BMW Motorrad Motorsport factory rider Marco Melandri produced a stunning performance on the S 1000 RR in both races at the Moscow Raceway, which catapulted him into the lead in the 2012 Superbike World Championship for the first time this season. His victory and second place in the two, 25-lap races gave him 45 points out of a maximum 50, which means he is now leading the rider standings by 18.5 points over former championship leader Max Biaggi.
It was an awe-inspiring and thrilling debut for the WSBK series in Moscow, which is sure to have captured the imagination of millions of Superbike fans who saw the races on TV and also those who came to the brand new circuit to see the action unfold live on track.
Race one promised lots of drama due to the damp but drying track that greeted the riders, making tyre choice and tyre conservation critical as the sun appeared from behind the clouds. It was Leon Haslam who made a great start from the front row and was up into second place before coming under increasing pressure from a group of riders. Pushing hard, he ran off the track on lap 5, but was able to rejoin in the top six.
Having started more conservatively and sussed out the conditions, Melandri began to increase his pace, closing down a five-way battle for second place in front of him.
Setting the fastest laps on laps 7 and 9, Marco had joined the back of this group by half race distance. With his team-mate setting a new lap record in front of him, the two BMW riders took their chances in this heated battle, with Leon moving up into third when Eugene Laverty was pushed wide by Chaz Davies. Melandri followed his team-mate and went up to fourth, with the promise of a BMW double podium looking possible.
However, on lap 18, Leon crashed out of contention when Chaz Davies ran wide and clipped him. Melandri took advantage of this and moved up into second, while Leon bravely remounted and rejoined the race in sixth place behind Max Biaggi. In the final stages, fellow RR rider Michel Fabrizio was able to squeeze past Leon and rob him of a possible fifth place, as Davies had crashed out of a podium spot on the penultimate lap. Out in front though, and despite getting stung by a wasp that had found its way into Melandri's race leathers, he bravely held second place behind race winner Tom Sykes and closed the championship gap over Biaggi by another four points, as the 'Roman Emperor' managed to sneak third place behind him.
With everything to play for, race two promised to be even more exciting than race one - and it didn't disappoint. In dry conditions, Leon made another great start, as did Marco and the two factory RR riders were in third and fourth place respectively in the early stages. Melandri posted a new fastest lap on lap three and then went even faster the following lap on his way to close down the leaders. He passed Eugene Laverty on lap 5 but then a desperate lunge by the Irishman forced Melandri to take evasive action, which allowed Leon to squeeze past.
This left Melandri and Biaggi - the two championship contenders - to do battle with each other. It was Melandri who took the initiative on his RR though, slipping past team-mate Leon on the brakes on lap 7 and then doing the same to Laverty the following lap. At the same time, Biaggi had made a mistake and dropped to seventh, which meant that at this point, Melandri took a lead in the 'provisional' championship standings for the first time...
Setting another fastest lap on lap 10, Melandri was clearly showing that he meant business and undoubtedly piling the pressure on Biaggi. However, it was the luckless Leon who was to suffer, as he was taken off the track when a desperate move by Biaggi went wrong and he crashed into Haslam on a fast part of the track - taking them both off the circuit and out of contention for the race - and in doing so, turning the championship on its head.
Meanwhile out in front, Marco was closing down leader Tom Sykes by around half a second a lap. Even though he knew that 20 points for finishing second would be a safe bet, the true racer had the victory within his grasp, so he went for it, taking the lead on lap 15 after getting a fantastic drive out of the final corner. From this point on, Melandri called on all his focus, commitment and talent to stay out in front, ride an error-free, smart race, while conserving his tyres for any last lap challenges.
In the end, the chasing pack weren't able to match his pace, and as Melandri crossed the finishing line to claim his sixth victory of the year on the RR and another winner's trophy for his efforts, the most significant part of this historic first journey to Russia is the fact that he is leading the 2012 Superbike World Championship for the first time - by a healthy 18.5 points. Today's excellent results also see BMW increase its lead in the Manufacturer Standings over its rivals.
Marco Melandri: "It is an unbelievable day. To win here at the first ever round of the Championship in this country is something special and I am just very, very happy. This morning it was cloudy and raining a little bit, so it was not easy. Race one was very tough in the beginning with the slick tyre in the wet. And the fact that a wasp stung my leg made it even more difficult. It was a very tough race and to finish second was like a win for me. For race two the team made a small modification to the bike and I felt very good from the first lap. Once I saw Biaggi was out I understood I had the chance to try to get a win and I did. I was worried a little bit about my rear tyre, but it worked perfectly with my BMW. The team once more did a great job, thanks to everyone."
Leon Haslam: "In race one I felt pretty comfortable. I had the start that we wanted; conditions were quite tricky so I did not want to push too much. Early on in the race I made a mistake that made me run off the track and I dropped back a few places. I regrouped and managed to work my way back up into the top three. I got stuck behind Chaz who was quite a bit quicker in the straight so I had to make the move in the twisty section. He kept running quite wide in one of the turns and I made my move, but he closed the door, we collided and down I went. It was frustrating because I felt pretty comfortable and quite easy in that position and I even thought that we might have to chance of pulling Tom back at one point. But again it was not meant to be. Still I managed to get sixth place, even with the crash.
Bernhard Gobmeier (BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director): "It has been a weekend of mixed feelings from day one. We had good lap times in practice, but then some difficulties in qualifying. However, it was important to start from row one and two on the grid. Due to the rain, the track conditions were difficult in race one. Marco drove a very intelligent race: He waited and attacked at the end. Position two was the maximum that was possible today. Race two was fantastic as well. Marco first saved his tyres and then gave everything in the end. Unfortunately, Leon had bad luck in both races. In race one, he collided with Chaz Davies, and race two, he was hit by Max Biaggi. That was unnecessary; otherwise Leon would have been on the podium as well. We are now leading both championships. Now we have to continue to work steadily, hard, and concentrated. The season is not over yet and our lead is minimal, and a lot can happen in the remaining six races."