By Stephen English

Michael Laverty's first race weekend on the ART machine did not net a major improvement in grid position, but the step forward in performance by the Irishman was clear to see.

Although qualifying 20th for tomorrow's Aragon Grand Prix, the PBM rider was pleased to have been much closer to the leading CRT bikes and within the fight in midfield.

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Having struggled for much of the summer to get within half a second of the FTR riders, Laverty was within a couple of tenths of Hector Barbera, Colin Edwards and Randy de Puniet.

Speaking after qualifying, which he completed on just one set of tyres, it was clear that he felt that the step forward made this weekend justifies the team's decision to put him onto the ART machine vacated by Yonny Hernandez, when the Columbian signed for Pramac as Ben Spies' replacement rider.

"I feel like I'm riding better on the ART and I'm able to push myself more," said Laverty. "Position wise we're the same as we have been but pacewise we're a lot closer; Corti and Colin are a tenth faster and de Puniet only piped me on the last lap and I didn't use a second tyre in qualifying.

"It's such a long lap here and we thought we'd lose a lot time if we went for two tyres in qualifying. We're still learning the track and the bike so I just kept building throughout the session and I did my best lap on lap on the last lap but I think that I could have found a couple of tenths if I had used another tyre."

While the performance of the bike has improved, it has raised some issues for Laverty as he tries to adjust to the differences between the PBM bike and ART machine. In qualifying mistakes held him back from going faster just because Laverty is not yet completely comfortable on the bike and able to anticipate what it will do.

"I had a couple of good splits and then messed up the lap. I've been doing that all weekend because I'm not able to anticipate what the bike is going to do at times because it's all new for me. In some corners I'm expecting it to push on and at others I'm expecting it to slow up and it doesn't. I'm just a bit inconsistent because I'm still trying to get my head around the bike."

Riding the ART has also required a change in crew chief for Laverty with former grand prix rider and present BSS racer Scott Smart joining the PBM team. Laverty has been pleased with the results so far, with Smart's intelligent approach and his knowledge of electronics being a major advantage this weekend.

Even so Laverty has found one problem with the electronics this weekend with the rookie admitting that the habits of riding the PBM bike have meant that he was unable to get the most from the package employed by the ART.

The PBM chassis uses the standard ECU whereas the ART uses an Aprilia developed software package. One of the key differences is that Laverty was able to run anti-wheelie for the first time this weekend as opposed to having to use the rear brake to control the power delivery.

"I've been used to having traction control but not wheelie control and I've become so used to control the wheelie with the rear brake and the Aprilia engineers have been surprised that I'm using so much rear brake and they're telling me that I'm fighting against what their electronics are trying to do. This morning they said that I had to stop using the rear brake so much but it's so weird to change your style when you get used to something.

"On the PBM I needed to do it and using it for 80% of the lap and when you become so used to it over 14 races and tests it's hard to stop and I'm slowly weening myself off it. When you have a more sophisticated electronics package like the Aprilia you can interfere with it by doing something manually. It's mostly to try and trust the electronics but I'm happy with the progress we made in a short period of time."

In terms of his prospects for the race, Laverty was enthusiastic that his pace would be competitive but the biggest difference could be that he can attack other riders under braking and race wheel to wheel with them.

"I was having to ride within myself and braking earlier," admitted Laverty. "I couldn't brake with people that went past me because I couldn't risk braking with him and taking them so I'd roll into the back of them whereas now I'm confident that I can stop the bike. It's nice to ride freely again and be aggressive with the bike.

"Braking has always been one of my strengths and I know that on the Honda last year that I could brake where I wanted to and stop where I wanted. Even Paul Bird said it to me earlier that when I was battling with Shakey that he used to call me 'Lunging Laverty' because I'd come from way back on the brakes and I haven't been able to do that this year because the bike wouldn't let me. So it's nice to brake late again and be in a position to fight with other riders so I'm looking forward to tomorrow's race."