race up until we reached Misano, to be honest we weren’t happy with the results, because our points scored and our track ranking truly didn’t match up with our potential, with the resources expended, and with the great competency and experience of our team. Finally at Misano there was a definite and positive turn of events with Ayrton’s first row qualifying, followed by two races with results which were finally worthy of his considerable talent. In Superstock, everything is working gangbusters.

Q: Today we see you wearing a Team Hat role, but normally you’re in the business of marketing and selling bikes, so we’d like to know if you find that competition has been an important influence in selling your bikes, and also which way you see the sportbike and the motorcycle market in general heading?

ANDREA BUZZONI: In my opinion, production-bike based competition in WSBK, influences bike sales as far as the image of the brand is concerned, and therefore brings a medium and long-term value-added.  I personally have never believed in a direct and measurable short-term relationship between sales and SBK competition and success. However, with Superstock, despite having a smaller following than the SBK, I find that the core viewership is more connected, and from there I do see a more direct correlation between the Championship and bike sales. The important aspect of WSBK, especially for us as a brand with a limited racing history, is that it amplifies the brand value and it helps us reach a younger market demographic which responds to a straightforward and direct marketing communication style.

When discussing the overall motorcycle market (European and Italian in this context) there are no reasons to believe that the 32% decline in sales year-over-year can somehow recover in 2013. In my opinion it’s morel likely that the market will stabilize at these new lows, and I believe that bikes with engines larger than 500cc will end the year with 46,000-48,000 units sold…these are somewhat sad numbers when we consider that in 2006 there were almost 136,000 bikes sold!

However, we are very trusting in the fact that in 2013 we are going to have a very strong product offering, as we have many new bikes which will have the ability to create a large impact on the market, so we believe that our intrinsic strengths and competitive advantages will continue to grow.

Q: In its fourth season in WSBK, BMW seems to have found the right path to success, and many attribute this success directly to you, how do you respond to this?

ANDREA DOSOLI: (Laughing) Absolutely not…like all young projects there is a necessary “break-in” period, and as we enter our fourth year of racing, we start reaping the seeds of what we sowed. It is normal that with the arrival of great riders like Marco (Melandri) and highly competent engineers with new ideas that we have gotten the bike’s development headed in the right direction. But, it is also thanks to the BMW as a corporation which has continued to invest in us, and which has developed a bike over the years which now enables us to benefit at this point in time.

Q: On the subject of your work style, what do you believe you brought to the team which was missing before your arrival if in fact there was something missing?

ANDREA DOSOLI: In my opinion, the race results are the direct result of our ability to combine a variety of winning attributes. It’s not just the bike, it’s not just the rider, and it’s not just the team which is enabling us to win. What we are trying to do is create a bike which offers the riders the opportunity to express their talent, and to communicate with the right people on the team what their needs are as riders.  It’s fundamental that this team work around the rider working well, and that we create the proper work environment which allows both parts to work together seamlessly.

In parallel with the rider and the team, we have developed the bike, giving the right information to the racing department, with a step-by-step targeted approach with short and long term goals which were clear and reachable.  I believe this is the secret to the results we are achieving. In summary, having clear goals, having two exceptional riders like marco and Leon who are strong, motivated, and able to give us indications as to what was effectively necessary to win.

Q: If you had to assign a value to your technical package, what would it be?

ANDREA DOSOLI: We are in continuous evolution, we are not at 100%, and we can see that right away on certain tracks were we lag behind a bit, but I would say that in this moment if we can resolve a few small problems especially on turn entry, I’d say we’re at 80%.

Sylvain Barrier’s 2012 BMW Motorrad Factory S1000RR World Superstock Bike – EASY

After our interviews were done, we finally reached the point where we got to ride the three racing motorcycles, and we started off with the BMW S1000RR Superstock bike belongingto Sylvain Barrier, who is at the moment leading the Championship. All it takes is one lap of Misano on this motorcycle for one to understand how Barrier is beating his competitors at the moment. If you remember my article from last year, you’ll know that I wrote openly about how much I didn’t like Barrier’s 2011 bike, as I had found it lacking in the suspension set-up department, and thus consequently difficult to ride to the limit.

However on the contrary, this year’s #20 BMW seems from the get-go a more forgiving bike to ride, as it is well-balanced and has smoother suspension settings. Even just sitting still on the bike it seems to ride slightly lower than last year, and the handling benefits from this in all aspects, especially while under braking.

The engine of the BMW S1000RR Superstock has also benefited from the improvements made this year on the production bikes. The power delivery at high-revs hasn’t changed much (the power at the top of the range has never been lacking on the German inline-four) but where there is a distinct difference is with the torque down low.  The bike no longer suffers from those serious lulls in power deliveries, which the 2011 bike exhibited when compared to the production bike. The result is that even for those who aren’t professional riders, it is easier to go fast with the Superstock bike.

After the ride is over, I can honestly say that Sylvain Barrier’s bike brings back memories from a handling perspective that are similar to the bike with that Ayrton Badovini used to clean house in the Superstock series of 2010. This is a strong point for the Italian rider, as he knows how to set-up his bike, and it shows.

Leon Haslam’s 2012 BMW Motorrad Factory S1000RR World Superbike – DIFFICULT

Last year I got off the Superstock bike to try my hand at the SBK ride of the Italian team, and only then was allowed to touch the Leon Haslam’s official bike.  This time, due to a technical problem with one of Badovini’s bikes, I was given Haslam’s bike right away.

Not bad I told myself, so now I can make a direct comparison with the motorcycle belonging to the rider which I tried in Monza in 2011.  This year however, my turn on Leon’s bike turned into a mano-a-mano combat of muscular strength with a beast that needed to be tamed… and now I understand why Haslam is so damn fit!

The riding position is dramatic: Leon uses very low clip-ons, which are tight and angle downward greatly, and the rearsets are high and to the back, so I’m forced to completely change my style of riding within just a few short kilometers. With the clip-ons so down low, I’m forced to throw myself off the bike in the slow turns to make the machine pivot, to which the S1000RR responds in a smooth and obedient manner… until I open the throttle. Lets just say that if last year’s factory team S1000RR had impressed me with the vigor of its power delivery at medium revs, then now the inline-four is downright pleasurable, as it enjoys exhibiting its power with interminable wheelies which cannot be placated even by kicking the bike into fourth gear.

The weight distribution is heavily positioned towards the front, just how Haslam likes it, but the effect is less so when compared to last year, and in the slow turns this offers an incredible sense of security and stability, combined with an ease in changing direction that is truly incredible. All this sense of security in the tight corners translates negatively to the fast curves. At Misano, in the “Curvone turn” one enters in fifth gear flat out, and in that instant Haslam’s bike vibrates and chatters noticeably at the front fork which is not exactly confidence inspiring. This is probably due to a stiff setup on the front Öhlins suspension, and one possible fix might be to enter the turn with less weight on the front of the bike (maybe this is how Leon rides it), but in all honesty, with a bike of such value, I didn’t  feel up to the task of entering the Curvone at full-tilt and leaving the front of the bike to its own devices to decide my destiny.

Michel Fabrizio’s 2012 BMW Motorrad Italia S1000RR World Superbike – JUST RIGHT

At Misano I would have liked to try the S1000RR of Ayrton Badovini, in order to compare it to last year’s bike. As luck would have it, the bike’s technical problem could not be immediately resolved, so I was offered Michel Fabrizio’s bike instead, which I quickly accepted. I start my last set of laps of this circuit, and it took only a few short revolutions of the wheels to feel immediately at ease.  Michel and I share a very similar physical build and so I found myself perfectly at ease with his riding “triangle” — the space between the seat, clip-ons, and rearsets.

At this point I’m warmed up and dialed in enough to hit the track hard right from the start, also thanks to the fact this this “Italian” motorcycle (speaking in terms of set-up) appears to immediately be sweeter to my Italian senses. In the pits they explain the difference between this and Haslam’s bike, and how the difference is not really mechanical, but more related to the fact that Leon prefers to guide the bike himself on the throttle, and consequently there are no Traction Control interventions at medium revs, whereas other riders prefer to trust in the ride-by-wire electronics to take care of a softer opening of the throttle.

Michel’s  suspension setting appears to me to be very well balanced and the motorcycle reminds me right of away of Ayrton Badovini’s bike which I tested in 2011. The suspension is set-up much softer when compared to Haslam’s bike, and this turns the Team BMW Motorrad Italia Goldbet motorcycle into a much easier bike to ride than the factory team bike. The downside of that equation is that in the slow turns the bike doesn’t offer the same confidence and feedback of the Haslam’s bike, especially when it comes to the front-end.

Luckily, I can attest to the fact that this situation flips completely in the fast turns, as Fabrizio’s bike allows me to enter the Curvone without trepidation or hesitation, as it stays glued to the trajectory I set for it through the turn. The softer power delivery on curve exit allows me to open the throttle a bit earlier, and to control the power wheelies more easily. At the end of the session, I cannot help but choose this Serafino Foti-prepared bike above all the others I had the fortune to test.

At day’s end, there are many thoughts rushing through my head, and among those the most insistent is the realization once again that in the world of motorcycling, there does not exist just one unequivocal reipe for success, and that it is sufficient to make small technical differences — suspension settings or riding positions — to create very distinct motorcycles which originally left the factory identical to one another. A sincere thanks goes once again to BMW Motorrad for allowing us to participate in an event of this magnitude.

Action Photos from onn the Track at Misano:

Marco Melandri’s 2012 BMW Motorrad Factory S1000RR WSBK:

Ayrton Badovini’s 2012 BMW Motorrad Italia S1000RR WSBK:

Sylvain Barrier’s 2012 BMW Motorrad Italia S1000RR WSTK1000:

Thanks again to our friends at OmniMoto for sharing this article with us, and also thank you to A&R reader Alessandro Borroni for his translation of the original article into English.