Michael Laverty and Paul Bird Motorsport are departing MotoGP for the British Superbike Championship next season.
However they will be competing as rivals. Laverty will race for the new BMW-backed TAS team, while reigning BSB champion Shane Byrne again heads the PBM line-up.
Laverty was a PBM rider for the last two of its three MotoGP seasons, which began with a single ART machine for James Ellison under the new CRT rules in 2012. PBM then audaciously launched its own Aprilia-powered machine to coincide with Laverty's arrival and an expanded two-rider line-up for 2013.
Laverty took the PBM to points in its third race, before he and new team-mate Broc Parkes collected a credible 18 points this season - despite the outdated ART engine being left behind by the new Open class rules.
But PBM's performances were not enough to secure the funding needed to take the 'next step' and become a Satellite team.
“At the back in MotoGP, even though we were doing a good job and punching above our weight we still weren't getting a lot of media attention and you're in a position where you can't do much more and it's hard to attract a lot of interest from sponsors,” Laverty told Crash.net
“Companies don't see the value in sponsoring you at the back of the MotoGP field whereas they see the value at the front of BSB.
“It's frustrating because we were doing a good job at the back in MotoGP with PBM and you need those funds to be able to take the step forward and that was ultimately our downfall, because we couldn't raise the money to lease a Factory bike to give us a better shot.”
Team boss Paul Bird gave Laverty and Parkes plenty of notice about his intention to focus on BSB in 2015, and Laverty admits he came close to staying with the team.
“In August at Indianapolis, Paul said that there would be a BSB ride there for me. When we first spoke I kind of thought that I'd end up staying with PBM, but things changed quite late in the day and with Shakey being a four times champion...
“In a selfish way I wanted to lead whatever team that I was in and if I stayed with PBM I would have been teamed with Shakey. I felt that if Shakey had have gone to BMW that I would have led the PBM team. That was a bit of a factor, not a massive one, in my decision.
“It can be difficult when your championship rival is on the other side of the garage and Paul was good with it at the end, he told me to do as I please and we didn't fall out. We're still friends so it's worked out well for both of us.”
At 33 years old, Laverty knows that the GP door may now have closed.
“I think that it's difficult [to return],” he said. “I'm a realist and I know that with the younger Brits doing a good job there, at 33 years old I'm already being deemed old for that championship. I've got quite a lot left in me but it's an ageist paddock and they are prejudiced against the older riders, but you never know.”
Indeed, Laverty looks close to agreeing a MotoGP test riding deal with Aprilia to run alongside his BSB commitments. The Italian company have experience of Laverty's technical skills from his time with PBM, which included being the only ART rider developing the standard ECU during 2013.
“I'll be doing something in the GP paddock next year as well that we're just finalising at the minute,” was all Laverty would say for now.
Laverty won BSB races for Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda from 2011-2013, but wasn't able to finish higher than fourth in the championship. That is something he is eager to change, having 'gained a lot' from his time in grand prix.
“I've spent two years in MotoGP and I think that that experience has benefited me and I'm coming back to BSB in a stronger position,” he said. “I loved being in MotoGP and I think that I gained a lot from it and learned a lot technically about riding. I also travelled a lot and met a lot of good people within the industry and it improved the credentials behind my name so it's been good overall.”
Laverty added: “You really never know what is on the horizon in this sport and I think that the opportunity to get involved with a manufacturer like BMW is massive - and if it leads to a few titles in BSB or a move to WSBK or MotoGP again in the future than I'll be thrilled.”
While Michael is leaving MotoGP, younger brother Eugene is arriving from World Superbike, having signed to race for the Aspar Honda team.
to read the full exclusive interview with Michael Laverty...