In the world of motorcycling, no manufacturer is as enigmatic as BMW. Since its inception in 1923, the brand has enjoyed a strangely autonomous existence, building unique two-wheeled machines that tended to attract a different, older type of enthusiast. BMW Motorrad enjoys an unequalled dependability record, boasting that a significant number of the bikes they’ve built are still on the road today. However, the brand (despite Reg Pridmore winning the inaugural 1976 AMA Superbike Championship aboard an R90S) has suffered under the pens of performance-oriented journalists who laughed off Bavarian loyalists with literary defamations in the vein of the“pipe and slippers brigade.” Well, no one’s laughing anymore.
In the early part of this century, in-house research revealed that BMW’s established customer base was aging itself out of the marketplace. If it wanted to survive as a motorcycle company, BMW needed to attract a younger buyer. Thus, the company decided to transform itself into a performance brand, boldly taking on the established manufacturers head-to-head with a production superbike, which they would campaign in the World Superbike Championship.
It was a sizable corporate gamble. Reflecting on the weight of the decision, former BMW Motorrad USA Vice President, Pieter de Waal, stated, “This is a very important motorcycle for BMW. If it fails to have performance that is at least directly comparable to the Japanese, BMW’s reputation as a motorcycle manufacturer will be tarnished.”
After a lot of speculation and rumor BMW unveiled its S 1000 RR in 2009. The bike showed promise in its first season in WSBK, earning several top-ten finishes. However, it was obvious a lot of work still needed to be done; BMW had its future riding on the success of its new superbike, and although the race results weren’t critical in its first year, the company knew they couldn’t afford to allow the bike to circulate on track as a midpack WSBK racer for long without it impacting sales — and, perhaps more importantly, brand reputation.
Granted, the production S 1000 RR’s performance helped the public overlook the racing effort’s struggles. Its performance astounded the motorcycle press and public, with serious power, good handling, and introducing a whole new world of electronic rider aids. BMW’s new sportbike collectively set the motorcycling world on its ear.
With the fanfare of the S 1000 RR’s release fading, BMW settled into the business at hand: racing. The 2010 season started with gusto, the team announcing Davide Tardozzi — the man largely responsible for Ducati’s dominance in WSBK — had been retained as team manager. Things looked promising when Troy Corser scored the 1000 RR’s first podium (a third) in race 2 at Monza. He followed that up with the coveted first pole at Misano, going on to score the company’s second podium with a third in race 1.
After a hot start to the season though, the results soured. Rumors were stirring about conflicts of management style within the team. Then Tardozzi was unexpectedly fired one race before the end of the season. Shortly thereafter it was announced that Bertie Hauser, who had been instrumental in launching the racing effort, was also going to be replaced. It was apparent BMW, most likely due the company’s desire — and perhaps need — to win was experiencing some severe teething pains. Meanwhile, as speculation flew in the media over the factory effort, Ayrton Badovini, racing an S 1000 RR in the FIM Superstock 1000 series, kept corporate spirits up by handily taking the title after winning all but one race.
For 2011 Ruben Xaus was replaced by British rider Leon Haslam, while Rainer Baumel was brought in to replace Tardozzi as Head of Race Operations. The slot vacated by Hauser was filled by Bernard Gobmeier, who would operate under the title BMW Motorsport Director. The season started well with Haslam scoring several podiums. Unfortunately this wasn’t a precursor of things to come. Despite all the team restructuring, results weren’t forthcoming, and in fact, got worse. There was one glimmer of light at the penultimate round however, where Haslam put the BMW on the box in third.
BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director...
BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Bernhard Gobmeier (left) and BMW Motorrad team manager Andrea Dosoli (right) have helped make the factory BMW squad a cohesive unit that has finally become a solid contender for wins and the championship.
By now, BMW had been in the WSBK paddock for three full seasons, and wanted to win. With Corser deciding to retire, former MotoGP star Marco Melandri was hired for 2012 from the now-defunct Yamaha WSBK squad. Andrea Dosoli (also from the Yamaha team) was brought in to replace Baumel as team manager. The decision to bring in Dosoli was strictly Gobmeier’s; the move quashed any notions people had about the company trying to keep the BMW garage German-blooded. With regard to all race decisions, Gobmeier is unflinching; “Dosoli is the boss here on the track, solely. He makes the shots, he makes the decisions here totally.”
Dosoli already had a relationship with Melandri on the Yamaha team, which made the transition to BMW much smoother for both of them. “Marco came with his crew,” Dosoli says, “and so Leon got his old crew chief, data guy, application guy. In the racing what is important is create the right environment around the rider. We gave to the rider the right environment, and then the people around the rider could understand properly what the rider needs, and only in this way we can design properly the bike.”
At this stage it was apparent the 1000 RR was a highly capable platform. The riders went as far as saying they weren’t looking for more performance, but rather how to manage it. Taming the irascible temperament of modern superbikes has ushered in an era of increasing dependency on the tricky art of electronics. This seemed to be the arena where BMW was suffering the most. Melandri points out, “The power delivery was like very aggressive, the torque was like very, how do you say, was working a lot on the revs but not as much on the throttle opening. So we try to relate it better, the throttle to the engine and the revs, so you have little bit more torque and the power in your hand.”
A lot of outsiders wondered why BMW was intent on continuing to develop its own electronic system as opposed to simply implementing the gold standard Magneti Marelli. After all, Marelli has countless laps of data already on tap. The decision reflects BMW’s mindset with regard to proprietary design, preferring to find its own way and remain wholly autonomous. This is the way the company has always operated.