BMW Motorrad Motorsport
Phillip Island, Australia, 02/03/2016, FIM Superbike World Championship
Racing fans all over the world have been looking forward to this moment, and BMW Motorrad Motorsport was also excited about the first genuine opportunity of the year to gauge where it stands compared to the opposition: the FIM Superbike World Championship (WSBK) kicked off the 2016 season with races one and two on Phillip Island at the weekend.
The cards are on the table, and the opening round in Australia showed that this year’s field is even more evenly matched and lap times even closer than before. And one other thing was apparent: the privateer BMW teams can mix it with the established works teams. This season, six works teams line up with a total of 11 riders. However, the BMW Motorrad Motorsport customer teams were not to be outdone by their more illustrious rivals on Phillip Island. They were supported in their quest by the experts from HP Race Support, under the watchful eye of the Technical Director of BMW Motorrad Motorsport, Berthold Hauser.
The Althea BMW Racing Team was by far the best privateer team in the field at the opening round. Riders Jordi Torres and Markus Reiterberger consistently battled it out in the top ten on their BMW S 1000 RRs, leaving a number of works riders in their wake. When it came to top speed, the BMW S 1000 RR was right up there with the best in Australia.
Althea Racing has been successfully involved in the Superbike World Championship since many years and won the riders’ title back in 2011 with Carlos Checa. For the 2016 season, the squad around General Manager Genesio Bevilacqua opted to compete with BMW. With the potential of the BMW S 1000 RR and the HP Race Support, the experienced team is able to put together an overall package that is competitive from the word go.
They may have been a little battered and bruised after their crashes during testing at the start of the week, but the two Althea BMW riders gritted their teeth and really opened the throttle on day one of the race weekend.
Two-time IDM champion Reiterberger, who is contesting his first full WSBK season in 2016, caught the eye in the first free practice session on Friday, when he went seventh fastest – just 0.2 seconds off the leading time. “Reiti”, at 21 the youngest rider in the field, was tenth when the times from both of Friday’s practice sessions were combined. This saw him qualify directly for Superpole 2, in which the positions at the front of the grid are determined.
Team-mate Torres was a little slower getting going. He had visited hospital on Wednesday to have the deep wounds on his shoulder cleaned up. After just a few laps in the morning, he really got involved in the action in the afternoon. The Spaniard qualified 14th for Saturday’s Superpole 1.
Torres was second fastest in Superpole 1, earning him a place alongside team-mate Reiterberger in the coveted Superpole 2. Reiterberger and Torres qualified 11th and 12th in this all-important session.
Race one on Saturday was Torres’ first race on the BMW S 1000 RR. This represented the Spaniard’s first real opportunity to get a decent long run under his belt, and he used it to continue to adapt his riding style to the RR. After a somewhat cautious start, he gradually found his rhythm and worked his way up through the field. He ultimately came home eighth to earn his first eight points in this year’s world championship.
For team-mate Reiterberger, simply taking to the grid on his RR on Saturday was a childhood dream come true. To ride in the WSBK on Phillip Island was something he had always dreamed of. “Just before the lights went out, I was really happy and proud,” he said. However, once the 23 1000cc bikes roared into life, there was no time for sentimentality.
All race Reiterberger was embroiled in a battle for a place in the top ten. On the final lap he overtook former MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden to move into ninth place, right behind Torres. However, a shock was in store on the final corner of the race: he crashed at 180 km/h due to damage to the rear tyre. The 21-year-old was taken to the Medical Centre, but was fortunate to have sustained nothing more than a few bruises. The cause of the damage to the tyre is still being investigated.
Come Sunday, Reiterberger was still feeling the effects of his big crash: his left foot and right hand were painful, but five injections from the doctors at Clinica Mobile proved sufficient to make the pain bearable. That paved the way for an impressive performance from both Althea BMW riders. The team, together with the experts from HP Race Support, spent the morning warm-up fine-tuning the set-up of the bike, and the times looked promising.
Torres and Reiterberger wasted little time in storming into the top ten, and then spent almost the entire race in a lively three-way battle with fellow RR rider Josh Brookes (Milwaukee BMW). In the end, the Althea BMW duo came out on top: Torres finished seventh, ahead of Reiterberger in eighth.
An excellent top-ten finish in race one, followed by both riders in the top eight in race two: the Althea BMW Racing Team can be more than satisfied with the opening round on Phillip Island. The results are all the more remarkable, given the fact that neither rider was 100 per cent fit following their crashes earlier in the week.
“I got off to a poor start in the first race, but it went very well after that,” said Torres. “I then had a good race pace again in race two. As soon as I found my way out of the traffic after the start, I was able to ride the bike as I liked. I felt comfortable on the RR, grew in confidence and tried to fight my way further up the field. Although I didn’t quite manage that, I am still happy. We gathered a lot of data and learned how we need to prepare for a race.”
For Reiterberger, everything was good with the world again on Sunday, even though he had secretly hoped for even more than eighth place. “Unfortunately I started the world championship without picking up any points on Saturday, although it could easily have been ninth place,” he said, looking back at the weekend. “The second race was fun. I had a great fight with Brookes, who was always right on my heels. He overtook me when I made a mistake. That made me cross, but I was able to retake the place on the final lap. I am not entirely satisfied with eighth place, but am happy to have made it through the race without crashing, and that we were able to solve the minor issues we had.”
General Manager Genesio Bevilacqua was in a positive mood after the opening round: “All in all I am very happy with the first race weekend with our new BMW S 1000 RRs. We now know where we stand after the test work. We will obviously now work hard to ensure we improve on this start. I have great faith in the team and the experts from Germany. They gathered more data here, which will help us to prepare for the next round in Thailand.”
The second WSBK race weekend, with races three and four, will take place at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, from 11th to 13th March.