Eugene Laverty continued to demonstrate that he is adapting well to life in the World Superbike Championship, by leaving 2010 Champion Max Biaggi trailing to the tune of more than half a second on the final test day of the year at Phillip Island in Australia – and he promptly pronounced that he has 'really made the bike mine' now.
Off the back of a second consecutive runner-up finish in World Supersport in 2010, Laverty has been rewarded for his efforts and his speed in the feeder series with promotion to World Superbikes with the factory Yamaha outfit in 2011, and on another largely dry and sunny day Down Under, the Northern Irishman wrapped up the three-day session comfortably on top.
Alongside team-mate and MotoGP refugee Marco Melandri, he tried out various parts including new Ohlins front forks on both the 2010 and 2011 R1 race bikes, with the latter additionally featuring a revised weight balance, new engine performance parts and a different seat and fuel tank design, along with standard fuel injectors and fuel pump in-line with the 2011 racing regulations.
Having already turned heads over the course of the first two days with his impressive pace and prowess out on-track, Laverty again stunned observers by lapping well clear of fellow test attendees Biaggi, Leon Camier and Melandri, laying down a blistering 1m31.5s benchmark on new tyres at the end of the day. The 24-year-old also spent some time on race simulation, putting in consistently fast laps there, too.
“I'm pretty pleased with the test,” he acknowledged. “It's a nice way to go into the winter break. In the three days we got a lot of laps done, and the second day especially was a big breakthrough. So far we've had two one-day tests, so the second day here was where we really made the bike mine.
“The race times on the 2011 machine weren't so far away from the 2010 bike, so we're developing in the right direction. The new Ohlins front fork is definitely an improvement. I'm still learning this bike, so we are fine-tuning it as we go.”
Melandri, for his part, required some ongoing physical modifications to the YZF-R1 to accommodate his riding style, with adjustments to foot pegs, handlebars and other geometry settings, and the Phillip Island outing marked the Italian's first real opportunity to work through set-up developments on the bike. The 28-year-old improved steadily to wind up just nine tenths shy of Laverty – matching Camier's best effort – whilst also benefitting from some running on Pirelli's wet tyres when the heavens briefly opened.
“It was a good test in the end,” the former Gresini ace remarked. “The three days were very intensive. It was quite challenging at first working on the 2011 machine, but during the second day we started to find a way and then on the third day we found a big improvement and found good race pace. The rain meant we couldn't find a good lap time with a soft tyre, but for me that wasn't what was important here.
“The difference between a MotoGP bike and a Superbike on this track is huge; the bike moves a lot more so the faster corners are very different, but step-by-step it's getting better and better. The feeling is very good – I'm very happy. This track is a difficult track, so we have done well and I think we can be very strong for the first race here next year.”
“These were three very important days for us,” concluded Yamaha World Superbike team manager Andrea Dosoli. “After the shakedown of the new bike in Valencia, here we had the chance to work on it in more detail. We have confirmed that the new bike is pretty good, with high potential. We are pleased that it can keep consistent lap times during race simulations. For this we are quite happy, as on this track in the past we have struggled.
“Eugene was very fast from the beginning on all three days and had a good feeling working on both bikes. Marco has been working hard, mainly on the 2011 bike. He has been working on rider position, and there are still some areas we have to improve for him to be more comfortable on the bike. He was very consistent with race pace, although he didn't have time to try a flying lap. After the first two days he struggled a bit with set-up, then today he found a good one that worked for him and was comfortable so the lap times improved. Overall, the test was very positive and we are confident we have a good base for the Phillip Island race.”