It’s been a difficult year for Michael Laverty. He took on the McAMS Yamaha (formerly Team Traction Control) alongside James Ellison for the 2017 British Superbike season, but both struggled to make it work to its full potential.
At Motorcycle Live, Laverty took time out of his busy schedule to talk to TCF about his difficult season and his return to Tyco BMW.
2017 has been a hit and miss year for you on the Yamaha, but you did take second at Silverstone in those awful conditions which was incredibly impressive. How would you rate your season as a whole?
ML: “Terrible! It really was one of those seasons where my expectation was a lot higher than what we achieved, and it was only really the last round where I performed at the decent level the bike was capable of.
“We identified an electronics problem and rectified it for the last round. I was fast in the wet at Silverstone, I know a lot of people crashed but I set the fastest lap of the race and I was fast in those conditions and that was how we managed to identify the problem late in the year.
“We were quick every time it rained and slow in the dry, and we thought that maybe there was some substance to what I’d been complaining about. Once we adjusted I had a decent last round and it was nice to be vindicated a little bit, but such a disappointing season all round. We were capable of so much more.”
What’s drawn you back to the Tyco BMW team for 2018?
ML: “I started speaking with Philip [Neil, Tyco BMW team owner] and I was missing my BMW. I was riding my arse off on the Yamaha and not doing the same lap times as I was doing the year before on the BMW. I understand why now and the Yamaha had a lot of potential, but I was drawn back to the BMW again because I knew the team and they knew me really well.
I spent a lot of time with them when they were Relentless Suzuki, then two years with them at Tyco BMW. We won a lot of races and a championship together so there’s a good relationship there and I know the crew well and I understand the strong points and the weak points of the BMW.
I think it was an easy decision for me to go back there because I know I can at least pick up where I left off and should I have replicated the lap times I’d done in 2016, it would have given me a couple of race wins so it was an easy choice to go back.
Your brother [Eugene] races in World Superbike, but can you still learn from each other even though you don’t race in the same series?
ML: “We do talk a lot but maybe less so in the last few years…I think with experience you’ve had your information and there’s less to learn. You can still learn a little bit, but if I spot anything on TV and I’m not there I’ll phone Eugene or message him and likewise.
“Trackside is really good, but he has our other brother John there on a permanent basis as his coach and assistant. Whenever you’ve got a fast set of eyes, someone who’s done it before, they can see things that you might not be able to feel on the bike or maybe give you information on what somebody else is doing that looks a bit better. They help you technically and riding style wise there’s lots of little bits and pieces.
“If Eugene comes to a race he’ll go out on track and come back and critique different things that I’m doing like “try this, try that, put your elbows here, your head there, move your arse off the seat there it might help with how the bike steers” – there’s so many subtle little things that make a difference and you can only work at them, so it’s putting them into practice, working on your natural go-to riding style and you improve that way.
“We help each other a lot and the same with my brother in law [Chaz Davies, factory Ducati WorldSBK rider], I worked with him last year and we did a lot of spotting and helping each other.”
What do you do in the off-season to prepare for the next season?
ML: “November and December are the quiet months so while I’m home in Wales during winter I’ve been doing a little enduro riding. I don’t do a lot of training at this stage but once we get into January I start training hard again but now this is a quieter time, I’m just being careful up to Christmas not to eat too much because I don’t want to put on too much weight that I have to burn off again in the New Year!
“But from January through to April to the first round I work hard and I ride a lot of bikes. The last three years I’ve gone down to Spain with Chaz Davies, Leon Camier and John McPhee and we rent a place together. We’ve got a good base there for training, cycling, riding motocross, supermoto and mini bikes and we ride our race bikes then in March for pre-season testing.
“When it’s your full-time job you work towards being the best you can be, and it’s nice when you go to Spain and you’ve got that weather to do it every day. Now I live on a kart track but the weather’s so poor that I can’t ride my bike and I can only ride off roads, but what we do is on tarmac so I like to ride on tarmac when possible and also cycle a lot.
“You spend a lot of time sorting out your equipment deals, your personal sponsor deals, arranging colour schemes and making a plan for the season and then boring paperwork like everybody else, doing all your VAT and tax returns and prepping all that side of things. There’s always something to do and it’s not a 9 to 5, but you’re always thinking about something.”
Do you ride a road bike? If so, is it a BMW?
ML: “It will be a BMW again this year, they actually put me through my test at the end of 2015. I went to the BMW centre in Stoke and did a week long intensive course, and it was awesome because I always said that I wanted to get my license and ride on the road, but you just always seem to have something else to do so it was nice that they just did it intensively.
“I had a BMW S1000RR which was good for the road but because it was my race bike, the riding position made me want to ride fast, so I prefer the S1000R set in an upright position. Either the S1000RR or the S1000R is my chosen bike for the road and I do enjoy it, it’s different to being on track – the cruising mentality and just being nice and comfortable! I
“It’s something I haven’t done before so I’m new to it, and I went on an advanced rider course last year with McAMS. They took us down to the Metropolitan Police in London and that was quite cool because you learn completely different things to what we do on track – we’re all about going fast and that was about working on your peripheral vision and making the right decisions, making good, sensible and safe choices and I learned a lot from that.”
Apart from the obvious contenders next year, do you think there’ll be anyone else who’ll prove difficult to beat?
ML: “I think there’s going to be a lot. The three favourites are Leon Haslam, Shane Byrne and Josh Brookes without a doubt, and that covers three manufacturers. With the BMW’s I think there’ll be myself, Christian [Iddon] and Peter Hickman and I can see all three of us getting race wins at some point.
“The other Kawasaki guys like Luke Mossey and Jake Dixon will win races for sure, James Ellison’s on the TAG Yamaha and he’ll be fast enough to win races too. There’s so many guys, and that’s not even mentioning Jason O’Halloran and Dan Linfoot. You can name so many as every manufacturer has a bike that’s capable of winning and not too many have changed.
“A lot of people have continuity so they’ll all improve next year. It’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get tougher and that’s what we love about BSB. It’s so close and private teams can win races, so it’s nice to be back with a fully factory official team.
“But the thing is that the non-factory teams have the same equipment as us so it’s all about rider, technician and putting the pieces of the puzzle together and then you can go and win in BSB. It’s a very tough championship if you’re not getting all your ducks in a row.
You’ve done a stint on the world stage, but would you like to go back? Would you want to win the BSB title first?
ML: “Honestly I’d love to do the world championship, but age is a big factor. Not for me personally and I think I’m still fast enough, I’m improving all the time and I still have the desire but there’s a lot of prejudice against older guys. When you’re in your mid-30s, world championship guys think that they’re looking for someone in their early 20s and that even mid-20s is getting too old, especially in the GP paddock.
“I loved my time in MotoGP, I loved riding those bikes on those tracks, but I much prefer being in BSB on a competitive bike where, on my good days, I can fight for race wins and podiums. In MotoGP I could only ever finish fifteenth and scrape a point due to the machinery I was on, but we did a good job with what we had.
“I would love to go back, but it would have to be in the right circumstances, and realistically at my age it’s going to be hard to get that opportunity. Maybe there’ll be a wildcard ride here or there on a good bike and I’d love that, but I see myself mainly in BSB and maybe a bit of world endurance. Never say never because I never thought I’d be in MotoGP but I think it’s unlikely.”
The Tyco team races on the roads, is that something you’ve ever considered doing?
ML: “To me, the roads are fantastic and it’s a massive adrenaline buzz and I’ve done some parade laps. Growing up in Northern Ireland, road racing is huge and my father was a road racer. My parents never wanted me and my brothers to road race, so they put a lot of effort into travelling to the mainland so we could race in the British championship from our first years in racing.
“Out of respect for them I would never really consider it but if someone told me that I’d come back safe from Macau or the Northwest 200 for example, I’d be keen to give it a go but it’s just the danger element that keeps me away.”
Front row starts are something that you’re familiar with but just how important are they to a rider?
ML: “It’s really important, especially in BSB where it’s so hard to make your way through the field. Psychologically it helps because it builds your confidence for race day but the biggest thing is track position.
“If you’re on the first two rows you’re generally away in the top six and if you’re a good starter you can improve and be in the top three.
“If you’re in first, second or third after the first couple of laps you’ll generally stay in the top five even if you’re having a bad day, but if you’re in tenth to fifteenth and making your way through all the fast guys that are hard to pass, it’s hard to make inroads.
“The races aren’t that long, world championship races are a little bit longer and you can pace yourself, but BSB it’s attack from day one and everyone’s at a similar speed so that front row start is critical.
“If you don’t have the pace to put it on the front row even though you’ve got a good race pace, you can be hindered more in qualifying even though you’ve actually worked hard on pace. It’s so important to be fast over one lap.”
Just how much of a problem is tyre degradation when you’re working your way up through the field?
ML: “Generally in BSB we run the soft option rear tyre and if the temperature’s cold, it cools the tyres and it wears out that way. You don’t actually burn the rubber off you tear it up but if it’s hot, you’ve got really good grip for five laps, then you get a small decline and it generally stays like that right to the end of the race.
“If you’ve had to push really hard to fight your way through, you generate a higher pressure in those early laps from being really forceful with the tyre, and once the pressure grows the wheel starts to spin more. You just get more wheelspin even though there’s rubber there, so you’ll just be spinning and the pressure will stay high. You want to be smooth and you always have a clear idea of how your race will pan out.
“Ideally, you’re on the front row and you’ll get a good start. You’re in the top three and you hit your markers, you pace yourself out and then at two thirds distance you’ve got the speed to win and you get to the front… but it doesn’t always work that way.”