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A 48 500 strong crowd was treated to some thrilling racing in the fifth round of the World Superbike series at Donington Park in England, capped by a moment of history for one of the world's most important motorcycle manufacturers.
Marco Melandri won the first race, adding BMW to the list of race-winning makes for the first time. In race two a classic multi-rider battle ended up in joy and heartbreak for some top riders, as Jonathan Rea (Honda) came out on top after a final-corner melee.
The end result of one of the best days of racing imaginable was that Max Biaggi (Aprilia) led the championship with 128.5 points, from double podium man Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) on 123, and Rea on 108. Carlos Checa (Ducati) was fourth on 105.5.
The top four championship places are now covered by only 23 points, after five rounds and nine races.
An historic 1-2 for BMW saw Melandri win the opening race with his team-mate Leon Haslam only 0.728 seconds behind. A five-rider fight for the podium places provided overtaking and personal duels aplenty as the race order changed a number times.
Superpole winner Sykes won a tense battle to finish third, with Rea making up places in the final laps to overhaul Biaggi and take fourth. The leading five were covered by only 2.102 seconds.
Checa was sixth, four seconds from the win, making it five different manufacturers in the top six at the flag.
Melandri's win also means that six different riders have now won races this year, representing five different manufacturers - and all with nine rounds and 18 races left to go.
Marco Melandri: “It means a lot to me to win this for BMW, it's history. “We have been working so hard and we never give up even when we found some difficulties. We are working still right now to stay at the top and I am so happy to be here.
“I had good race pace yesterday and today the tyres have been working very good until the end. We managed the situation well but at the beginning I was not so fast, but fortunately Tom and Leon were fighting a lot so they lost a bit of time and we could catch them again.”
Leon Haslam: “I found myself on the wrong side of Marco going into the Esses and I nearly went into the back off him so I had to let off the brakes and I am disappointed because I did feel quite good up to that point.
“Fair play to Marco and we got a BMW 1-2 which is fantastic.”
Tom Sykes: “A fantastic race, I really enjoyed it and it certainly felt long, seemed to go on for many laps.
“We had a very good show, lots of passing, and a little bit too much at some corners, especially at the Foggy Esses, which seemed to claim a few victims.
“Unfortunately we seemed to struggle at one particular part of the track and that definitely affected our race performance, but hopefully we can improve on that very small sector and go better in Race 2. As for now a podium is good enough.”
Rea took his second win of the season after an incident-strewn race. In the first corner Checa and Eugene Laverty (Aprilia) touched and Checa went down, taking out Jakub Smrz (Ducati) and Checa's team ate Davide Giugliano.
Then Laverty crashed heading down Craner Curves as eventual third-place man Sykes led for most of race distance. He was finally overhauled by a warring faction which included eventual second-place finisher Biaggi plus Haslam and Melandri.
After a multitude of overtakes and riders running off track on occasion, Haslam looked to have it won until both he and Melandri ran wide as the Italian attempted a pass into the very last corner and Rea pushed inside as a gap opened up.
He and Haslam collided and Haslam fell, knocking off Melandri with his stricken bike as he slid across the track. Rea held on to win by just over half a second from Biaggi, with Sykes two second back in third place. Leon Camier (Suzuki) was an impressive fourth.
Jonathan Rea: “In the last corner there were five guys out there wanting to win a race, most of all Melandri came from a long way back on Leon to create a gap that I went for, me and Leon touched and I'm really sorry that he crashed.”
Max Biaggi: “In race 2 the bike was a little better, I could keep up and race with the guys more than before. When the tyre went off I was struggling and then the last lap was simple, everyone tried to go inside and take my position: Melandri, Jonathan, everybody!
“I didn't give up, stayed cool and second place came automatically. I cannot say I'm very happy but the result is OK.”
Tom Sykes: “Yet again we got the holeshot and led for a number of laps, but I was missing a bit of feeling with the wind, which was unfortunate.
“I managed to stay out front but made one mistake and all the other guys came past at a rate of knots. We didn't quite have the best setting this weekend but a pole position and two podiums is a great result.
“I had the best seat in the house for the last couple of laps, but for me five minus two equals a podium so I'm very happy!”
RESULTS - RACE 1
1 Marco Melandri (Italy) BMW S1000 RR - 34min26.736
2 Leon Haslam (Britain) BMW S1000 RR +0.728sec
3 Tom Sykes (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-10R +1.609
4 Jonathan Rea (Britain) Honda CBR1000RR +1.819
5 Max Biaggi (Italy) Aprilia RSV4 Factory + 2.102
6 Carlos Checa (Spain) Ducati 1098R +4.820
7 Davide Giugliano (Italy) Ducati 1098R +7.520
8 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Ducati 1098R +7.927
9 Leon Camier (Britain) Suzuki GSX-R1000 +15.144
10 Michel Fabrizio (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +16.065
11 Ayrton Badovini (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +19.805
12 Chaz Davies (Britain) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +20.170
13 Maxime Berger (France) Ducati 1098R +21.274
14 Jakub Smrz (Czech Republic) Ducati 1098R +21.517
15 Eugene Laverty (Ireland) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +26.920
16 Loris Baz (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R +35.025
17 Horoshi Aoyama (Japan) Honda CBR1000RR +39.193
18 Lorenzo Zanetti (Italy) Ducati 1098R +42.334
19 Nicolo Canepa (Italy) Ducati 1098R +43.554
RESULTS - RACE 2
1 Jonathan Rea (Britain) Honda CBR1000RR - 34min31.847
2 Max Biaggi (Italy) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +0.508sec
3 Tom Sykes (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-10R +2.029
4 Leon Camier (Britain) Suzuki GSX-R1000 +4.245
5 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Ducati 1098R +6.595
6 Ayrton Badovini (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +17.469
7 Chaz Davies (Britain) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +17.788
8 Loris Baz (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R +21.093
9 Peter Hickman (Britain) Suzuki GSX-R1000 +21.866
10 Horoshi Aoyama (Japan) Honda CBR1000RR +22.620
11 Nicolo Canepa (Italy) Ducati 1098R +26.764
12 Lorenzo Zanetti (Italy) Ducati 1098R +27.043
13 Michel Fabrizio (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +28.390
14 Mark Aitchison (Australia) BMW S1000 RR +56.618
15 Leon Haslam (Britain) BMW S1000 RR +1min20.196
POINTS (after five of 14 rounds)
1 Max Biaggi (Italy) Aprilia RSV4 Factory - 128.5
2 Tom Sykes (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-10R - 123.5
3 Jonathan Rea (Britain) Honda CBR1000RR - 108
4 Carlos Checa (Spain) Ducati 1098R - 105.5
5 Marco Melandri (Italy) BMW S1000 RR - 97.5
6 Leon Haslam (Britain) BMW S1000 RR - 89
7 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Ducati 1098R - 85
8 Eugene Laverty (Ireland) Aprilia RSV4 Factory - 65
9 Davide Giugliano (Italy) Ducati 1098R - 50
10 Jakub Smrz (Czech Republic) Ducati 1098R - 44.5
British rider Sam Lowes (Honda) became the fifth different winner in five races this season and the third in a row on For Honda machine. Having struggled on with a stomach bug of some kind since Friday, and suffering a serious finger injury in a fall on Saturday, Lowes had to work hard to resist a late push from eventual second-place finisher, Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki.
Lowes came within 0.003 seconds of setting a new lap record in his efforts to keep the Turkish rider behind him on the penultimate lap, and is now only six points from Sofuoglu in the championship. Third place was taken by third-ranked rider overall, Jules Cluzel (Honda).
Broc Parkes (Honda) was in the early fight for the podium but dropped back to fourth, while Glen Richards (Triumph) finished fifth, ahead of South Africans Sheridan Morais (Kawasaki) and Ronan Quarmby (Honda).
The third South African entry, Honda rider Mathew Scholtz, crashed out of 11th place at Turn 12 on lap eight; he was up in seconds and rejoined in 26th place but the bike was too badly damaged to continue and two laps later he retired.
1 Sam Lowes (Britain) Honda CBR600RR - 33min43.603
2 Kenan Sofouglu (Turkey) Kawasaki ZX-6R +0.678sec
3 Jules Cluzel (France) Honda CBR600RR +3.987
4 Broc Parkes (Australia) Honda CBR600RR +8.088
5 Glen Richards (Australia) Triumph Daytona 675 +11.786
6 Sheridan Morais (South Africa) Kawasaki ZX-6R +20.849
7 Ronan Quarmby (South Africa) Honda CBR600RR +23795
8 Valentin Debis (France) Honda CBR600RR +24.094
9 Billy McConnell (Australia) Triumph Daytona 675 +26.663
10 Fabien Foret (France) Kawasaki ZX-6R +26.806
POINTS (after 4 of 13 rounds)
1 Kenan Sofouglu (Turkey) Kawasaki ZX-6R - 81
2 Sam Lowes (Britain) Honda CBR600RR - 76
3 Jules Cluzel (France) Honda CBR600RR - 64
4 Fabien Foret (France) Kawasaki ZX-6R - 55
5 Broc Parkes (Australia) Honda CBR600RR - 42
6 Alex Baldolini (Italian) Triumph Daytona 675 - 38
7 Ronan Quarmby (South Africa) Honda CBR600RR - 34
8 Sheridan Morais (South Africa) Kawasaki ZX-6R - 27