Michael Laverty fired up for MotoGP opener in Qatar

PBM's Michael Laverty in Qatar

PBM's Michael Laverty in Qatar

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Michael Laverty says he is looking forward to the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship in Qatar on Sunday with ‘renewed vigour’.

The 32-year-old from Toomebridge is entering his second season in the elite class with Paul Bird’s team and Laverty expects a tough challenge as he bids for points finishes on the ART machine.

Laverty missed Thursday’s opening practice session at the Losail circuit due to a technical problem but on Friday concluded the day in 22nd position of the 23 MotoGP riders with his new team-mate, Broc Parkes, in 19th.

The Northern Ireland rider is entered in the Open class, which replaces the Claiming Rules (CRT) regulations from 2013, and is using upgraded engines from Aprilia plus the British team’s own chassis.

Laverty, whose best result last season was 13th at Jerez in Spain, said: “I’m looking forward to getting another season off and running under the lights in Qatar this weekend. We had good pre-season tests in Sepang and Qatar so I am looking towards the season with renewed vigour.

“The Open class bikes have taken quite a step up over the CRTs of last season and we are under no illusions as to how tough it will be to score points, however that remains our goal,” he added.

“Our main rivals will be Avintia Kawasaki and Ioda Aprilia, however we hope that on occasion we will be able to challenge the Open Hondas. I look forward to another season in the PBM stable with a great bunch of guys working towards the same goal.”

Aleix Espargaro has set the pace in free practice in Qatar on the Open Forward Yamaha machine, heading FP3 on Friday from Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati by 0.413s with Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista third.

Andrea Doviziso (Ducati) was fourth ahead of reigning world champion Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda, who is back in action for the first time in six weeks after breaking his leg in a dirt bike crash.

Marquez was 0.673s behind Espargaro and one place ahead of Britain’s Bradley Smith in seventh on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha), Stefan Bradl (Honda) and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) were the first nine with Dani Pedrosa completing the top ten.