The 2017 British Superbike season was a series of ups and downs for many, and the vastly experienced Michael Laverty was one of the unfortunate riders who struggled throughout as he took on the new-to-him McAMS YamahaR1.
Experience is massively on his side, after spending three years in the British paddock before heading out to the MotoGP paddock for two full seasons, then finally settling back into the British paddock in 2015 with the Philip Neill run Tyco BMW Motorrad team. The GP paddock is fiercely competitive, as Laverty found out in his two season stint. In 2013, Laverty stepped up to the class riding the Paul Bird Motorsport PBM machine, with his best finish being 13th in Jerez, and rounding out the 2013 season 25th overall.
One year on, he stayed on the same machine to take three points finishes in America, Australia and Malaysia, taking 24th overall. He returned on the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini bike in 2015 for the German round of the championship to replace Marco Melandri who departed the team after failing to score a point. Laverty finished 20th. Despite his testing times in MotoGP, he remains positive about what his team achieved, and insists that he would return to the World Championship, if given the chance.
“Honestly I’d love to do the world championship, but age is a big factor. Not for me personally and I think I’m still fast enough, I’m improving all the time and I still have the desire but there’s a lot of prejudice against older guys.” Laverty explained.
“I loved my time in MotoGP, I loved riding those bikes on those tracks, but I much prefer being in BSB on a competitive bike where, on my good days, I can fight for race wins and podiums. In MotoGP I could only ever finish fifteenth and scrape a point due to the machinery I was on, but we did a good job with what we had.”
“I would love to go back, but it would have to be in the right circumstances, and realistically at my age it’s going to be hard to get that opportunity,” he continued. “Maybe there’ll be a wildcard ride here or there on a good bike and I’d love that, but I see myself mainly in BSB and maybe a bit of world endurance. Never say never because I never thought I’d be in MotoGP, but I think it’s unlikely.”
In the same year he replaced Melandri in Germany, Laverty was fully fledged in British Superbike with Tyco, while taking on the role of test rider for the GP Aprilia team. In 2015, he finished fourth in the overall standings, only twice outside the top ten. In 2016, he came back with the same team but this time set out his ambitions from the get go, opening the season with a win at the first round at Silverstone. It was a hit and miss season for the Irishman, only winning one more race before the season came to a close.
But 2017 was by far his most difficult season. He took on the McAMS Yamaha expecting great things but could never deliver. His best place finish was a second in race two at Silverstone in treacherous conditions, where only seven finished the race.
“We were quick every time it rained and slow in the dry, and we thought that maybe there was some substance to what I’d been complaining about,” Laverty explained.
For the final race of the season he finished fourth, finally finding his form when it was too late. He finished the season 14th, a far cry from the 8th place he’d claimed in 2016. “Once we adjusted I had a decent last round and it was nice to be vindicated a little bit, but such a disappointing season all round. We were capable of so much more.”
It appeared that Laverty and McAMS weren’t the perfect fit, which is why he announced his return to the Tyco BMW Motorrad squad to spearhead their 2018 British Superbike campaign alongside former team mate Christian Iddon. Together Laverty and Neill have won races and the 2007 British Supersport title, so for Laverty there were no second thoughts on going back to a team he knew so well.
“I think it was an easy decision for me to go back there because I know I can at least pick up where I left off and should I have replicated the lap times I’d done in 2016, it would have given me a couple of race wins so it was an easy choice to go back,” he said.
“I started speaking with Philip [Neill, Tyco BMW team manager] and I was missing my BMW. I was riding my arse off on the Yamaha and not doing the same lap times as I was doing the year before on the BMW. I understand why now and the Yamaha had a lot of potential, but I was drawn back to the BMW again because I knew the team and they knew me really well,” he explained.
“I spent a lot of time with them when they were Relentless Suzuki, then two years with them at Tyco BMW. We won a lot of races and a championship together so there’s a good relationship there and I know the crew well and I understand the strong points and the weak points of the BMW.”
2018 will be a tough season, with so many riders at the top of their game and all manufacturers able to be competitive.
“The three favourites are Leon Haslam, Shane Byrne and Josh Brookes without a doubt, and that covers three manufacturers. With the BMW’s I think there’ll be myself, Christian [Iddon] and Peter Hickman and I can see all three of us getting race wins at some point.”
But Laverty knows that it won’t be an easy ride, saying: “The non-factory teams have the same equipment as us so it’s all about rider, technician and putting the pieces of the puzzle together and then you can go and win in BSB. It’s a very tough championship if you’re not getting all your ducks in a row.”
Outlet: The Checkered Flag.
Sources: First hand interview, Michael Laverty’s website – www.michaellaverty.com