Michael Laverty Interview: “It’s a big unknown for me”motogp.com caught up with Paul Bird Motorsport’s new signing Michael Laverty about his task of racing a new CRT bike on the world stage.
Congratulations on the ride!
Thanks, I’m really excited. It’s something different and it’s going to be a big learning curve for me, but I´m looking forward to it.
It’s going to be a warmer year for you next year!
Yeah, I’ve been in BSB too long, it’ll be nice to go and race in some heat! Although I think you guys had more rain than we had in the championship last year.
How did this ride come about? You obviously have a relationship with Paul Bird from the British championship previously.
Yeah, I rode for that team in British Supersport and British Superbikes. I had been with them for three years before in the past. I know I wasn’t first choice for the ride, Shakey [Shane Byrne – 2012 British Superbike champion] was. And when he turned it down I was actually surprised to get the call, but it was a nice surprise. It’s funny how it all came about, but I’m pleased that it did.
What can you tell us about the project? We know that you will be on the PBM chassis with Aprilia engine while your team-mate Yonny Hernandez will be full ART.
It sounds very interesting on the PBM side of the garage. The chassis is developed by the GPMS guys, who used to build all the chassis’ for the Kenny Roberts team, and they’ve built a lot of Superbike swing arms and chassis parts over the last few years so they’ve got a lot of experience. They’ve been doing their homework over the last season and they’ve figured out a good plan on where to start from so they’ll be bolting an Aprilia engine into that chassis and then the Magneti Marelli control ECU, which will be used by some teams next year and then obligatory in 2014. It’s quite different to the ART bike, in some ways it could be better and in some ways it could be worse. We won’t know until we get on track, but it’s good having Yonny Hernandez on the other side of the garage on the ART bike, so if we’re ever struggling, we’ve always got that reference. The team seem quite excited about it and I’m quite hopeful, fingers crossed that it comes out of the box good at the first test in Sepang. You never know with a new project where you’ll start from, but I think the guys have done their homework and I think it should be quite strong from the outset.
Do you think it will be able to compete early on with the ART, which has now had a year of development and is the winning CRT bike?
It’s obviously been the top bike to be on in CRT this year when you look at De Puniet and Espargaró, but the FTR-Kawasaki seems to be getting a big push with Colin Edwards, Claudio Corti, Héctor Barberá and Hiroshi Aoyama all on it next year. With four riders on the FTR-Kawasaki next year it could be moving a lot closer to the ART bikes. If we can at least start on the level that the ART bikes are at, or close to it, and then improve from there, then it gives us a good chance of being able to fight with them for top CRT honours. That’s obviously the team’s goal, and hopefully mine, but it’s a big unknown for me because I’ve never raced against any of the guys that are in CRT. It’ll be interesting to see where we stack up once we get out there in the first test in February.
For the engines on my side for the PBM project I think they have committed to four of the latest spec engines, which is what James had at the very end of the season, which is what the Aspar guys ran with gear-driven cam engines which are supposedly the top spec for ART. So we will have those from the outset. I’m not sure how soon we’ll get the updates that are available but Paul Bird said that the relationship with Aprilia seems quite strong and they seem happy to let the team work on the new project and work on the new electronics. Aprilia will have in mind that from 2014 they are going to have to run the Magneti Marelli system, so it’s useful for them to have another team using it as it gives them a lot of data. They seem happy to help the team sort out the engine management with the Magneti Marelli system so overall I think the relationship with Aprilia is quite good, so hopefully we’ll be even, or as close to even as possible, to them.
So Yonny Hernandez won´t be using the Magneti Marelli ECU?
He´s going to be on the full ART package, so Aprilia engine, electronics and chassis.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges?
There’s going to be a lot of things but adapting will be key for me. I’ve essentially been pulled out of my comfort zone in BSB where I know all the faces in the paddock; I know every circuit and all the competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. I’ll have a lot to learn in MotoGP; half the circuits will be new to me, I´ll have new brakes and tyres, a new type of chassis, a new grid of competitors. The staff in the garage won’t be new to me, I know all those guys, but it’s going to be a lot of things to take in; new countries, a lot more travelling, new temperatures. So adapting to all those things is going to be the key for me to make it a success in my first year. There’s always a big emphasis on adapting to the tyres and carbon brakes. I’ve used carbon brakes before but I’ve never run Bridgestone tyres so probably the tyres will be the first hurdle. But the bike itself I don’t think will be too difficult, I don’t think the CRT bikes are too different to ride from a Superbike.
Hernandez will be a good team-mate to have as a reference…
Yeah, everyone rates him and he’s been quite strong through Moto2 and CRT last year so he’s got the experience. It’s always good to have a teammate to be judged against so I’m happy about that. It’s good to have a fast teammate on the other side to keep you on your toes.
It must feel special to be coming in as the British rider in a British team on a British bike!
Yeah that’s obviously nice. With Yonny being a Colombian rider he’s new to the team whereas I should fit in quite well because I’ve spent so long with the team before. It’s nice to be in a completely British project; hopefully I’ll be representing us well!
What has your brother Eugene had to say about it?
Obviously Eugene’s the factory Aprilia rider in World Superbikes so the chassis and engine won’t be too dissimilar to what we’ve got, so it’s nice to have that reference and I’ve been speaking to him about things. He supports me; he thinks it’s a good move for sure.
What is a realistic target for you?
There are so many unknowns that it’s hard to put a figure on it. Obviously I want to be competitive towards the front end of CRT. Obviously it’s easy to say that now, until I compete against the other riders I don’t know how I’ll stack up. It’s the team’s second year but it’s a new project so I have to keep that in mind, but I think winning some CRT races and battling to be top CRT as often as possible has got to be the aim.
I don’t have a contract for a second year but my goal is to perform well and when things change, and maybe there is a Honda or Yamaha engine that we could put in the chassis that we develop this year, hopefully I´ll have done a good enough job that the team are happy for me to go again. I want to be successful enough and fast enough to earn a second term when things may start to even up across the class. It’s all a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, I just have to see how successful I am and where the rules go, but hopefully I’ll get a shot at it in 2014 when the rules do even out.
What are you thinking about the fact that in 2 months in Sepang you´ll be sharing a track with the like of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and in your own category Colin Edwards?
It’s quite cool! Honestly it’s something I never expected I’d get the opportunity to do. I’m a realist I reckon, and once you pass your mid-20s you think that if you haven’t got to GP by then, then it’s not going to happen, so I kind of thought that if I ever got a shot at World Championship that it would be in World Superbike, so it’s nice that things have changed. I know that some people are against CRT but it’s worked in my favour and allowed me the opportunity to move into the elite class and share the track with some of the best riders in the world. It’s going to be interesting sharing a track with them, obviously I can only really compare myself against the guys riding CRTs, the prototypes I’ll just have to watch disappear into the distance most of the time. But it’s nice to be in the elite championship.
You must be so excited for Sepang?
I’m really looking forward to it. I’m a fan of the sport as well, I’ve followed all the GPs and the tests and I’ve always wanted to be on a bike in February in the sunshine when it’s miserable back home in the UK. I just want to get out there, there’s a lot of learning to do and it looks quite a tough circuit to learn. I can’t wait to get going!