Eugene Laverty: “I’ve got to dig in. It’s up to me now”

Published: 16 April 2016

It was a mixed year for Brits in the MotoGP paddock. MCN Sport asked four of our top riders for their verdicts. In the final of four interviews, Eugene Laverty reflects on his season.

ast year you were a WSB race winner and world championship contender. This year a good result is a couple of points. How difficult is that?
Last year semi-prepared me for it because I was expecting to be challenging for the title, so I crashed instead of settling for fifth and sixth places. At the end of last year I realised I needed a change of mindset. I think I’ve dealt with it fairly well, not to get too flustered. But this was a rookie year and I’ve had to bide my time. It was always about year two.

The open Honda hasn’t been what everyone expected. How tough is it to come into GPs and not have the machinery to show what you can do?
It’s always about your reference. This year I’ve been very fortunate to have a guy of Nicky Hayden’s calibre beside me, so he’s the reference. So if I’m in front of him, people can see I’m doing a good job. Nicky’s a great rider and I’m in my rookie season here, so I know I’m riding fast.

What was the main difficulty getting used to the GP bike? It took until Aragon for you to beat Nicky…
After the first two rounds I was still learning my way. But when we went to Argentina I was ready. I felt I was a GP rider, and we had the bike in a good place. Then Nicky got the swingarm at Jerez and I didn’t, so we had to start to change the setup in completely the wrong way, because with the old swingarm we could do one lap and qualify, and in the race it was a disaster. So we had to make our setting worse so that in the race we could maintain the lap time. That really hurt us. Then, in Assen, we finally got the swingarm and we started to come back to the correct setting.

At Le Mans, Mugello, Catalunya and Assen you had big crashes.  Was that down to the setting direction you went down?
Yeah, that was when we were starting to put the settings the wrong way. The bike was right at Argentina but with the swingarm we had then it meant after six, seven laps suddenly the tyre started to move and I couldn’t accelerate. Then we started to change the setting but that meant I lost my strong point in the braking, so I started to crash losing the front. We’d reached our limit. What we needed was the next piece of the puzzle, the swingarm. That’s why I pushed so hard for it. It wasn’t just a new shiny part, I knew that that’s what I needed. When we got it we had a lot of wet races and that messed things up. But then finally, in the first normal weekend at Aragon, we got first Open in qualifying and the race.

What’s the difference between MotoGP and WSB riders?
I don’t think people realise just how high the level is at the front of WSB. I know that guys like Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez are strong, but when I follow some of the other guys I can see them doing things wrong. That might sound strange coming from me – a guy that qualifies 20th – but when I follow Marc, Rossi and Lorenzo, they’re pretty flawless. The others aren’t.

What are the main things you see MotoGP riders doing wrong?
I’m sure in their eyes I do a lot of things wrong, but there’s a fastest way around the circuit for a particular bike. And the only one I can really talk about is the Honda, because that’s what I ride. So when I follow Marc I realise he’s getting the most out of it in every single area. Whereas I think some of the other guys, maybe if they’re riding a Yamaha or a Ducati, they don’t think about their bike. They look at the fastest guy and try and ride like him, try and exit the corner like him instead of trying to focus on the strengths of their bike. I think that’s where Marquez is smart and Rossi and Lorenzo are smart. Rossi and Lorenzo ride a Yamaha like a Yamaha. Marquez rides a Honda like a Honda. You have to ride your bike in the way that it needs to be ridden to beat the fastest lap time.

Where do you see your level? The easiest comparison is presumably to Cal because you’ve raced each other through your career.
Me and Cal were always career rivals. I can see what Cal’s achieved in MotoGP – he’s done great things. He’s finished on the podium. I’m confident that I can finish on the podium but it’s not going to be until I get on the level of machinery where I can hang with the top guys for more than three corners. 

Next year you’ll be on a Ducati and working with team boss Gigi Dall’Igna, who you worked with in Superbikes. How important is that?
It’s a massive thing. I have so much respect for Gigi, for what he’s achieved in his career. I didn’t know him until I started working with him in Superbikes, but my respect just grew because he’s a great leader – and technically he’s incredible as well. He’s the most valuable person in the team – I’d say more so than a rider, even. He’s a great guy to have in your corner and it was nice that even after last year, when my results were poor, Gigi was keen to see me on a Ducati. It took a few years to get working together again but it’s happening, so I’m excited at the prospect. This year it’s been difficult. Hopefully next year with Ducati I’ll get the results. I know Gigi’s system – he rewards the riders. So I’ve got to dig in. It’s all up to me now.

Words Steve English  Photos G&G, Tony Goldsmith, Steve English