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EXCLUSIVE Eugene Laverty - Q&A

18 June 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

Crash.net caught up with Aprilia World Superbike star Eugene Laverty to talk about his career, season and racing in general.

Laverty - a former 250GP rider and WSS title contender - took his fourth victory of the season last time at Portimao and is firmly in the WSBK championship fight, behind only team-mate Sylvain Guintoli and Kawasaki's Tom Sykes...

Crash.net:
Where are you at the moment, in Ireland?

Eugene Laverty:
No I live in Monaco actually, it's a better climate!

Crash.net:
Is it true you have a twin?

Eugene Laverty:
Yeah, most people know me, Michael and John but most don't know I've got a twin brother in Toomebridge. There's actually four boys and two girls. It's only us three boys who are into racing though.

Crash.net:
Did you get into racing last as the youngest?

Eugene Laverty:
Yeah, pretty much. Michael and John are closer in age and they were riding and they put me on a bike when I was no age at all as elder brothers tend to do. I was riding bikes as long as I can remember. I can't remember when I first got onto a bike, it was probably directly after my first push bike with stabilisers. That meant I could start leaning.

Crash.net:
In the early days with three brothers racing, that must have been pretty expensive?

Eugene Laverty:
Yes, it was difficult and my mum and dad put a lot into us. My father's in engineering and he basically had to work around the clock to get us to the British championship. We had to go across on the ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland, drive down on a Thursday and then back on a Sunday night and straight back to work on a Monday morning. It was hard work. When you're starting out there's not much money around, there were sponsors, but most was funded by ourselves.

Crash.net:
Why didn't you take part in the Northern Irish road racing scene?

Eugene Laverty:
I don't see myself road racing, it's a different discipline. Some people enjoy it, it's not for me though, it's very dangerous. I enjoy watching it though.

Also when road racing you can't ride to the limit like you can on circuits. I like riding right to the limit and pushing the bike there also. I enjoy the short nature of the lap time of 1.5 to 2 minutes and just trying to chase perfection, trying to get every sector perfect. In road racing you just don't get that opportunity.

Crash.net:
'Chasing perfection' is that where your pleasure lies in racing?

Eugene Laverty:
Yes, a lot of riders don't enjoy testing, I enjoy it though. Just circulating that one lap trying to hit that same piece of tarmac inch perfect lap on lap. I can do it in different sectors to within a few hundredths of a second and I enjoy it, it gives me pleasure.

Crash.net:
Do you like getting involved in the mechanics and data of the bike or do you leave that to your crew?

Eugene Laverty:
That's a big part of it, the rider has to be involved if you're going to maximise your situation. There are plenty of rider engineers around who might get too involved, I do what I need to do to make me faster. I need to be involved in what I understand and your crew and crew chief are there to help you make the best of the rest of your situation.

Crash.net:
Are you more comfortable scrapping or leading?

Eugene Laverty:
I enjoy both, I can win the race from either situation. It's winning that I enjoy. You've got an idea in your head before the race what the problems might be but you only confirm your plans during the race once it takes shape so you can't plan to lead or scrap. You've always got to be thinking, there's no point in sitting comfortably at the front when there's a guy sitting easy behind you. It all depends on the situation.

Crash.net:
As brothers you seem to make an effort to attend each other's races.

Eugene Laverty:
It's great to be there or have them there because there are certain things you can see trackside that you won't see on TV. You can see every fine detail and you can then help.

When I go, I go first and foremost to support my brother, if I notice something that I can help with while I'm there though, I feel the urge to go out and look so that I can give my input. If my brother says he's being slow in one corner, I can go out and actually see it, Michael can't because he has to ride.

I'm always more nervous at my brother's races than at my own. When I'm racing myself I'm fortunate in that I don't really get any nerves at all. I put my helmet on, my earplugs in, visor down and I'm 100% under control, it doesn't seem as fast, it doesn't seem as live. When you're sat in the pit lane and your brother's about to take off and battle with 20 other riders I get much more nervous.

Crash.net:
So you're not a nervous rider?

Eugene Laverty:
There are always certain times when the nervous adrenalin is there but compared to a lot of riders who suffer from nerves and pressure, I'm fortunate not to.

On the first lap I know that many riders fire themselves up to get the adrenaline going to go into the first lap whereas I can go out relaxed into the first corner and be fully up to speed. It's a big advantage I have because if a rider's going on adrenaline, they may get up to speed, but they may also miss a few apexes and be imprecise.

Another strength of my style is that I can adapt when I'm on the bike. I've put a lot of effort into not being too fixated on a particular riding style over the years, to be flexible and learn from other riders.

When I first got on the Parkalgar Honda I struggled like hell at the beginning and it was just before the first race of the season that I kind of cracked what style that bike needed and rode accordingly. It was so different to how I'd ridden before and I had to look at riders like Kenan Sofuoglu to understand what that bike needed. The bike certainly didn't come naturally to me.

Crash.net:
So you feel that a rider should adapt to the bike rather than the other way round?

Eugene Laverty:
There have been plenty of egotistical riders who refuse to adapt their styles. They feel that this style has won championships before but not on that particular bike. That's not the attitude I have, I'm a little more realistic.

You've got to continually adapt and meet halfway, in the middle. The engineers will change the bike as they can and you've then got to understand the rest of what it needs.

Crash.net:
In football, for example, players have their style fundamentally changed by coaches whereas in bike racing teams tend not to try to change a rider's style.

Eugene Laverty:
Many people even high up in the industry say that a style is a style and it can't be changed because a lot of people are scared to. Riders often ride on instinct and if you don't understand every little bit of what you're doing and know exactly what you're trying to change you'll just make a mess of it and make things worse. You've always got to work to fully understand every aspect of your style and my style certainly isn't fixed.

In a car you're fixed into it, on a bike though you're a large lump that can move around so you have to look at your style more in bike racing than in other forms of motorsport.

Crash.net:
If I asked your friends to describe your character, what would they say?

Eugene Laverty:
I think most of my friends would say that it's the opposite to what they see on TV, I come across as quieter than I am. I also hope that they'd say I've got a dry wit, if you try to make a joke on camera though people never get it.

If you want to show character on TV, I believe that you have to be false. That's the nature of it, you have to play to the camera and blow kisses and do all the rest to be this great character and that makes me cringe. I don't like playing, I like to be myself and it's hard to get that across on camera so I guess I look slightly robotic.

Kiyo for example is an extremely funny guy; his English isn't the best though so if you put a camera in front of him he finds it difficult to express himself. 9 times out of 10 the character portrayed in the media isn't the genuine one. Casey Stoner was a victim of that, people believed he was a horrible person when that's really not the case.

Crash.net:
Going back in your career, was it a conscious strategy to move to 250GPs?

Eugene Laverty:
Basically the opportunity arose and I couldn't turn down a ride with the LCR team. It was an uncompetitive machine but I thought I could make the difference as every rider does until they find themselves on a crap bike.

You think you're the top man until someday you've got a pile of scrap underneath you and you realise there's not much you can do. That was a great realisation for me as to how big a part the bike and team plays and that the rider's only one piece of the puzzle. As I said before, change has to come from the rider and the bike.

It did teach me about riding around a problem though. I had a problem with my crew in that they refused to change the bike and believed that this was a GP bike and I had to learn to ride it.

We found out in the end that there was a major problem with the chassis and it would spin the rear like a lunatic. They wouldn't work with me so I had to find what I could do to ride the bike and developed an ability to ride around a problem. That's not always a bad thing, there are times when you should do it and times when you shouldn't. On a Friday and Saturday you do all you can, on the Sunday though there's no point in worrying about problems, you've got to ride around them.

Crash.net:
At the end of your 250 career you had a replacement ride on a WSS bike, did that change your career?

Eugene Laverty:
I got the opportunity to ride the R6, unfortunately I had to ride injured as I'd broken my foot and it was quite a bad injury but I still managed to finish on the podium. Fortunately there were only a few left hand corners because I couldn't lean on the footrest. The Yamaha was at such a high level and suited me from the get go.

It was a career changing ride, a lot of people didn't want me to take it as my foot injury was quite bad but I knew the bike was so good that I could finish on the podium and I knew I had to. It was just as well I did because it opened doors for me in Supersport. It was funny looking back because the organiser wouldn't let me take a crutch onto the podium and I'm grimacing at the pain.

Crash.net:
I couldn't ride with a broken foot, how do you do it?

Eugene Laverty:
There's plenty of riders who play up to it, pretending that an injury is worse than it is and then they're heroes. Other riders like Leon Haslam just get on with the job and people don't realise how bad the injury is, he's got a terrible break and he's out there riding. On the R6, I'd broken my left foot and I had broken toes on the right as well but they weren't giving me any bother, some riders would have claimed to have been in agony from both feet though.

Crash.net:
So what's the worst state you've lined up on a grid in?

Eugene Laverty:
Last year at Philip Island race two was the worst ever. My clutch hand was broken in five places and was pretty smashed up and I'd opted against surgery so that I could race. In race one I'd been heading for a podium finish before having a technical issue and when I lined up for race two I was being sick and they couldn't get enough fluids into me. It was a horrible race, really one of the toughest.

I didn't push it to race because I was worried that they'd get a replacement rider, I did it because of the championship and if you lose momentum at the beginning, it's tough to get it back. I wanted to fight for the title and that's why I was out there.

Crash.net:
Do you think a 600 is a better racing bike than a 1000?

Eugene Laverty:
On the street 600s are OK, on the track though the 1000s separate the men from the boys. On 600s you've only got corners, you don't have to worry about the straights because they're flat out. The 1000s have so much power that what were straights on a 600 are no longer straights and you've got a lot more to deal with.

The reason for the close racing in 600s is that the skill of the riders comes out less, in 1000s you've got far more variables to deal with which separates the riders more.

Crash.net:
For WSS I guess memories of the incredible 2010 Imola battle against Kenan Sofuoglu still keep you warm in bed?

Eugene Laverty:
Yeah, that was the toughest race I ever had to take part in. I learned a lesson that day in that in the post-race interview I explained how my left arm had become completely numb and that I'd been racing with one arm and was slammed by the fans and media for making excuses as to why I lost the race.

If I'd won the race and had said that I would have been a hero so I learnt that day that if ever you lose, don't give a reason because it'll be seen as an excuse, you can only complain on something you win. People say they want to hear the truth, but they don't want to hear it, they want you to take full blame for losing and that therefore you're a d*ckhead. That's what I learned that day.

Race wise, I couldn't believe my luck on the last lap at still being there. When Kenan was in front he was lapping 2s a lap faster and when I got in front, because I couldn't feel my arm, I was slowing him up. If Kenan had known what pain I was in, all he had to do was string a few laps together and disappear.

The problem was he kept playing with me so when it came to the last lap, I thought 'I can't believe I'm still here' and I knew I had to do it at the chicane because that's all the power I had in my arm. I had to go for it to keep the championship alive, it was 'do or die' and I took Kenan with me unfortunately. I had to win it or bin it with an arm I couldn't feel so that was the toughest race of my career and but I think it was probably great to watch.

Crash.net:
Did you then find the adjustment to the 1000cc bike easy?

Eugene Laverty:
When I first got on the R1, I went quickest first test and then again in Philip Island and I thought I could win the title in my first year. That bike was easy to ride, it was the one that Cal [Crutchlow] and JT [Toseland] had been riding the year before and the one that they had complained was difficult to ride. If you want a difficult bike to ride you ought to try the one me and Marco had to ride the next season, that was a handful. Unfortunately that's why it took me a while to get up to speed on that one.

The electronics on the first Yamaha made it easier to adapt to the 1000 and I spoke to Kenan after those first tests to say that I couldn't believe how manageable the bike was. Unfortunately the next season's bike didn't live up to that promise. The engine character had changed in the wrong direction. If we had continued with the bike that Cal and JT had had we would have challenged for the championship in 2011.

Crash.net:
How do the Yamaha and Aprilia contrast?

Eugene Laverty:
The Yamaha and Aprilia are quite different. The Aprilia by its nature is much more of a little race bike, it's really nimble and I can move it around. The V4 helps with the nimbleness but it also means that the engine's a bit longer, the bike's small but and long in fact it's not far away from the ART they're racing in MotoGP. It's had its problems though, particularly in the electronics with the anti-wheelie and engine braking giving particular cause for concern mid-season.

As regards outright speed, the Aprilia and BMW are probably the fastest in a straight line whereas the Kawasaki doesn't quite have the top end but does have great corner exist speed. I would say that these are the top 3 bikes on the grid.

Having said that, if I'd hopped on a bike and it was perfect I wouldn't have learned anything.

Crash.net:
How about the teams?

Eugene Laverty:
The nice thing about Aprilia is that a lot of the guys have been there for 15 years. Luigi Dall'Igna doesn't have any fools around him and everybody in that team knows what they're doing, it's also friendly and feels like one big family because they've been there so long and I enjoy being part of that. There's also an Italian thing where they're particularly passionate about it.

Crash.net:
Did you feel you were joining Max Biaggi's team?

Eugene Laverty:
I didn't feel that way, Max welcomed me and it also helped that I'd brought two of my own technicians along with me. I was welcomed as part of the family and made to feel at home.

Crash.net:
Was there ever any question of there being a number one and two rider?

Eugene Laverty:
No, I don't think so. Of course towards the end of the year when Max was fighting for the championship that's only to be expected. I was injured before the season started anyway and had some difficulties at the first rounds so I had lost touch with the championship by then.

I had the same equipment as Max for the majority of the year, at the end of the year I obviously wasn't sure what updates he was getting to clinch the title. We got the riders and manufacturers titles though so it was a good year.

I wouldn't say there was a lot of exchange of information between the 2 sides of the pit though, it was a bit separate.

Luigi Dall'Igna is a big fan of racing and loves his sport so even with the customer teams like Chaz Davies last year they have the same level of kit as the factory team and there's not many manufacturers that would do that. I would be surprised if Aprilia were to disadvantaging a rider in their factory team when they're supplying race winning bikes to a customer team.

Originally when I signed for Aprilia I signed to the factory and I wasn't quite sure whether I'd be riding for the factory or private team and that was a risk I took which paid off. At the time they weren't quite sure whether they'd be running a one rider factory team with just Max and it was only after my tests had been so successful that it became a two rider effort. In my first test in Portugal I went quickest right away.

Crash.net:
How does it compare now with Sylvain Guintoli as your teeam-mate?

Eugene Laverty:
With me and Sylvain it's good now because we are very similar riders, me and Max were very different. With Sylvain we're both pushing each other on and that's showing in the podiums. We're both two strong characters and don't feel threatened by each other's speed, between us there's always an Aprilia in Park Ferme.

Sylvain speaks Italian very well and I'm also learning it, it doesn't come naturally to me but I've been learning it for six or seven months now and I'm starting to make some progress.

Crash.net:
So you wanted to ride the Aprilia enough to sign an open contract with the factory?

Eugene Laverty:
I did want to be on the Aprilia of course, it's a nice little race bike. But although I was joint third in my first year when Yamaha pulled out, Marco and I were left in the dark and struggling to get a ride and there weren't many seats available and it's getting tougher and tougher now for riders to get an opportunity.

Crash.net:
Back at Donington there was a bit of fist shaking from Giugliano, what was the problem?

Eugene Laverty:
Davide was overly aggressive towards me on two occasions, in two corners. He knew I was there but let his brakes off and I didn't appreciate that. I was fighting for the championship and don't expect that, but you've got to be aware of that when you're fighting against riders like Davide. We spoke a little about it afterwards. I get on well with Davide in general, I think he's doing a good job and I would certainly prefer him on my side rather than against me.

I've never done that well at Donington and that weekend I finally understood why, so next time I go there I'll be hoping to fight for race wins

Crash.net:
Do you feel extra pressure from going for the title this year?

Eugene Laverty:
No, I feel much more relaxed now I'm winning, finishing sixth would be more likely to keep me awake wondering why. Now I'm doing what I know I'm capable of doing, I feel much more relaxed, I take a pride in it.

Crash.net:
And the future?

Eugene Laverty:
My aim is to get the WSBK championship, it's been my aim for some years now, and when that's achieved I would like to try a good MotoGP ride. The best riders in the world are there and it would be great to measure myself against them. Cal's doing a great job there and has shown it's possible.

Crash.net:
Thanks a lot Eugene, and enjoy your afternoon in sunny Monaco

Eugene Laverty:
I will!


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