Eugene Laverty has set his sights on a points-scoring finish as he begins his debut season in the MotoGP class this weekend at the Losail circuit in Qatar.
The 28-year old is one of four talented rookies to step into the premier class for 2015 and does so with former Spanish world champion Jorge Martinez’s Aspar ‘Open’ Honda team.
Opening practice got underway on Thursday evening under the floodlights at the desert venue ahead of Sunday’s night race, with Laverty finishing 23rd fastest of the 25-strong line-up on the RC213V-RS machine.
Laverty’s time of 1m 57.224s was 1.943s off the quickest lap of the session set by reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez on the factory Repsol Honda but was within striking distance of his team-mate and fellow Open class rider Nicky Hayden in 21st place, who lapped in 1m 57.052s.
While the first two pre-season tests of 2015 saw Laverty acclimatising to his new machine, the third and final shakedown at Qatar demonstrated how far he has progressed. Ending the two days with the 19th fastest time, Laverty was just 0.2 seconds slower than Hayden. These times, coupled with his improved feeling with the machine, have led him to believe he can challenge his team-mate, and the points-scorers, in Sunday’s race.
“I would like to be in the points,” Laverty said before flying out to Doha. “It’s difficult to say much more on where we’re going to be but in terms of the ‘Open’ class pace we’re right there.
“I’d like to be in the top three of the ‘Open’ [machines] and to score points overall. In Qatar the lap times seem to be closer than what they would be in somewhere like Sepang.”
Indeed Laverty was buoyed by his proximity to Hayden in testing. His pace was more consistent as he posted ten laps in the 1min 56s bracket – believed to be similar to race pace – on the second and final day as opposed to Hayden’s five.
“I think he’s a very good benchmark,” he said of his former world champion team-mate. “If I had a rookie team-mate then I might not know what he’s capable of but with Nicky I know that when he was at Ducati he was racing with [Andrea] Dovizioso race in, race out. He’s obviously won the championship before so it’s nice to see that at the moment I’m matching his pace,” he said.
“I think people see the position and that it’s lower compared to some of the other rookies that have come in. When you look at where my team-mate is, the likes of [Cal] Crutchlow and Bradley [Smith] were a long way off their team-mate right from the beginning so it’s nice that I’ve adapted quite quickly and I’m a lot closer than where those rookies have been before.”
On Wednesday Laverty had to deal with the news that Malaysian drinks company and team title sponsor Drive M7 was pulling its support from the team.
The announcement comes as a blow to the team but Laverty and Hayden will continue as normal this weekend, while the team is hopeful of finding a sponsor ahead of the second round of the championship in Texas.