BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team racer Michael van der Mark is looking to this weekend’s eighth round of the year’s FIM Superbike World Championship in Barcelona as another step on a long road, having suffered a serious injury back in May that led to a long layoff.
“I am obviously really happy to be back racing again this weekend,” says the 29-year-old Dutchman, who fractured his right femoral neck at the Estoril circuit back in in May. “I feel a lot better physically again. I hope we can fight for the top 10 this weekend. We need to remember that we have lost half of the season, so we cannot expect everything from it, but of course I will try everything to be as fast as possible and my goal is to be in the top 10 again.”
Beginning his comeback last weekend at Magny-Cours on the BMW M 1000 RR, van der Mark motored to a 12th-place finish in Saturday’s opening race, followed by a 13th in the Superpole race. Sunday’s race brought another DNF, but he left France feeling encouraged.
“Yeah, I was all right with everything there,” he relates. “I’m feeling better day by day. I’d say I’m about 95-percent and I’m really happy with it. It has been a tough year so far, but I’m feeling better again.”
Part of that feeling stems from the recent announcement by BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Marc Bongers that van der Mark has signed a contract extension with the German brand for the 2023 WSBK season.
“Yes, exactly, we just signed for another year,” van der Mark explains. “The original plan was to sign just before the season started, but obviously I missed the preseason testing and I missed the first race. I did Assen and then I got injured again, so the original plan to sign didn’t really work out. Obviously, when you get injured you get worried about a contract for the coming year and luckily BMW was really committed to signing me again, so yeah, I’m really happy with them and they gave me a lot less stress with the new contract.
“We started with a project three years ago now and of course it is never easy to get a winning bike, and it still isn’t, but we are making progress,” says van der Mark, who signed on having been intrigued by the BMW M 1000 RR research and development process. “I joined this project and I don’t want to quit, you know? I want to be successful with it and I believe they can do it. It’s just taking longer than everyone was hoping for.”
Along with his own setbacks, van der Mark reckons that the nature of World Superbikes limits the prospects for quick leaps in competitive form.
“Most of the time the differences between the top motorcycles aren’t that big in World Superbike — everything is really close, so it is always difficult to find those last couple of tenths” he says. “Even if you do find two or three tenths, the others do, as well. It will never be easy, but at least we are getting there and it’s all consistent. Even if you have got ideas, you can’t just make parts and throw them on. You have to make the right decisions and sometimes it takes a bit lot longer and we have to accept that. The bike is a lot better now and the base is a lot better. When there is something better, we will use it, but we’re not just going to throw stuff on the bike and see if it works.
“I’m just doing my best with all of the R&D stuff, I’ve got two years if experience with the bike and that helps a lot. If you look at the bike and what we started with last year, it has changed a lot and luckily in a positive way. To be honest, this year the only race I did was Assen before Magny-Cours and before that the last time I rode was in December, so for nearly three-quarter of a year I did not even race a bike. Even if I’m feeling fine, you miss the rhythm; you especially miss the racing. Now I can do a couple of fast laps and I can now do a whole race distance riding with the other guys. I didn’t do any of this for a long time, That was the most difficult thing.”
Just getting back in the saddle made a big difference in his outlook, van der Mark says.
“To be back to racing was awesome. It is difficult when you want to go out and fight for podiums and victories, but obviously we could not set a target. For me it was quite tough to let it all go, but in the first race on Saturday I came in 12th. It was a boring race for me, but then again it was good to do a full 21-lap race distance. At the end of the race I went faster and faster and I got my rhythm back.
“On Sunday and in the Superpole race I was in a group from seventh position on and I was battling again and that was something that I really missed for a long time. It was nice to get used to it again. You just miss it. If you race with a lot of guys the while year long, you know what they will be dong when they race and stuff like that and it is very nice to get that back.”
Van der Mark emphasizes he feels more ready physically for the opening race of the Spanish round on Saturday afternoon.
“I feel good about it. Physically, I’m a lot better than I was at Magny-Cours,” he admits. “But still, we have to stay calm. No need to rush too much because we still have five more rounds to go. But obviously I want to fight for the top 10 again and to be able to fight with those guys again. I can go do training and everything like normal, but racing is something different. We have to move forward. BMW is moving forward and I’m getting fit again, so yeah, we want to finish this year as good as possible and to keep developing the bike.
“BMW is a fantastic brand and they want to win in World Superbike — they’re trying everything to make the bike ready to win. We’re getting closer step by step, but like I said, we cannot rush it.”