Eugene Laverty is confident he can establish himself as an immediate World Superbike front runner as he not only prepares for his first season in the series, but also his maiden season as a Superbike rider.

Though he has amassed an impressive set of results at Supersport level in recent years, the two-time WSS runner-up will step up to Superbikes for the first time in 2011 as part of the factory Yamaha WSB team.

A bold new line-up for the 2009 championship winning manufacturer after also signing fellow Superbike debutant Marco Melandri to partner Laverty, the Irishman has nonetheless taken to the faster machinery with aplomb, proving immediately on the pace with his more experienced rivals during testing.

With one test outing remaining at Phillip Island before the 2011 season gets underway at the same venue, Laverty is already being labelled a threat by rivals, even if the man himself is taking a more 'realistic' approach to his rookie objectives.

"I wish I was considered the 'dark horse', but it seems quite a few riders have accepted I can be a big threat this year," he told Crash.net. "Personally, I think it is a big ask for me to get into the top three in my first season of Superbikes - I am realistic and I don't want to look too far ahead to the future. However, I won't rule out the chance of me getting amongst the front runners from the beginning of the season.

"If I was top five or six by the end of the year I will be content. If I'm top three, then I'll be ecstatic! For the first round though, I just want to get two solid finishes on the board. I'm not going to be chasing the world championship straight away, but I certainly think I can be up there."

Touching on team-mate Melandri, who arrives in World Superbikes as a reputed MotoGP race winner, though Laverty has so far out-paced his high-profile team-mate during testing, he is certain there is plenty to come from the Italian.

"Myself and Marco get on really well. He has a high-profile, but he is a nice guy - very down to earth, calm natured and not as temperamental as some other Italian riders. He will be there this year because I don't think we have seen the best of him yet

"I've never had a team-mate that really pushes me, so I can only consider this to be a good thing as it will give me someone to measure myself against. I think the pressure will be on him to beat me, because I wouldn't be expected to beat him on paper."

Additionally, Laverty is confident Yamaha will not favour Melandri over himself, adding that he and his team-mate will share data to help push the team forward.

"There is no doubt that we will be receiving equal treatment from Yamaha. We are both sharing information on the bike, though he knows what he wants and I know what I want.

"The bike has made a good step in the right direction and the R1 is far more rideable than when I first got on it at Magny-Cours. The engine is stronger and smoother, plus we've improve the electronics which was previously upsetting the set-up."

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