Laverty, PBM pull off Sepang surprise - again!
1 March 2013
Michael Laverty has only taken part in two MotoGP tests - but both times he and the PBM team have pulled off something of an upset.
The MotoGP rookie produced one of the surprises of the opening Sepang test by finishing the final day second in the CRT class, while using PBM team-mate Yonny Hernandez's spare ART.
Returning this week to make his debut on PBM's own bike - featuring a bespoke aluminium chassis, Aprilia engine and the standard ECU system - Laverty missed all of day one and most of day two while the machine was assembled.
His 19 laps on day two had been little more a very public shakedown, highlighting numerous bugs in the engine management that left Laverty nearly eight seconds off the pace. When the Ulsterman then skipped the final morning it looked like technical gremlins may have ended his Malaysian hopes.
In fact, the PBM team were trawling through the track data and - with the clock ticking - held their nerve in not releasing Laverty until every major glitch had been fixed.
It paid off. During just 24 laps on the final afternoon Laverty was able to start meaningful testing with the machine, making strides up the timesheet in the process. Laverty reached 22nd out of 28 riders and was just 1.6s behind the top CRT of Randy de Puniet (Aspar ART) by the time the circuit's red lights halted his progress at 6pm.
"I'm really happy," Laverty told Crash.net as the PBM team packed up at Sepang on Thursday evening. "We have a brand new chassis, straight out of the box and it feels almost as good as the ART. Half a day of testing and we're almost in the ballpark.
"The team are really pumped. All credit to them. They've developed this bike from concept. A lot of new projects have come along and been way off the mark so to be almost at the pace we were at on the ART is really positive.
"There's a lot to refine but they've done a hell of a job."
Laverty then explained the transformation from Wednesday's spluttering shakedown to Thursday's charge up the timesheets.
"After getting some data with the initial laps yesterday, the guys worked all last night," said the BSB winner who, like Gresini rookie Bryan Staring, is yet to start a grand prix in any class.
"This morning Phil [Borley, technical director] could have sent me out just to do laps, but he said, 'There's no point, we're still not ready. It's better we get things right in here and give you something you can actually ride'.
"That approach really paid off this afternoon.
"Unlike yesterday the engine would rev out cleanly and when you shut the throttle, it did shut. It was giving all the right responses. The basics were there and then we started getting everything dialled in.
"We didn't have time to touch the chassis or mechanical set-up and with the electrical work, only the last hour was focussed on performance rather than installation.
“Most of the time we worked on the throttle connection. It was still horrible at the end to be honest - when you touched it, the first ten per cent of the throttle would really make the bike jump off line. But we got everything else working. The actual acceleration we really improved and made quite rideable. We also got the corner entry working better, but we didn't have time to sort any Traction Control or Anti Wheelie.
"By the last hour it felt really good and I'd got into the mid 2m 4s and I'd done a 2m 3.8s on the ART. I think I was just a couple of hours of track time short of matching what I'd done on the ART, which for a brand new bike ridden in anger for the first time at 2pm is unreal.
"Obviously I felt there was more to come from the ART, but we're only a second and a half off the fastest CRT [de Puniet] today. I think that gap is more than achievable with this bike, judging by how much we still have to fine tune it."
Comparing the performance of the frame built by GPMS Technology - previously involved with Kenny Roberts' team, plus the likes of Ten Kate in WSBK - with the Aprilia, Laverty felt corner turn-in was the only relative weakness, and that's before any 'tweaking'.
"It's not far away from the ART chassis," said Laverty. "It stops as well. It doesn't turn with as good an arc. It's a bit lazier and runs a little wider - but then we didn't tweak anything, so that should be achievable with set-up. It seems to chatter less, which was my initial feeling yesterday and was still the same today when I pushed it at a reasonable pace. Overall the chassis is really promising.
"We still have simple things to refine like my position on the bike, but I think the biggest chunk of time will come from the electronics. We've barely touched the surface of the Magneti Marelli ECU. Once we add some traction control and smooth off the throttle there's a lot to be found."
The final official pre-season test will be held at Jerez from March 23-25, before which the PBM team will work on numerous off-track improvements.
"We know the engine is slower than the other Aprilias at the moment because we haven't dyno-ed it with these twin exhausts. The Aprilia engine maps are developed to run with a single end can," said Laverty.
"Also we take the air into the airbox through the centre intake, rather than the ART's two side intakes. So a week on the dyno and we'll hopefully find 5-10 horsepower in those areas and bring it up to the level of the Aprilia.
"The data we gained from doing some fast laps on this last day will also be so beneficial for improving the bike. After Jerez, the bikes get crated and shipped straight to Qatar. So it was important to run here because what we take to Jerez will be what we start the first race on.
"I look forward to seeing what the guys can do and riding a revised version at Jerez. We should be able to take another big step."
Such a promising start for the PBM means that Laverty's target of fighting for top CRT honours in his rookie season is firmly back on track.
"Even with a brand new bike this year, I think my target of being top CRT is achievable," he declared. "Obviously the Aspar guys are still ahead of the game, but we just need to get stuck in and we can definitely catch them.
"It's a target, it's achievable and it's something we've got to try and pull off. I'm feeling quite confident. If you'd asked me last night I'd have been a bit more hesitant, but I think even as a brand new bike the PBM will be good enough to do the job.
"I think we've surprised a lot of people at these first two tests - we'll try to keep the surprises running!"
The six riders Laverty outpaced on Thursday were Pesek (Suter-BMW), Petrucci (Suter-BMW), Corti (FTR-Kawasaki), Hernandez (ART), Takahashi (Honda) and Staring (FTR-Honda).