In the aftermath of two runner-up finishes in the British round of the World Superbike championship Irishman Eugene Laverty could have been excused for feeling rather pleased with himself. If the Toombridge native did take stock of his progress in the WSBK championship this year the announcement last Monday that his Yamaha team will be pulling out of the championship would surely have taken the wind from his sails and the smile from his face.
Laverty has enjoyed a superb rookie season with an exceptionally well judged double victory at Monza the obvious highpoint from a year that has seen him cement his place as a world class rider. The 25 year old came into his rookie season keen to show that he could make the adjustment from a 600cc Super Sport machine to the 1000cc Superbike. With former MotoGP title runner-up Marco Melandri as his teammate there would be a proven yardstick with which to measure Laverty.
Throughout the season Laverty has been more than capable of matching his teammate and his recent brace of second place finishes at Silverstone illustrated once again that he is one of the most promising riders outside MotoGP. The consistency with which Laverty has developed through the year meant that most sage paddock figures had earmarked him as a genuine title contender next season and with four rounds to go he is expected to add to his win tally fromMonza.
The news that Yamaha will pull out of the championship at the end of the year surely came as a body blow to Laverty who now must shift his focus from racing to finding a new ride for 2012. His strong rookie season makes it inevitable that he will be at the top of any teams’ shopping list but with MotoGP and WSBK in the midst of their mid summer break the riders market is starting to take shape for 2012.
The main dominoes, as far as Laverty is concerned, will fall in the WSBK paddock. With just one years experience riding a Superbike it is crucial that he continues to learn and develop aboard the big bike. Laverty has excelled at adjusting to both the Super Sport and Superbikes in recent years and it is clear that his time in the MotoGP paddock, as a 250cc rider, has stood him in good stead for riding the larger capacity machines.
In the past Superbikes were about aggression rather than precision but with riders like reigning champion Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa and Melandri leading the championship it is clear that smoothness and understanding of the technical limits of the machinery has become the crucial factor in riding at the limit of these machines.
Laverty has also excelled at this throughout his career and as a result the teams in WSBK will be looking at him as a championship challenger next season and while he will have to compete with Melandri for the top rides there are no doubt that he will find plenty of suitors for his services.
With the WSBK season coming to a close it is inevitable that the teams outside of title contention will start to assess their seasons and determine whether their current rider line-ups’ are acceptable going forward. One team that will have a difficult decision to make is BMW. The team hired Leon Haslam as their lead rider at the start of the year and the Englishman has been impressive aboard the S1000RR and shown that it is capable of finishing on the podium.
Unfortunately for the German team Troy Corser no longer appears able to merit a top line machine in the championship. The former double champion was integral in the early stages of the BMW effort but it is clear that his day is now past and that new blood is needed within the camp. Laverty would be a suitable candidate for the ride with his blend of speed and technical ability surely a major attraction to the German marque. Laverty’s friendship with Haslam would also ensure a harmonious garage but whether BMW would find enough marketing value from an Irishman and an Englishman as their riders remains to be seen.
A similar issue could afflict Laverty at another leading team. The Ten Kate run Castrol Honda squad already has fellow Northern Irishman Jonathon Rea under contract for 2012 and the Dutch run squad find themselves under pressure to hire a more diverse rider line-up than Rea and Laverty. Ten Kate though would be a perfect landing spot for Laverty and could give him a more direct link to the MotoGP paddock than any other squad in WSBK.
Rea’s season has been tainted by a fractured wrist that has seen one of the pre-season title favourites sidelined for the last six races. Even so he is still 50 points ahead of his underachieving teammate, Ruben Xaus, who looks certain to get the chop at the end of the season.
There should also be a ride available withKawasakiwhere the often injured Chris Vermeulen looks set to be left in the cold. The Australian was once one of the most promising young riders in the world but the former MotoGP race winner has struggled to regain full fitness over the last three years following a series of injuries. It is unfortunate that a rider of immense promise has been unable to fulfil his potential but the Paul Bird run squad will surely remove such sentimentality from the equation when making a decision on their rider line-up for next year. Laverty would likely be in competition with David Salom for this ride andKawasakiwould surely be the least attractive team for the Irishman due to their inability to challenge at the front of the field in recent years.
The final opportunity within WSBK is perhaps the most appealing and competitive. Even though no firm plans have been announced for next year it is clear that Ducati will have an increased presence on the grid. The fabled Italian firm will launch their new Superbike at the end of the year and as a result it is inevitable that it will be pressed into action next year.
A full factory return to the championship is still uncertain but a factory supported bid, presumably with Carlos Checa’s Althea squad, is sure to be the minimum undertaking from Ducati. If there is any support from Ducati a second bike is inevitable and Laverty would be a genuine contender for this ride. He would once again be competing with Melandri for the ride but with the Italian having endured a miserable year with Ducati in MotoGP it would be far from certain that he would accept a ride with the team in WSBK.
This could leave the door open for Laverty to work with Ducati where if he impressed a move to MotoGP would be his reward. With Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi out of contract at the end of 2012 Laverty would be perfectly placed to move back into GP racing for 2013. There is however one intriguing prospect in relation to Ducati returning to WSBK.
Prior to their withdrawal from the championship they had struck up an agreement with Colin Edwards to race for them this season. The American was keen to return to WSBK but when his hopes were dashed he returned to Tech 3 in MotoGP. The former double WSBK champion knows that he has little chance of winning races in MotoGP but Superbikes provide him an opportunity to end his career with another title.
If Ducati came calling there is a real chance that he would jump at the prospect and thus leaves his Yamaha MotoGP ride available for next year. With Yamaha clearly impressed by Laverty’s form in WSBK he could possibly be in the frame for this MotoGP ride alongside his erstwhile WSS championship rival Cal Crutchlow who, like Ben Spies in 2009, has moved from factory Yamaha WSBK racer to satellite MotoGP rider.
One thing is for sure, even with Yamaha pulling out of WSBK there will be no shortage of suitors forEugene.