4 March 2014
Philip Marron, Eugene Lavery's Crew Chief - Q&A
Crash.net chats with Eugene Laverty's trusted Crew Chief Philip Marron following the Irishman's winning start to the 2014 WSBK season.
I guess you've just had a happy flight back from Australia?
I was home on Tuesday and wide-awake from jet lag at 4 o'clock Wednesday morning. There was a lot of satisfaction on that journey though, so the jet lag was worth it!
Aren't you Eugene Laverty's brother-in-law from Moneyglass?
I'm married to Eugene's sister Emma and we live in Cargin, Toomebridge. I'm originally from Moneyglass and the famous jockey Anthony McCoy also comes from there, I went to school with his younger brother. It's a small village so you know everyone and it's a nice place with a strong community.
The Laverty family comes from the neighboring village Toomebridge, when I was playing football Moneyglass and Toome were big rivals but the Laverty's seem to have accepted me OK now! I guess racing is more their sport of choice, Eugene's father's a former road racer who knew the late Gene McDonnell well. Eugene was in fact named after Gene who was also my Mothers cousin.
Didn't Paul Denning say that he had 'realistic and humble' expectations for the PI race?
In qualifying I was setting my sights on the front two rows with the front row being exceptional and I would have been more than happy with anywhere in the top 5 for the race. As the lights turned green I actually said to one of the mechanics that this was just going to be a good data gathering exercise for the second race.
I was hopeful of a podium and then Eugene goes out and wins. I knew we had a similar pace to the front runners but I do try to keep myself reserved and not get too carried away. I think it's fair to say we blew those expectations out of the water. The problem is that we've now set the bar really high for the future.
In 2010, Philip Island, Leon Haslam won race 1 and got 2nd in race 2 on the same bike. It's now four years since the factory developed it but Crescent have done a lot of work tweaking and adjusting it, but as a package it works well there.
Are you saying it's a different bike to the one they were using last year?
No, it's exactly the same bike, it's just that there are different electronic strategies used now and they seem to be working well. I used Leon Haslam as a comparison because you can't compare with last year as Leon Camier was hurt and Jules was a rookie. I was just trying to compare like with like.
Davide Gentile has also come on board and has made a big impact; he has a wealth of experience on Marelli Systems. He's still getting up to speed with the Motec system, so there may be more to come - in fact I'm quite certain there's more to come.
On the Crescent web site you're a 'Chief Technical' but that is the same as a Crew Chief isn't it?
Yes that's right.
I've previously been Crew Chief for Eugene, his brother Michael and Sam Lowes. I was Chief Mechanic for Eugene for a number of years and then his crew chief in WSS in 2010. I was also Michael's Crew Chief when he won the BSS Championship in 2007.
I've been in various paddocks for many years, including Mx, BSB, WSB, and a short stint in MotoGP and am often working with guys I've worked with before so it doesn't feel that different to be a Crew Chief in a WSBK team. You could see it as a step up but it feels natural to me to work with Eugene. I know Eugene better than most people and know what he likes in a bike.
The problem is that after these results we've put quite a bit of pressure on ourselves and there are now more expectations but we'll just concentrate on putting the best bike under Eugene for a Sunday afternoon. I try not to get too swallowed up in the hype and drama; I just concentrate on doing my job.
Was it a condition that you came along with Eugene if he accepted the Suzuki ride?
Yes, it was one of his stipulations. I was also working with him at Aprilia so it was basically a continuation.
I was offered a job to stay at Aprilia and had done the first test with Melandri whilst waiting on Eugene securing a ride but was more than happy to step up to be his chief here.
I really enjoy the technical side of things, trying to make a difference with suspension, electronics, chassis balance, tyres - trying to see if you can identify anything in the data that would be of an advantage.
I also assist with Eugene's more detailed than usual pit board. He likes all sorts of gaps and information on there.
How does a Crew Chief's pay compare with a rider's?
If you're a rider you've only got a short window whereas a crew chief can be in the paddock for some time. Whatever Eugene is paid he deserves every penny he gets. Over the years I've also worked with road racers at the Isle of Man from the likes of John McGuiness to William Dunlop and they too are worthy of every penny.
Crew chiefs and Mechanics don't do too badly and more importantly we love doing it and the job certainly beats a standard 9 to 5.
Where did the newfound speed in the Suzuki come from?
Before the first test I spent a long time with Les Pearson (long standing Crescent crew chief currently working with Alex Lowes) and he knows the GSXR inside out. He gave me lists of settings that various riders had used to good effect at most tracks and this gave us a starting point from which to progress.
I just picked through the data bearing in mind how Eugene likes a bike set up. At the Jerez test we had a few teething problems but at Almeria and Portimao we got up to speed with settings they weren't that different to the first test. We took those settings to PI.
The biggest thing is to get the electronics tailored to the rider. Eugene likes help from the engine braking and that's tailored corner to corner. He's very specific about that in that he likes rear contact on corner entry, some riders are happy with the rear wheel off the deck kicking them up the arse but Eugene likes the bike settled with contact to help him turn.
When you know how he likes a bike it's quite easy to get a good starting point. It was different at Aprilia because we had to start from scratch because of how Max Biaggi liked his bike but here we could hit the ground running because we had settings to build on. A lot of the settings we found at Aprilia would form the basis of what we use now.
It's all really just an evolution of last year's bike rather than a revolution and as I say the big thing was the electronics. We thought that the suspension price cap might have a big effect but it really didn't, the suspension we use now seems to be every bit as good as what we were using before. It's the electronic strategies that have changed.
The riders are also really pushing each other and that's brought the last part of the improvement.
And all settings are done per corner?
Yes, that's right. We split the track into sectors, and then individual turns. Eugene needs the engine braking and traction control adjusted turn to turn and they're the main settings we work on. Unless you've got those settings in the ball park you can't work on anything else and once you've got them there you can start working on the chassis.
Davide Gentile is very important in that respect and one of his strongest areas is the throttle connection, power delivery and traction. The riders have commented that the power is now very useable and that combined with a well set up corner entry makes the bike great in and out of a turn. He's got years of experience and is well respected in the paddock. I don't know anybody who's got a bad word to say about him and on top of that he gets our humor.
His experience allows him to understand what a rider's requesting very quickly and get a map modified and uploaded to the ECU. The Motec ECU is very new to him though.
In many ways his way of working is similar to myself and Eugene's in that he's quiet and reserved and gets the job done and doesn't stamp his feet.
How do you manage communication in the pits?
When Eugene comes in he'll speak to me and Davide together. I've seen situations where the rider speaks only to the crew chief who in turn relays it to the other technicians but I think it's best if it comes straight from the horse's mouth so nothing's lost in translation.
That way we're all working from the same source and afterwards we may be able to compare and discuss. It's fair to say that Davide is a key member of the team and often takes the initiative and just gets on with it. The session's so short that you need to use all the time available without having to needlessly relay information.
By keeping everyone in the loop everyone's aware of what everybody else is doing so that if we're testing a particular tyre Davide can hopefully work on a strategy based on that. It allows us to work as efficiently as possible.
We do have a schedule for the weekend particularly with the time constraint of the new qualifying arrangements and you'll also generally have a routine but you've got to keep that flexible because of how different the tracks are.
I don't really need to act as a kind of amateur psychologist with Eugene because he's a total professional. Right from the first lap of a test he instantly gets into test mode and will rattle out really consistent laps ideal for testing whereas at a race he slips straight into race mode. He always keeps a little in reserve for Superpole on Saturday and then turns it on for Sunday. He certainly doesn't need any reminding of what's needed from me. He's very methodical.
I try to run a calm and quiet box. If Eugene's sitting in his chair and people are flapping about then that might affect his mental state, when everybody's going about their business quietly that keeps him relaxed. He likes the whole thing to be quite reserved and under control. Obviously there are times when you need to put an inch to your step, but in general we keep it that way. He's not like other riders who may throw their arms around when things aren't going right. The Crew is all very professional and efficient; it relaxes Eugene when he feels confidence in the people around him.
Do you still do any spannering?
This year, no not really. I am involved with helping in the pit stops though because that's necessary with the new flag to flag format but I don't really think that that counts as proper spannering.
Eugene really seemed to wind up to speed as the race progressed, was that a plan?
No, we had nothing planned in that respect. It's just that he got an average start which gave the other guys a jump on him. He knew he had the tyre to last the race and maybe Sylvain wasn't noticing that the gap to Eugene was coming down. By the time he reached the leaders he had the rhythm to pass and gap them.
The left side of Sylvain's tyre was delaminating which ruled him out of a late charge and though Melandri's tyre was OK, for some reason he couldn't react to Eugene's pace. Eugene's pace slowed down when he was stuck behind the Aprilias but once he got past he could get back up to his fast pace. It wasn't planned, it was just due to the average starts.
When I saw the gap coming down I started thinking 'Wow!, this looks possible here'. Once he got the gap down to 2 seconds it just tumbled down and we were in business. Last year Eugene actually set the lap record on the last or second to last lap of the race and won the race and with this in mind I thought that the Aprilia's maybe had something up their sleeve but it wasn't to be. It was all down to Eugene, he's smooth and this gives the tyre less of a hard time.
In the second race we had an engine failure, we've analysed it with Yoshimura and it's not a problem we're going to have in the future.
Talking of the engine, is it still down on power?
Last year the engine was quite respectable, it's been developing really well and now it's probably a match for the Kawasaki and that's where we need to be. Top end I think that everyone's lacking to the Aprilias and that's why Eugene could stay in Sylvain's draft but couldn't pull out.
Coming from the Aprilia to the Suzuki Eugene told us that the front end of the Suzuki is now the best he's ever had in racing so that goes some way to making up for that last bit of power. He doesn't ride with the bike on its nose but he does like precise steering and the Suzuki's got it. In parc ferme after the race Guintoli said the same because he's also got experience of the Suzuki, he also said that you can just put that bike where you want and it'll oblige.
Eugene found the Aprilia a little too unstable under heavy braking and with the GSXR he's not getting any of that.
How is the interchange of information like between the 2 sides of the garage?
It's completely open. We sit down in the evening and have a debrief between the 2 sides and any progress one side has made is made available to the other. That's of course great for us because Les has been working with the bike for so long and knows it inside out and upside down.
How about Alex's performance at PI?
He was beating himself up afterwards but the speed was there.
He crashed in FP3 and was unfortunate to hurt himself but I'm quite certain that if he hadn't he would have shown a similar pace to Eugene and that's not a bad way to start.
In testing and race pace he's been right up there with Eugene. In debriefs he's got the same comments as Eugene it's just that he's got a totally different style. Eugene is measured and pin point accurate whereas Alex is aggressive and all action. He really grabs it by the scruff of the neck but in the end it's two different ways of getting the same lap time.
In BSB he started aggressive but managed to control that aggression and won the Championship. I'm certain there's more to come from him.
PI is quite a unique circuit; do you think that pace will carry over to other tracks?
In testing it looked good. Alex had good pace in both Jerez and Portimao so why not. Things were clicking into place particularly in Portimao and both of our riders had a strong pace there and that track's a good gauge so we're looking to be there or there abouts from here on in. Some track will be more difficult than others but we should be OK.
Is there any potential of Eugene moving to Suzuki MotoGP?
Well, Eugene's going to test the bike. He's got a few tests scheduled and he's really keen to give that a go, we'll just have to wait and see what 2015 holds.
Eugene is hopeful of something happening but that certainly wasn't the reason for taking this ride. John (Eugene's brother) does a lot of spotting on the tracks and had only good things to say about the Suzuki. He could tell that the electronics needed developing but that the bike was basically good and so it's proved.
Eugene had quite a smile on his face at having passed and outpaced the bike he was riding last season I can tell you. That was a particular pleasure for him.
At present we're contracted to Suzuki for one year, we're all English speaking and it's a really friendly and professional team with a good crew and Paul keeps a tight eye on things.
Thanks a lot Phil and good luck for the next races.
Yeah, we'll try and keep the ball rolling, my wife Emma also keeps a close eye on things, she's a Laverty and it's important for me to get good results to keep her off my back!
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