World Superbikes will welcome back a familiar face when it resumes at Jerez on 31 July, with Marco Melandri returning to the WSBK grid.
Melandri had retired from racing at the end of the 2019 WSBK season, but was lured back by Marco Barnabo of Barni Racing Team. The Italian veteran will replace Leon Camier, who was injured ahead of this year’s opening round at Phillip Island and withdrew from the races.
Citing the truncated season forced by the coronavirus pandemic, and particularly the short breaks between each round, the British rider and the team parted company “by mutual consent” on 16 July.
The deal with Barni Racing Team sees Melandri reunited with Ducati, but in an all-new form, as the Italian’s last ride on the red bikes was with the twin-cylinder Panigale R in 2018. At Jerez, Melandri will be on the new four-cylinder Panigale V4 R.
Speaking om WorldSBK.com, Melandri seemed as surprised by his return to racing as everyone else!
“The situation was quite surreal, in normal conditions I never thought I'd come back, then it seemed like fate chose me,” he said. “This long and quiet period has regenerated me and made me slip away all the negative things I was focusing on before. Then one by one, almost incredible situations lined up: not having had the chance to ride the Ducati Panigale V4 R was a regret and now the opportunity is there; on the Barni Racing Team’s bike there are Showa suspensions and since MotoGP period I always have felt great with those products.
“It's going to be a Championship with only six rounds, all in Europe on tracks that I like, so it's going to be a limited and time-focused effort.
“If there was anyone who could convince me to come back it was Marco Barnabo. I think the Barni Racing Team is the right team for me, a “small family” where there is a desire to grow but also to have fun working with passion. I’m aware that I will have a winning bike and the best components, because of that I would also like to thank Claudio Domenicali, Paolo Ciabatti, Gigi Dall'Igna and the whole Ducati team for this opportunity.”
In his seven seasons in WSBK, Melandri rode Yamaha, BMW, Aprilia and Ducati machinery, securing race wins with all four manufacturers. The Italian’s first year in the championship – 2011 - was also his best, when he finished second overall behind Althea Racing Ducati’s Carlos Checa. In his next five years, he finished no worse than fifth in the championship, with highlights including securing BMW’s first race win in 2012 since their return to WSBK, double wins at Jerez and Sepang in 2014 and a fighting double win against Jonathan Rea at Phillip Island in 2018.
Melandri returns to WSBK with a personal tally of 22 race wins, 53 other podiums, 4 poles and 21 fastest race laps.
The second round of the 2020 WSBK season will be held at Jerez from 31 July to 2 August, followed by rounds at Portimao, Aragon, Catalunya and Magny-Cours.
A number of yet-to-be-confirmed rounds follow, including Misano, Donington and Assen, but these are unlikely to go ahead, as do flyaway rounds at San Juan de Villicum in Argentina and Losail in Qatar.