Eugene Laverty recommenced his preparations for the 2015 MotoGP World Championship as pre-season testing got under way at Sepang in Malaysia on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old from Toomebridge, who is making his debut in motorcycling’s premier class this year with the Drive M7 Aspar Honda team, gave the thumbs up to a new engine and electronics package made available at Sepang.
Laverty, who previously tested the 2014 machine used by team-mate Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama last year at the post-season test at Valencia, Spain in November, described the 2015 version of the Open class Honda as ‘another step up’.
He completed the first day of the test with a best time of 2m 03.259s, which left him in 22nd position on the leaderboard, five places behind 2006 world champion Hayden.
“This bike is completely different to the one I rode at Valencia, it’s another step up,” said Laverty. “We worked hard today to improve my feeling with the front. We need to understand how best to brake and get the bike turned.
“We did some good work on my body position – I am coming from a completely different kind of bike and tyres so it is important to get the basics right before we start work.
“There are so many options with this bike and we need to explore them all. We are trying to make the transition from Superbikes to MotoGP as simple as possible,” he added.
“This bike is much smaller and the tyres allow for a lot more lean angle so I need to adapt. The new Honda is everything I thought it would be and more, it’s a great bike.
“Now we just need to work on getting maximum performance out of it. Today was a good shakedown and I am happy with the first impressions.” Laverty has signed a two-year deal with the Spanish-based Aspar team, seizing the opportunity to join the elite paddock after four seasons in World Superbikes, during which time he secured a best finish of second in 2013 for Aprilia.
His older brother Michael, who returns to the TAS Racing fold this year in the Tyco BMW team to contest the MCE British Superbike Championship, was also in action at the test in his role as a test rider for Aprilia.
Back-to-back world champion Marc Marquez headed the times on the Repsol Honda RC213V, setting a benchmark time of 2m 00.262s to take the top spot from Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (2m 00.380) by a tenth of a second with Jorge Lorenzo (2m 00.521s) next and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso completing the top four.
Cal Crutchlow, who has switched to the LCR Honda team after a low-key season on the Ducati, was 10th fastest, one place behind fellow English rider Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
The test runs until Friday, with the factory riders participating in a further shakedown on Saturday to test new Michelin tyres as the manufacturer continues development work ahead of the 2016 season, when Michelin will take over from Bridgestone as MotoGP’s tyre supplier.
Meanwhile, new BikeBits NI rider Derek Sheils is among the early entries for the KDM Hire Cookstown 100, which lifts the curtain on the Irish road racing season on Saturday, April 25.
Sheils, who will ride Kawasaki ZX-10R and ZX-6R machinery in the Superbike and Supersport classes respectively, said: “Last year at the Cookstown I won the opening 600 and Superbike races; I know the competition will be fierce, but I’m up for the challenge.”