OPINION: Steve English on BMW’s success and how it impacts silly season… already

Two rounds into the 2024 WorldSBK season and Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) has stolen all the headlines. Never mind that we have a rookie leading the Championship, Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) back on podium pace after four years on the side-lines or a six-time World Champion struggling to find his feet with a new bike. Toprak is the headline maker and the attention grabber. It was expected that we’d see Razgatlioglu winning races aboard the BMW M 1000 RR. It was a surprise to see him win in Catalunya in just his fourth race for his new team. The resources being ploughed into the BMW project from Munich meant that the tide would turn in their favour but doing in Montmelo was a surprise even to the team. 

BMW BRILLIANCE: Toprak’s ability and van der Mark’s return to the fore

It was a pleasant surprise for Marc Bongers, BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director, who was caught in Parc Ferme saying “I’ve never been so happy to spend money!” when it was mentioned that there was a lot of bonus money to be paid out in Barcelona! It won’t be the only bonuses that Toprak receives this year. The form of Razgatlioglu has impressed everyone but surprised nobody. He’s the best pound-for-pound rider in WorldSBK at the moment and his racing instinct came to the fore for both wins. Managing the tyres in Race 1 to take the lead with half a lap to go or pouncing on Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) at the last corner to win the Tissot Superpole Race showed his razor-sharp mind. To see teammate Michael van der Mark so competitive too will give a lot of reason for hope at BMW.

It’s one thing for your lead rider to perform like Razgatlioglu but it’s quite another to see van der Mark back on the pace. Qualifying on the second row and being in the lead group throughout Sunday’s races was impressive. Finishing fourth in Race 2 has given the Dutchman a big lift ahead of his home round. Assen is always special and he can sprinkle something into the air this weekend too. He’s had a torrid two years with three serious injuries but when he was fully fit last year, he was the BMW rider to beat. He knows that to keep his seat alongside Razgatlioglu, he has to make sure that his Catalan performances are the norm rather than the exception. This is a rider that has finished third in the World Championship in the past and won races on Yamaha and BMW machinery along with a pole position and podiums on the Honda. The 2014 WorldSSP Champion is still competitive and wants to ensure he stays within BMW.

SILLY SEASON STARTS SOON: round four in 2023, perhaps earlier in 2024?

Last year, there were rumours about which rider BMW would keep. Would it be van der Mark or Scott Redding. Through two rounds, there’s little doubt within the paddock that the right decision was made. To see Razgatlioglu and van der Mark working together during the Superpole session proved the right decision had been made. Team harmony is critical to success in racing and it’s hard to see how a Redding and Razgatlioglu pairing would have been anything beyond civil. 

At his best Redding is one of the most talented riders in the world and a race winner on any given day but if he is to stay in the World Championship he needs to outperform van der Mark and Garrett Gerloff. Consistency will be key for that but if he struggles to match their speed it’s difficult to see where Redding lands on the WorldSBK grid. 

LOOKING TO 2025: “BMW is now an attractive prospect for a host of riders on the grid”

Adding to the challenge is that BMW is now an attractive prospect for a host of riders on the grid. Toprak showed you can win on the bike and he’s sure to challenge for wins this weekend. There are plenty of Independent riders waiting for factory contracts. Suddenly, the BMW one is as attractive as any. The rider market spins slower in WorldSBK than MotoGP™ but with GP seats starting to fill the momentum will shift to the WorldSBK paddock. Who will be available from MotoGP™? What seats could they fill? The next two rounds could be critical for van der Mark and Redding. Assen is the self-proclaimed ‘Cathedral of Speed’ so don’t be surprised to see some riders praying for good results.

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Source: WorldSBK.com

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