1st round - Donington Park - April 28th
Markus Barth wins best-ever BoxerCup race.
1999 German Supersport champion Markus Barth defeated Belgians Stéphane Mertens and Sébastien Legrelle for the opening round of the eight leg BMW Motorrad BoxerCup 2002. Held on the short 3.15 km Donington Park circuit in cold and windy but unexpected dry conditions, the 22 lap race saw the leading trio swap positions more often than enough, with Barth overtaking the BMW Belgium entered team-mates at the final chicane after they both touched cylinders approaching the last corner.
"That's the best race I've seen in ages", admitted BBC TV commentator and ex-motorcycle racer Steve Parrish as the winning trio returned from their honour's lap, driven around the circuit by BoxerCup ambassador Randy Mamola in a gold M3 convertible car.
"Obviously I feel on top of the world," said an overjoyed Barth. "That race was extremely tough, and in the last two laps I was wondering what strategy to adopt to secure my first win. I knew that if I stayed up front Mertens and Legrelle would most probably slipstream past me, as they did earlier in the race."
Starting from pole position and after having set fastest time on lap 10, Barth decided to move back down into third with only four laps to go, only to benefit from Mertens and Legrelle banging each other's cylinders on the brakes for the final chicane. The BMW Belgium riders were only separated by 4 thousandths of a second past the chequered flag !
Barth thus heads for the second round in Mugello on full points, while some of last year's protagonists weren't quite as fortunate : Andy Hofmann failed to complete the first lap owing to engine problems ("a consequence of my practice crash yesterday, " he admitted), while early race leader Fernando Cristobal was forced to retire with clutch problems.
After a cautious start, ex-500 cc GP star and guest rider Johan Stigefelt charged up the field from tenth to fourth position, later dropping down to sixth after having passed Endurance ace Brian Morrison, 19 year-old British hope Richard Cooper, Italian Motociclismo test rider
Antonio Calasso as well as ex-Supersport and World Superbike rider Roberto Panichi. Austria's Thomas Hinterreiter moved up the field from even further back. Way down in 17th position on lap one, the solid Endurance rider recovered from a qualifying practice spill to claim a much deserved fifth.
The qualifying sessions were held in uneven weather conditions, which gave the 32 BoxerCup riders an opportunity to choose from the broad Metzeler range of tyres. The 1st qualifying practice was held on a damp track, with Mertens leading Legrelle, "Cooper S", last year's Belgian BoxerCup winner Buylinck and Morrison. In the second qualifying, Markus Barth topped the leader board on a dry track with a lap time of 1'16''839. "This is only 15% slower than the fastest qualifying lap in the British Superbike championship, which says a lot for the level of the field in the BoxerCup, and for the competitive quality of our R 1100 S model," said Berthold Hauser, in charge of BMW Motorrad's racing activities.