Eugene Laverty says he feels blessed to have been offered the opportunity to compete in the premier class of motorcycle racing with a top MotoGP team in 2015.
The 2013 World Superbike Championship runner-up signed a two-year deal with the Spanish Drive M7 Aspar Honda team to contest the Open class alongside 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden.
Laverty, who tested the bike for the first time in November at the Ricardo Tormo circuit at Valencia, contested the 250cc class as a privateer in 2007 and 2008 but is now preparing to step up to the blue riband series in the New Year with Jorge Martinez’s highly-respected Aspar squad.
“I have been in permanent contact with the MotoGP paddock since I left and there are a lot of familiar faces,” said the 28-year-old.
“It feels like yesterday but it’s actually seven years now since I was last here in the 250cc class. It is nice for me to come back and to do so in the top class, with a top team; I consider myself very lucky.
“Once I knew that the Drive M7 Aspar Team would be continuing with Honda my absolute priority was to sign for them. This is a top level team, which they have proved over the years, and the bike will be a big step forward from last year so I didn’t need to think about it much.
“Aspar have given me the opportunity I have been waiting a long time for.”
Reflecting on his maiden test on the 2014-spec machine last month, Laverty said the shakedown left him hungry for more as he counts down the days to the next official MotoGP test at Sepang in Malaysia in February.
“The first time I rode the Honda I could tell it was a true racing prototype. I really liked the riding position and its size and weight are perfect for me, I fit really well on the bike,” he said.
“The first test was fantastic, even though we lost some time to the rain. I rode the old Honda Open but that wasn’t important. What we were looking for was to start to establish a feeling and for me to get to know the team and vice versa.
“I was given an incredible welcome and that made me feel at home.
“Watching it from the side of the track I could see that it had good acceleration in corner exit. Once I got on it I felt it was comfortable but it is too early to comment on its strengths,” Laverty added.
“My first impression is that I like the way you can get into the corners fast, get the bike stopped and then pick it up and exit quickly. You could say it is quite easy to attack the corners on the Honda. It was a successful test for us.”
Laverty’s initial aim in his debut MotoGP season is to be challenging the leading Open riders but the Toomebridge man also hopes to ruffle the feathers of the factory stars at those circuits where the divide between the Factory and Open class machines is not so pronounced.
“It would be good to be challenging at the front of the Open class and at certain circuits I want to be fighting with the factory guys,” he said.
“Qualifying could be good for us because we have the soft tyre so hopefully we can take advantage of it.”
With Christmas fast approaching, Laverty - whose brother Michael tied the knot in Wales two weeks ago - will return home to Northern Ireland to spend time with his family and will also attend the Adelaide Motorcycle Awards in Belfast on January 23.
“I was in Wales for my brother’s wedding, which was a great family event,” he said.
“At Christmas I’ll take the chance to head back to Ireland and spend some time with my family, because it is difficult to see them once the season starts.”