After another tough year in WorldSBK, 13-time race winner Eugene Laverty ended his season just 15th overall, but also on a high after securing an equal-best result of the year in a full-distance race, sixth.
Some recent, if necessarily late in developing, understanding of how his bike works, meant Laverty knew he could have a chance in Qatar, on the last day of school.
“I knew from the first few laps that the bike was good in race two,” Laverty told bikesportnews.com. “It is just unfortunate what happened in the first lap. In turn one Toprak he came down the inside of me, and it was fine - aggressive - and I lost maybe two places.
I can accept that. But then in corner four, Rinaldi came down the inside out of control and hit me off the track and I lost like three or four places. That really pissed me off. I got back to, like, 14th place. I just kept coming and coming and hoping that I would catch the group and got there right at the end.
“It would have been nice to get Toprak but I think he saw that I was coming and he was the first Independent Rider, so he knew I was trying to catch him.”
With a powerful new Ducati in 2019, even inside a small team making a shift from years with Kawasaki machinery, Laverty must have been expecting more than a final 15th, even if his early midseason was dogged by injury, and he missed four whole rounds. Yes and no, said a man with 35 WorldSBK podiums to his credit.
“After Aragon, I was expecting much more,” confirmed Laverty. “I though after then we would be on the podium consistently but I got injured, and when I came back we struggled to find the way and it was only really in Argentina on Sunday morning that we found the direction, a little bit too late.
“But the important thing is that we finished strongly and found the way again. When you get injured at that time of the season and then you come back and you are not able to ride the bike correctly, it is easy to lose the direction.”
The other question for all Ducati riders in 2019 is just how tricky is that incredibly powerful and race-focused Italian machinery? Is the Panigale V4R, more tricky than a ‘normal’ bike.
“No, no,” said Laverty, “there is something different that it is hard to transfer from the front to the rear, maybe attributed to the wings. I have struggled with it when you are in the corner and you want to transfer to the rear, it is difficult.
There are some benefits of the wings and it makes the bike very easy to ride under acceleration, because it does not want to wheelie and the engine is linear, but it is something that I have fought with. I like a bike that when I release the brake and get on the gas I want thing to transfer and turn on the rear.”
Laverty also says that the wings do not just come into play at very high speeds, to keep the nose down. Do the wings only really work at high speed?
“It will work even in the likes of second and third gear corner exits,” argues Laverty. “The engine being so linear out of the corner makes it under control well. But if you look at the last corner, when you are going from second to third, there is quite a lot of downforce that helps keep the front wheel down.”
New year in 2020, new challenge for Laverty in the shape of a more conventional, if factory, BMW.
“I am sure it will be a different style of riding but Tom Sykes has been doing well on it this year, so let’s see,” said Eugene.
An old team-mate and occasional bête noir of Laverty’s Marco Melandri, retired from racing all-together at Losail, and Laverty marked the occasion - off and on track. “It was nice today in the Superpole race to have a fight with Marco, and just before warm-up we exchanged helmets and I wrote a message on the visor saying ‘thanks for the memorable last lap battles’,” said Laverty. “And in the Superpole race there were three laps to go and I saw ‘33’ on my board and I thought ‘Oh F**k, this is another last lap battle!’
“He is one guy you do not want behind you on the last lap. So in the final lap of the Superpole Race I did my fastest time of the race. It was important because I wanted to finish ninth to get ninth place on the final race grid. We fought like it was Monza in 2011, or 2013 all over again. It was good on Marco’s last day that we could have another battle.”