Eugene Laverty claimed a breath-taking fourth place in Sunday’s Argentina MotoGP to seal his best ever result in the premier class.
The Toomebridge man started the final lap of the race in eighth place on the Aspar Ducati GP14.2, but gained four places in a dramatic climax, which saw factory Ducati pair Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso crash out at the final corner.
Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez won the race comfortably from Valentino Rossi on the Movistar Yamaha, who picked up the pieces from Iannone and Dovizioso’s coming together to seal an unexpected runner-up spot as Dani Pedrosa completed the top three.
Laverty, though, stole the limelight for Northern Ireland with a stunning effort on the Ducati, evoking memories of Jeremy McWilliams’ incredible third place in the 500cc British Grand Prix at Donington Park behind Rossi and Kenny Roberts Jnr in 2000.
The 29-year-old could not hide his delight afterwards and admitted the race had been ‘good craic’.
“The last lap was great craic and that was something a bit special!” said Laverty.
“I started the last lap in eighth position and finished it in fourth, it’s an incredible race. It was a race of two parts because we started again [after pit-stop] with the fuel and new tyres and the track was a little bit better in the second exit.
“I realised in the second part of the race that I had to make all my time on the entry and I was having to gain time on the brakes because I had no rear grip compared to the other riders,” he added.
“I adjusted and used more of my front tyre and I was able to keep a good rhythm, but I never expected to get fourth – that was incredible!”
Laverty – who made his MotoGP debut last year – is now eighth in the championship standings with 17 points after the first two rounds. His previous best result in the class was 12th place.
World champion Jorge Lorenzo dramatically crashed out of sixth place after initially making a flying start, losing the front at turn one.
The race was shrouded in drama as Michelin withdrew both of its planned rear tyre compounds on safety grounds following an incident involving British rider Scott Redding in practice.
A new medium rear, featuring a stiffer construction, was introduced instead, leaving little time for the riders to get a feel for the new rubber.
The riders were also required to make a pit stop to change to their number two bikes according to the rules in MotoGP, with warm-up held in the wet while the race was started in the dry.
Early leader Dovizioso soon dropped back leaving Marquez and Rossi to dispute the lead, but after the pit stops it was Marquez who pulled away at the front.
Rossi came under pressure for second place from Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales, but the young Spaniard crashed out.
However, both Ducati riders found their way past Rossi, only for Iannone to make a lunge at the final turn on the last lap, taking out his team-mate Dovizioso and gifting second place to the Italian.
Pedrosa came home in third ahead of Laverty, with the top six completed by Hector Barbera and Pol Espargaro.
The third round of the championship takes place in Austin, Texas on April 10.