Michael Laverty’s all-new riding academy is all about developing the British stars of tomorrow
For the first time since 2010 there are no British riders in MotoGP. Three-time race winner Cal Crutchlow’s departure at the end of 2020 has left a void, with no obvious candidates waiting in the wings and a UK biking scene that seems unable to develop riders who can break into racing’s premier class.
It’s not down to a lack of talent or desire, more the result of a lack of longterm infrastructure to enable young riders to make it on the world stage. It’s also the harsh reality that other countries, namely Spain and Italy, are doing things so much better.
This year’s 22-strong MotoGP grid is made up of nine Spaniards, seven Italians, two Frenchmen and one rider each from Portugal, South Africa, Australia and Japan – but not a single Brit. So what’s the solution?
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Ending the drought
There have been initiatives over the years – from Ron Haslam’s Team Great Britain back in the 90s through to the ACU academy and the Yamaha R6 Cup which produced the aforementioned Crutchlow. More recently the Red Bull Rookies and British Talent Cup have enjoyed success – Red Bull Rookies is, after all, how six-time WSB champ Jonathan Rea first got noticed.
But while they’ve contributed they’ve been unable to match the never-ending conveyor belt of Spanish riders that arrive in Moto3 fast, ready and with the aptitude and understanding to progress through Moto2 and into MotoGP.
In a bid to end the drought, former BSB and MotoGP rider Michael Laverty has launched the Vision Track British Mini Bike Academy to play a part in finding and developing next generation of world class racers.
Six of the best
This is a long-term and ambitious plan that will see six hand-picked riders race in a number of classes according to their age within the highly regarded Rich Energy British Minibike Championship.
Speaking from the team launch at Completely Motorbikes in Hinckley, Laverty told us: "Riders put in their 10,000 hours of purposeful training, but for British riders that seems to come a little bit later because we don’t have the structures in place for the eight-to-10 year-olds like they do in Europe. British riders go through the same process but racing in our National Championship and we’re ready when we’re older. Look at Sam Lowes, he’s the same level as Jorge Martin, Luca Marini and Enea Bastianninini, but he’s 30."
Having been there and done it, Laverty knows the importance of having the right infrastructure. His aim is to support each rider in every aspect of their racing from riding, bike set-up, media training (MCN are an official partner of the academy) through to fitness, and nutrition. And while the academy can’t cover all the costs for their six riders to go racing, there are huge benefits to being one of the chosen six.
"My plan is not to build it from the top down, but to build it from the bottom up and my target from day one has been to support these academy riders as much as possible," explained Laverty. "They pay their usual expenses to get to the races, but we provide their leathers, helmets, tools, easy-ups and the support structure. They pay for their own bike and consumables but what I wanted to avoid was a situation like we see in the British Superbike paddock where riders have to bring a lump sum to the team just to get a ride.
"Obviously mini bikes are cheaper racing, but I want to do as much as I can so every penny of sponsorship I get in will go into helping the kids and I’m also putting in money from my own pocket as much as I can. It’s not an endless pit of money but I’m not taking a penny out of it."
Working alongside Laverty is Joe Dickinson as Rider Coach. Dickinson spent his professional racing career in British Supersport battling against the likes of Crutchlow and Tom Sykes.
After retiring he then made a comeback and is currently the reigning British Mini Bike champion and his role within the team is as rider coach and he’s still fast enough to lead the way and give hands-on real-world racing and set-up advice.
He’s joined by Richard Slinn (aka 'Trick' from Trick Tuning) as Technical Advisor. Trick is an expert engine builder specialising in two-strokes and spent a career guiding young riders working in Red Bull Rookies as chief mechanic. He was also a key member of the Foggy Petronas team in World Superbikes and crew chief to Australian Steve Martin. His experience ensures the riders achieve the optimum set-up and also gain an understanding of bike set-up and suspension.
MotoGP paddock beckons
Since 2020 the whole British Mini Bike championship has been given a boost by BSB front runner and the fastest-ever TT rider Peter Hickman who became the official UK importer of Ohvale bikes.
Bringing the class-leading machines into the championship has led to the introduction of new classes including the the Ohvale 160 Cup where riders between the age of 10 and 14 fight to become champion.
In addition the FIM have teamed up with Ohvale and MotoGP/WSB bosses Dorna to generate a world series. Each country will host a minimum of eight races over four rounds with a provisional plan to run them at British Superbike events at Donington, Thruxton, Silverstone and Cadwell.
The winner of the series will get the chance to compete in an Ohvale 160 race at the final round of MotoGP at Valencia alongside all the winners from all the other countries.
"I’ve ordered four bikes and we’ve got four riders aged between 10 and 14 who can compete in the class and hopefully one of our riders can win and get the chance to go to Valencia," explained Laverty.
While the prospect of one of Laverty’s academy riders racing at Valencia would be a huge milestone, it isn’t the only route of progression available, with Laverty citing the British Talent Cup, European Talent Cup, CEV along with the long-term goal of sending a British rider into the Junior World Championship and then into the Moto3 class.
Moto3 by 16
Laverty said: "So by 13 we need them racing in the European Talent Cup, then two years in the Junior World Championship, so that by the time they are 16 they’re in Moto3. That’s exactly how the Italians and Spanish are doing it.
"To make this happen I’ve ordered a Moto3 bike from Honda with the hope that we can wildcard two of our older riders, Dan and Harley, in the British Talent Cup this year. I’ve bought a Tianda 300 and we’re also hoping to have a tie-in with Leon Haslam’s Supersport 300 team who are also backed by our sponsor Completely Motorbikes."
A key factor is the involvement of title sponsor Vision Track whose name you may know from being title sponsor of the title-winning PBM Ducati team in BSB. Vision Track owner Simon Marsh is a huge racing fan who saw his own promising racing career stall due to technical issues and a lack of knowledge and is determined for that not to be a limiting factor in the search for British talent.
Achieving results and putting a rider on the road to greatness takes time, a fact that Laverty is aware of and he’s in it for the long haul.
"I honestly don’t know how long it will take," he explains. "In my opinion there are riders in the British Talent Cup now that are ready to progress to the next level, but they obviously haven’t come through the academy.
"The aim is for each year at least one of our academy riders to progress to the next stage. But if you look at how long it took the Rossi’s VR46 academy with its unlimited budget to produce results – it could take us longer, but the aim is for us to continue to grow each year. It’s certainly not my plan to dip into this for one or two years. I want it to work and I want it to grow."
Meet the riders
- Age 12
- Hero Marc Marquez
- Achievements Reigning Ohvale 110 champion. 2021 Riding in Ohvale 160 Cup Having won the Ohvale 110 cup Harley was awarded an Ohvale 160 to race in 2021.
"Last year was a good season and I won the championship. Being in the academy means a lot, more advice, more help and my own tools. My dream is to ride in MotoGP."
- Age 11
- Hero Valentino Rossi
- Achievements Two-time MiniGP 140cc champion 2021 Competing in MiniGP 190cc championship and Ohvale 160 Cup. Started riding motocross aged three but after watching MotoGP switched to tarmac.
"The academy will help because I’m working with experienced riders. Ultimately I want to make it to MotoGP."
Hudson Kai Cooper
- Age 9
- Hero Marc Marquez
- Achievements 4th Junior SM 90 Bambino. 2021 Competing in Junior SM 90 Bambino. From getting a quad at the age of four, he progressed through karts, minimoto and trials before starting minibike racing.
"I’m still a bit stiff on the bike and I haven’t got my knee down yet so I think the academy will get me hanging off the bike."
- Age 8
- Hero Jack Miller
- Achievements 2020 Mini GP 90 champion 2021 Racing in the Mini GP 140 and the Ohvale 110 Cup. Now in his third season of racing but broke his collarbone at the final round last year.
"I want to improve this year and have fun. I’m also glad we’ve got a mechanic because I’m not very good at fixing bikes, I just want to ride them."
- Age 10
- Hero Jonathan Rea
- Achievements Third in Mini GP 140 championship 2021 Racing in Mini GP 140 championship. Former Ulster motocross champion switched to tarmac two years ago and started racing in England in 2020 for the increased competition.
"I was third last year but I didn’t get a race victory, so I’d like to win a race in 2021."
Joel Daniel Greig
- Age 11
- Heroes Josh Brookes, Johnathan Rea and Marc Marquez
- Achievements Fifth in Mini GP 140 championship (did not compete in all rounds). 2021 Racing in Mini GP 140 Now starts his second season in the Mini GP140 class.
"My main rivals will be Arnie and Lewis. We’re all mates off the track, but when we’re on track we’re rivals!"