Eugene Laverty in upbeat mood after Portimao test

Eugene Laverty on the Milwaukee Aprilia.

Eugene Laverty on the Milwaukee Aprilia.

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Eugene Laverty is looking ahead to the opening round of the World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island this month with renewed optimism after making solid progress in pre-season testing.

Laverty, who is back in the series following a two-year spell in MotoGP, finished second fastest at Portimao in Portugal on the Milwaukee Aprilia over the weekend.

The Toomebridge man struggled somewhat during the opening test last week at Jerez in Spain as he felt his way with the RSV4-RF, but Laverty cut a much happier figure after climbing the time sheets at Portimao.

Welshman Chaz Davies led the way on the Aruba.it Ducati as he headed the times on the Panigale R with a lap in 1m 41.813s, but Laverty was close behind after setting his quickest time in 1m 42.002s.

“Sunday was a big improvement for us. I made good progress Saturday but I was still having to fight the bike, whereas I was able to do a lot of laps and really get it feeling like my bike again,” said Laverty, who finished as the championship runner-up in 2013 behind Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes.

“I feel like I can race with it now, and I felt comfortable on the race and qualifying tyres. It’s been a very productive two days, much better than Jerez, and we made big breakthroughs to resolve the chatter I was having.

“I’m feeling confident for round one at Phillip Island: we have a good base to work from and the team is working really well together. It’s one of my favourite tracks to ride, and with another test there I think we’re in a good position to really move forward.”

The final pre-season test will take place at Phillip Island in Australia in the week leading up to the opening race weekend of the season at the circuit from February 24-26.

Ulsterman Jonathan Rea – fasted in the Jerez test – and his team-mate Tom Sykes did not test at Portimao.

Meanwhile, Carrick’s Glenn Irwin joined his PBM Be Wiser Ducati team-mate and MCE British Superbike champion Shane Byrne at the test in Portugal.

Irwin, who made his BSB debut last season, was in action on the Panigale R for the first time this year.

“It was good to ride at Portimao and shake off the winter cobwebs,” he said.

“We tested the new blipper which will come good, but I feel it was an extra on the bike but not yet working as I want it to.

“We also experimented with a new clutch and a different direction with the bike and we found some good pace towards the end of the day two leaving me just 1.3 seconds off [Marco] Melandri and a second off Shakey. To end the test just a second off on a track where I’ve done so few miles is positive considering how quick Shakey’s pace was.”

Irwin and five-time BSB champion Byrne haved moved on to a test at Jerez, where Kawasaki pair Rea and Sykes are also in action.