Eugene Laverty and the Politics of Racing

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“When the music stops you need to grab a seat,” is a kids game, but in the grown-up business of the paddock, it is still just as relevant as if you were at a birthday party.

Unfortunately for Eugene Laverty, he’s been left as one of the last riders chasing a seat for 2019, and with Marco Melandri, Loris Baz, Jordi Torres, and Xavi Fores all also running in circles, the clock is ticking until the music stops for good.

Having thought that he’d be sticking with Shaun Muir Racing for next year, as the team switches to BMW machinery, the Irishman now finds himself on the outside looking in. From feeling secure that he would have a good ride for 2019, he suddenly finds himself staring at limited opportunities.

It’s not the first time that Laverty has found himself in a predicament like this. In the autumn of 2013, he missed out on staying with Aprilia, and had to search for a ride, which led him from being a WorldSBK title contender to riding an uncompetitive Suzuki, and from this he began a two-year stint in MotoGP.

From that he made a return to WorldSBK, which yielded solid progress in his second year with the Milwaukee Aprilia squad. But this was not enough to keep his ride, with Tom Sykes expected to be announced as the rider to replace him.

“As a rider, all you want to do is show your potential,” summed up Laverty about the last five years. “There are some riders that are dreamers and talk about what they can achieve, but I know my level and that’s what I wanted to be able to demonstrate here.”

“I think from mid-season onward, I’ve been able to show my level again. I know that I’m a much better rider now than I was compared to when I was fighting for the WorldSBK title.”

“It’s been so tough over the last few years, but it’s made me stronger as a person and a rider. I’ve really had to dig in this year. But we’ve got a fantastic little group of people working here. It’s a small effort compared to some of the other factory teams here in World Superbikes, so what we did together shouldn’t be underestimated.”

What they achieved was turning around a dreadful 2017 season, into a year where, despite missing two rounds due to serious injuries from a crash in Thailand, Laverty was able to get the Aprilia back on the podium, claim a pole position and finish a credible eighth in the championship.

It’s not been enough to get Laverty back on a front-running bike, and so much of the last five years can be attributed to losing his Aprilia seat following the 2013 season. That year he finished the season with ten podiums in the eleven races, and looked to have truly arrived on the world stage.

At its conclusion however, all he did was make way for Marco Melandri. Since then, Laverty feels he’s become a much more complete rider with experience matched with raw speed.

“I’ve shown I can develop bikes, I’ve shown that I can win on three different makes of bikes, I’ve shown I can be a title contender. I’m a lot better than I was back then and that I’m a much more complete rider.”

“When I look at my data from five years ago, to me it looks like I was a rookie and it’s crazy to think that’s when I finished second in the championship and won nine races. Back then I wasn’t half the rider that I am now.”

“That’s what keeps me motivated. That’s what keeps me wanting to push forward to show that step that I’ve made in those five years, because the results haven’t shown it. I want to show my true potential.”

For the 32-year-old the goal is clear: to get back into the position to challenge for championships again. Having come close to joining Kawasaki in the summer of 2016, he knows how fine this knife-edge is upon which decisions are made.

“I want to be on the WorldSBK grid and I want to be on a competitive bike. I want everything, but I also know that there are a lot of riders on one-year contracts; that’s why I want to stay here. I want to stay here because I feel I deserve a shot on one of those top bikes.”

“It’s going to be a tough few weeks, but I’m not the only one. There’s a few other riders that are deserving of rides that haven’t yet been signed up. I’m not alone in looking for a ride. At time like this, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth and try to get myself sorted.”

“Unfortunately this is an expensive game, and with the state of the world right now money talks. It ain’t easy, but I felt I did my job this year in terms of the results that I achieved compared to last year. We made a big step forward. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for me. You’ve got to do your talking off the track as well. As we know, it’s not just about results.

“I do think that that over my career that’s been a weakness of mine. I’ll be honest in that, for me I like to just ride motorbikes and get results on track. I don’t talk about myself, and I think four out of my last five contracts, I’ve lost despite winning or beating my teammate.”

“It’s pretty nuts. Politics and other things have played a part, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years it’s that the old saying, ‘I’ll do my talking on the track,’ isn’t not one to live by. It doesn’t work. I think I’m proof of that.”

Whether Laverty can pull a rabbit out of the hat remains to be seen, but he’s determined that this won’t be the last we see of him on the world stage.

Photos: © 2018 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved

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Steve English

"Superbike Steve" is known best for his on-air hosting of the WorldSBK race feed, but when he's not looking pretty for the camera, he is busy writing stories and taking photographs for Asphalt & Rubber.