Stéphane Mertens took his fourth win of the season this weekend in Oschersleben for the penultimate round of the International BMW BoxerCup 2001. In front of 50, 000 sun-struck spectators, the Belgian rider recovered from a practice crash to defeat Andreas Hofmann, Fernando Cristobal and guest rider Sébastien Legrelle past the chequered flag after a race-long fight. Only hours before taking part in the Oschersleben 24 Hours World championship race alongside his "enemy" Cristobal, the ex-250cc Grand Prix rider thus extended his points lead from nine to seventeen points prior to the last round of the International BMW BoxerCup 2001, on September 15 th at the Bol d'Or in Magny-Cours.
"The BMW BoxerCup races are always hard work, but this one was more nerve-wracking than anything else," admitted Mertens as he walked down from the podium. "After I crashed on Friday in the second qualifying I had to start in the race with my spare machine, and I was worried that my feeling on the bike would not be perfect. But everything worked fin and I guess Fernando made things easier for me in the closing laps."
Although Mertens led the race on lap one on his way to set the fastest lap on lap thirteen (1.39'023), it looked as if Fernando Cristobal would indeed be the hard man to beat. Despite a crash in the closing stages of the first qualifying session, the Spaniard was able to hang on to pole position as he fine-tuned his spare machine in the second qualifying session.
From lap two Cristobal led the pack, setting fastest lap on almost every lap in attempt to open his lead over Mertens, Hofmann and ex-500 cc rider Sébastien Legrelle. "Things looked good for me early in the race. I was getting a good drive out of the Spielemacher, the last right hand corner leading on to the straight line." But after nine of the 14-lap race, Legrelle and Mertens managed to get past using their combined slipstream. "Two laps later I was back in the lead and then dropped back to third spot when I had a big slide coming out of turn one. I'm really disappointed because my chances to win the series are now really slim. But still, that's racing..."
Second man home Andy Hofmann was also fatalist, although with second position in this weekend's race he is now also second in the provisional standings, seventeen points behind Mertens. "I took the option of using a softer compound Michelin Pilot Race at the rear," said the tall Swiss. "The track was fairly cold and I thought this choice would give me a slight advantage. But in the end I could not get a good drive out of the corners. I think I should have stuck with the regular compound."
After finishing a fine fifth behind guest rider Sébastien Legrelle, BMW engineer Norbert Rebholz moves up to 5th overall in the provisional standings, behind the extremely consistent Eric Lejeune, while the no less consistent French police instructor François Ciciliani unfortunately crashed out of the race on lap six. "Now I'm even more determined to do well in Magny-Cours for the last BMW BoxerCup race. Watch out for me on September 15 th !"