Eugene Laverty matched his best MotoGP result during the first long run he had done on 'real' Ducati MotoGP machinery!
The Irishman only received his 2016 engine for opening practice in Qatar, at which point he realised much of his winter testing woes were down to using a different engine spec to the other GP14.2 riders.
The impact of the engine was so significant that Laverty and his Aspar crew were forced to abandon much of their test settings. “Our pre-season starts now,” Laverty said on Thursday. “It's our first time on the real Ducati.”
Just 20th fastest at the Losail test, Laverty qualified 14th despite a gearshift problem on his final lap. But when the red lights went out Laverty, like Bradley Smith ahead of him, got sideways off the line - then ran wide after an incident with Loris Baz.
“Bradley was right in front of me, we must have been on a dirty part of the track and whatever shit he spun up, I got as well!” Laverty said. “I made a few passes on lap one, including Loris Baz, but he came inside me on one of the fast rights and pushed me off the track. So as if my start wasn't bad enough, that screwed it.
“But from lap two onwards the race was faultless.”
18th at the end of the opening lap, Laverty climbed up the order to twelfth by the midway stage, a position he kept at the chequered flag after beating Honda rider Jack Miller and Aprilia's Alvaro Bautista by a fraction of a second.
“I'd only done eight or nine [consecutive] laps, so 22 was a big difference. But we hung in there to the end in a fight with Alvaro and Jack and beat them to the line. Considering that was my first long run it wasn't bad!” Laverty smiled.
Qatar was also the first race with Michelin as exclusive tyre supplier.
“The biggest difference for me actually was having traction control again, because last year we didn't really have it on the Honda,” Laverty revealed.
“My grip still went off quite a bit because we haven't played around with the rear shock much yet, we've kind of put that on the back burner because the traction control is doing such a good job anyway that I was able to maintain my lap time. Last year it would have dropped a lot.”
Laverty had finished 18th on his MotoGP debut at Qatar last season, when his Open class Honda was also 18th best through the speed trap. This year he was seventh fastest in a straight-line.
“This package is much more competitive because you can see on the speed traps how fast the bike is. I've got a chance to overtake people in a straight line. It's a gift I didn't have last year and makes a big difference, especially in the early laps when everyone is together.”
Looking to round two, the former WSBK title runner-up added: “We started here on the back foot. It was only really yesterday that we made headway. So if we can carry-on from here in Argentina it should be positive.
“Argentina is a track I like; it favours my riding style and I'm going after performance now. I want to aim for Qualifying 2, more points and try and push towards the top ten in the race.”