Author: Oli Rushby Posted: 08 Feb 2015
Historically the transition for a World Superbike rider moving into MotoGP has been hard work. Double World Champion James Toseland lasted just two seasons in the premier class and even Troy Bayliss struggled in his first foray into Grand Prix racing.
In recent years, Cal Crutchlow demonstrated that hard work can pay off, after fighting through a tough debut year to go on to achieve numerous podiums with Tech 3 Yamaha before riding for the factory Ducati team. Now entering his fifth season in MotoGP, he’s the most successful superbike rider in terms of length in Grand Prix racing since the likes of Chris Vermuelen and Colin Edwards.
Two World Superbike riders make the jump up to MotoGP this season and one of those is Irishman, Eugene Laverty. The youngest Laverty brother just missed out on the Superbike title in 2013 before uncompetitive machinery put pay to a title challenge last year. Now he moves to the Grand Prix paddock to compete in Jorge Martinez’ Aspar squad on Honda’s new production racer.
After his second ever test on the bike in Sepang, Laverty spoke about adjusting to life in MotoGP. He set a laptime of 2’02.334 in the three-day test to place 24th on the timesheets, some 3.4 seconds off the fastest time set by World Champion, Marc Marquez.
“I’m getting more comfortable and feel we’ve improved,” Laverty said. “The problem is lean angle and getting that right but I think that’s a lot to do with setting. I can’t lean the bike over without vibration. We’re such a long way off with the chassis setting so that’s what we need to work on.
“The one thing we did improve was braking, getting the bike stopped better. The feeling from the front tyre is improved and the bike is stopping much better now. We now need to work on the grip and then stopping the chatter.
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“The rear is spinning a lot coming out of corners and that’s something I’m not used to. In the past I’ve had very low tyre temperatures as I don’t spin a lot but now it’s the complete opposite. I don’t mind if it spins in the turn, sometimes I want to ride like that but it’s when it spins when I’m trying to go forward as I just lose time.”
There are a number of huge differences between a production-based Superbike and a full-fat MotoGP prototype. The most obvious of these is power, with Superbikes putting out around 220-230bhp while Grand Prix bikes are thought to have in excess of 260bhp. But it’s not just the bike a rider has to get used to; the difference between the Superbike Pirelli and MotoGP Bridgestone tyres is astronomical.
“It’s a combination of getting used to both the bike and the tyres,” explained Laverty. “The tyres aren’t that much to get used to for me, I like the front tyre and being able to push it so it’s not the biggest thing I’m struggling with. For me it’s still how small the bike is, how low I am to the ground and how I’m able to move around. The bike is so small I’m bigger than the bike is, whereas I’m used to bikes being bigger than me so I can manhandle it. It makes a huge difference with body difference.
“You’re used to riding a bike in a certain way. Maybe the fuel tank might have been there stabbing you in the stomach, you’re used to leaning off a certain amount and able to push harder. We still need to figure it out.”
What some may not realise is that the test in Sepang marked Laverty’s first opportunity to ride the RC213V-RS Open-spec Honda. In Valencia the Irishman had ridden the outgoing RCV1000R, which is thought to be a world of difference from Honda’s new production racer.
“I wasn’t sure of the potential of the bike I rode at Valencia,” he confessed. “I had ridden a big bike here before but I hadn’t ridden one at Valencia. Now I can see the bike has potential, it is what I hoped it would be. Over the past few months we weren’t too sure whether the new bike would be a step up but after the first few laps and once we finally got down to some good laptimes and got a feel for the bike, I was pleased.
“The engine is very manageable; with the chassis I’m getting the impression you have to force this. It’s not a bike built for confidence it’s built for speed and you’ve really got to start being aggressive and make the tyres work.”
Photos: Bonnie Lane