Eugene Laverty took the first World Superbike victory of his career at Monza on Sunday after a dominant performance in the opening race of the day saw him capitalise on a mistake by reigning champion Max Biaggi to open a comfortable lead over the Italian that he would hold to the flag.
In the second race of the day Laverty fought through the field to take another victory after showing a cool head in the final stages to overtake his factory Yamaha teammate, Marco Melandri, at the final corner. Laverty, in his rookie season in WSBK, looked like a veteran in both races but it was amazing to see his confidence in the second race as he waited until the very death of the race to make his move.
Half way through the final lap Melandri make a mistake at the second chicane, the Roggia Chicane, and ran wide. At that point it was clear that Laverty was in a position to take the lead but the Irishman sensed that it could leave him vulnerable to attack at the final corner and instead of powering into the lead, as the vast majority of riders would have done, he decided to bide his time and stare at his teammate as they accelerated through the gears.
Last season in a World Supersport race at Silverstone Laverty did much the same thing. He had raced comfortably at the pace of his rival, Kenan Sofuoglu, but refused to even attempt a move on the Turk. Instead he waited until the final corners to make a daring move for the lead. It was a risky strategy last year and seeing as Melandri is a former 250GP champion and MotoGP race winner it was clear that last weekend’s race was far from a foregone conclusion.
But Laverty’s self confidence was rewarded at the final corner when he forced Melandri to brake too late and run wide; leaving the door wide open for Laverty to sneak through to take the win and show the world just how quickly he has adapted to riding a superbike.
Even though his reputation has been cemented with two and a half hugely successful seasons in WSS winning in WSBK was a hugely important step for the Antrim native to take. This showed that he could handle racing the more powerful Superbike. It also showed that he can race on slick tyres and most importantly that he could beat a proven Grand Prix race winner in a wheel to wheel battle.
When it was announced that Laverty and Melandri would be paired together this season it was clear that this would be a pivotal year for the 24 year old. Melandri came to WSBK still regarded as a fast rider with terrific credentials. He would therefore be a perfect yardstick with which to measure Laverty.
This race showed that Laverty has the speed and intelligence to race with anyone and could be crucial in giving his career the momentum needed to race in MotoGP in the future. In the last two years the factory Yamaha team has been a breeding ground for riders to make the jump from WSBK to MotoGP.
Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow both spent one year with the squad before leaving for the world of prototype racing with the Tech 3 Yamaha squad. With Colin Edwards nearing the end of his Grand Prix career the path may open for Laverty to return to Grand Prix racing. To do so he will need to carry the momentum of his double success at Monza forward but there is little doubt that Laverty has the talent, intelligence and temperament needed to make such a move possible.