The past two seasons have been eventful for Shaun Muir Racing (SMR) and team manager Mick Shanley. Josh Brookes' British Superbike title in 2015 was followed by an eventful yet disappointing debut in World Superbike.

Still, Shanley [right of Muir in the picture above] is confident the best is yet to come. A new partnership with Aprilia sees SMR gain full-factory support from the marque that won World Superbike titles in 2010 and 2012. A recent test in Jerez gave the squad a chance to familiarse itself with riders Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori, along with the new set-up.

In Andalusia, Shanley sat down with Crash.net to discuss the new venture, hopes for 2017 and the positives that can be taken from the season that recently passed.

Crash.net:
You have now had a short time to work with both riders and technicians from Aprilia. What are your first impressions?

Mick Shanley:
For us it's a bit of a low-key introduction. It was like the first day of school when we arrived here because it's as much of a test for the whole team as it is for the riders. Although it's nice, we're not overly bothered with the performance level at the moment because everything is new to everybody. The only constant is Lorenzo rode the bike last year. But he's in an English-based team with an English crew chief. Eugene's come back from two years in MotoGP - a year on Bridgestone then on Michelin - and back onto Pirellis, getting acquainted with the Aprilia. Obviously it's a whole new environment for the team, a whole new relationship with Aprilia. To learn all the guys - we've got the Aprilia staff. They're learning our system, we're learning their system, even learning the trucks and where the spare parts are kept. Everything is new for everybody. It's a big test for all of us so we can get familiar, hopefully get some lap times and do some kilometres on the bikes, get an initial understanding and then when we come back here in January, we're coming to work and start to push.

Crash.net:
Can you explain the dynamic with the new set-up? Is it right to say SMR is running the team but with added factory support from Aprilia at every test and round?

Mick Shanley:
Yeah. People talk about factory support. The effort we're doing is as full factory as anything gets. Aprilia is paying all the mechanics' wages basically, and a full technical support package comes from Aprilia. We've got five guys in the garage from Aprilia and the rest of it, on the management and logistics side, the bikes, that all comes down to SMR. It'll be very much a big, joint team effort with Aprilia tasked with the development side, the electronics management and we'll take care of everything else.

Crash.net:
At the close of 2015 there were rumours linking SMR to running Aprilia's World Superbike effort this year. Did that come close to fruition?

Mick Shanley:
Yeah. We were talking to a lot of different manufacturers at the time when it became apparent that the Yamaha relationship wasn't going to continue into World Superbike [at the end of '15], we had done our plan and Milwaukee had done a marketing strategy based around international racing. We had decided that was the direction we wanted to go in and we needed a new partner then at that point. We had spoken to Aprilia in the past, even before the 2016 season was coming up. There was them, there was Suzuki, we were looking at the Yamaha private option, and then obviously the BMW thing. Everything that happened, for the right reasons really at the time, we chose the BMW route to come into the championship. In hindsight maybe things have worked out for the best. We've done a year of grounding. We're probably in a situation now that we can do the Aprilia situation some justice. We're in the championship now, established and we've found our footing. It's time to prove ourselves.

Crash.net:
2016 was unique in that so many riders in MotoGP were speaking about rides for the following year as early as March. Knowing he was open to a World Superbike return, was Eugene always your number one target?

Mick Shanley:
You know what it's like. You go looking for the best riders that you can do. When we knew where the direction lay, Eugene was top of the list. He's got fantastic history with Aprilia. In MotoGP, he's done phenomenally well there. Unfortunately for him it's really difficult to get the right package there. It's attractive to him to come back to World Superbike with a package and an aim of being competitive at the front.

Crash.net:
While the Ioda squad received very little support from Aprilia, Lorenzo was still competitive on many occasions. That must be a great boost going into the winter break.

Mick Shanley:
I think Lorenzo did fantastically well last year. He was the top rookie. Not through any malice or anything, he came into World Superbike from the Superstock championship probably in a position where he needed a bit more help and guidance. But by default and through results, he became team leader in the Ioda team. I think it'll be really nice to see and there's a good relationship already building between Eugene and Lorenzo - good data work, where they can compare, and similar lap times. It'll be good for those two to bounce things off each other and look at different approaches. As De Angelis had just come back from a terrible injury, it'll be good for Lorenzo to come back and have that benchmark to work with.

Crash.net:
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing SMR to get up to speed next year?

Mick Shanley:
The Aprilia hasn't had any development since 2014. There was a little bit in 2015 but it was pretty much the bike that went before. Last year it had absolutely nothing. This test here is about us testing together as a team and getting some baseline knowledge. We have updates for 2017. The development process has already started. We just need to confirm a few things at that test. We'll get this test out of the way, the familiarity of everyone working together - we've been used to a slightly different working dynamic - both from our side and Aprilia's side. Once we get that, judging by how everything's been running in the past couple of days, it's a nice working environment and I'm sure we can have a real strong season together.

Crash.net:
Do you have new parts to test here in Jerez?

Mick Shanley:
The bikes we're running at the minute are principally bikes that we were running last year. We have new suspension and new engines. We have a few new items to tick off the list, to try with a view for the '17 bike. Then in January we'll go and build the '17 bike with the results that we get here and some other work that Aprilia is doing back at the factory.

Crash.net:
Do you expect the bike that lines up on the grid at Phillip Island next February to be drastically different to what you have tested so far?

Mick Shanley:
Obviously there are a few things that should be a good step forward. The guys in Aprilia have been working hard on the MotoGP project and also learning from that side of things. There'll be an influence coming from that. Also the information that they've had from previous World Superbikes, I'm sure they'll analyse everything and see where they can improve.

Crash.net:
Seeing how Aprilia's MotoGP machine improved toward the end of 2016, that must also give you some heart.

Mick Shanley:
The test [in Valencia] I think went really well. You look at Aleix Espargaro and he put in some really strong lap times and he seemed to be impressed with the bike. Even Eugene rode the bike in testing and had a lot of good things to say about it. Now, he's jumped back aboard the Aprilia and it's like putting your comfortable shoes back on. He said it's very familiar, like the 2013 bike, but it feels a lot more complete as a package. He's happy with his first impression back.

Crash.net:
Looking back at 2016, things with riders Josh Brookes and Karel Abraham didn't quite go to plan. What was the main reason for this?

Mick Shanley:
It was a difficult season, there's no doubt about that. From the whole build up - we had quite a big task ahead. I've said it quite a few times to people, there is a lot of international race experience within the team, even though we were in BSB. But the first big challenge was to step up into the world championship. You're normally used to going racing at Easter in the UK and this time we had to be tested and bikes built and ready to be shipped off to Australia in the beginning of February. Logistics was the first challenge, to kit up and staff up to get to the point where we could be on track and send things to the other side of the world. The BMW package was engine and electronics so we had a real heavy winter to get the bikes built to a world championship standard. We manufactured a lot of parts to bring the bike up to a level where we though it'd be good. That was the first challenge.

I think the BMW guys were fantastic. They put a lot of effort in behind us. At the beginning we pushed hard for a lot of things to get Josh comfortable. It was difficult at the very beginning to get things going but once we got the relationship together as SMR and BMW it was really strong. We worked really well together over the year but because of the BMW package being an engine and electronics situation, it was different from Althea's package - they build their own bike -, it was different to the BMW Italia package from before. All these subtle differences, there wasn't the consistent base level for data. We had a little bit of data for each circuit we went to, and a base setting. But the specifications are different. Then we go to a new circuit, and the rider wasn't overly familiar with the circuit, or he had never been there before. He was trying to get a set-up and track knowledge in a short space of time. I think we did quite well.

The results didn't show what we were capable of all year. Josh struggled. The BMW wasn't like the Yamaha. He was at home on the Yamaha. Everything fitted there as a combination. The BMW was difficult. There's no denying that the pace in World Superbike is so fast - it's not that Josh went slow. You look at Donington and he was 1.5 seconds under the BSB record and he's racing for twelfth. The level here is very high.

Karel was phenomenally fast in some places but he didn't have a lot of confidence in the front of the bike, especially with the way the Pirelli tyre moved. He's got a history in Grand Prix and a solid, stable tyre. Under heavy braking it was never his strongest point. In fast areas of the track he'd be really quick and in the slow, heavy braking areas it'd really hurt him. We definitely underachieved with that we should have done last year. We learnt a lot and it put us in a good place to come and work with Aprilia this year to look forward.

Crash.net:
What was the biggest thing you learnt from 2016?

Mick Shanley:
Everything really. It's just a whole global thing. We've changed the whole team structure around from what we had last year. You've got the base knowledge for the circuits and where you're going. Even as engineering staff you've got more of that understanding of where you go, for track conditions and character. We ticked a lot of those boxes. We're going to places now that are familiar not only for riders but for engineering staff as well. Equipment and the style, the way that we work has changed. We've had to adapt from BSB to World Superbike, which we knew we'd have to do anyway, in the way that you approach sessions and the things that you have to take into consideration. Obviously the timetable is different and it alters your strategy for what you're going to do for each individual session. I think a lot of that now is sort of second nature. It became that way mid-way through the year and now it's just a normal working practice for us now.

Crash.net:
Josh gave quite an outspoken interview over the summer break which indicated all was not rosy. Considering his feats in the British Championship a year before, were you surprised how the relationship went?

Mick Shanley:
Yeah, it's disappointing how things transpired throughout the season. Everything aligned in 2015. We had a rider that was very familiar with the situation he was in. He'd had a year with the team. He'd spent so long in BSB and it was his time. The new bike suited him. He developed and pushed the bike hard and got a package that really went. You could almost say that the stars aligned and everything was good. The relationship and everything was good.

Obviously the Wolrd Superbike thing... It's not too harsh to say that he maybe underestimated it. There is a lot to take on. As a team, we had to adapt a lot. To come back to World Superbike and re-address a riding style to how much electronic intervention you need to run here, whereas he was used to ultimately riding on feel in BSB. That showed when he was in the wet. He was really strong and that's when he could ride more on feel and he wasn't really looking for the electronics to save everything. He was naturally strong in the wet. To push hard in the dry maybe not relying [on the electronics] as much didn't help him.

[It's] Disappointing really how the relationship went. The team here works seven days a week. You're always working non-stop, all the time, to do everything you can for the rider. The frustrations always show, and it's difficult. But it's how you try and manage that situation.

Certain riders are different. Some accept some things. Others, especially when things are tough, are looking for things they can improve and it gets to a point where they think, 'I might need a job for next year. I need to portray an image where it's not my fault, it's everyone else's fault.' That's a rider make up. They have to have that self belief where everything is right. I think some of the things that were said were a little bit unnecessary and certainly a lot of it wasn't true. But that's a rider on the defensive. Josh is a special character. When things are going well, it's all good. He maybe doesn't handle the pressure as well as he could do when things are tough. But it's his nature.
Crash.net:
Eugene is clearly targeting regular podiums and even more in 2017. We're still at a very early stage in this project, but have you set any expectations for the year ahead?

Mick Shanley:
Certainly there's no doubting the ambition we've got as a team. Ever since SMR's inception, Shaun's an ex-racer, and I've always been involved in racing, from riding a bit to being involved in the world championship, and everyone is hungry to win. We've got the ambition and we want to win. That's what ultimately the goal is. It's easy for everyone to say, 'I want to win the world championship' but it's our goal to be up there at the front, to be competitive. Hopefully we can develop into one of those front running teams. That's what we want to do this year [2017]. It's no secret Eugene is a world championship class rider. He's finished second in the world championship so many times. His make up is to go and win races. That's what has brought him back from MotoGP. He could have stayed in MotoGP on a bike he couldn't win races on. He's come back here for one reason and that's to win races. Hopefully we can allow that relationship to grow, with Eugene, Lorenzo and Aprilia and push toward the front and challenge for that world title.

 

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