Jeremy McWilliams has tipped MotoGP rookie Eugene Laverty to potentially break into the top 12 in motorcycling’s top tier championship this season.
Laverty made his premier class race bow under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar last month on the Open class Aspar Honda RC213V-RS but was dogged by an electrical issue that had a drastic impact on his lap times.
The 28-year-old eventually finished in 18th position and although the Northern Ireland rider was ultimately disappointed by his debut result at the spectacular desert venue, Laverty can take heart from the eye-catching progress he made throughout the season-opening weekend, when he provided a glimpse of his potential with an impressive 1m 55.913s lap in FP3, which was only a second down on world champion Marc Marquez’s session-topping lap on the full factory Repsol Honda RC213V.
McWilliams, a former 250cc Grand Prix winner who famously shared the 500cc rostrum with nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi at Donington Park in 2000, said he was surprised by Laverty’s lap times on the Aspar Honda in Qatar.
“It was more progress than I thought that bike was capable of making to be honest with you and I didn’t think he would have improved as much on that bike in Qatar,” McWilliams said.
“But that’s a sign of what Eugene is capable of and he does adapt to bikes better than anyone I’ve ever known. I’ve known Eugene for quite a while and I’ve seen him adapt to bikes and make them work whenever they shouldn’t.
“He’s also adapted to the Bridgestone tyres pretty quickly as well and I think there’s a good chance that he can break into the top 12 as well,” he added.
“That’s a big ask today in MotoGP and if it turns out that he isn’t able to do that, then he’ll certainly be scoring points and hopefully he’ll get an opportunity – as Scott [Redding] and Cal [Crutchlow] did – do get onto a better bike in the future.”
McWilliams also expects Laverty to get the better of his team-mate Nicky Hayden – the 2006 MotoGP world champion – on occasions this season once he has had the benefit of more race time on the RC213V-RS.
“I think it’s a definite that he’ll be finishing in front of his team-mate this season – that goes without saying,” said McWilliams.
“We’ve got to remember that he’s a rookie to some of these circuits but given time he’ll get there and there’s nobody as determined as Eugene.”
Laverty will be making his debut at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas this weekend, which hosts the second round of the championship.
The Termas de Rio Hondo track in Argentina next weekend also represents another new challenge for the Toomebridge man, who hopes the extra knowledge he gains over the next two race weekends will allow him to really wind up the wick on the Aspar Honda when the series heads into a sequence of European rounds, which begin at Jerez in Spain on May 3.
“We did a great job over the weekend in Qatar, I got to know the bike much better and my feeling improved as the Grand Prix progressed. Unfortunately things didn’t go as we hoped in the race,” Laverty said.
“Now we go to two completely new circuits for me in Texas and Argentina, so it is going to be another two weekends of learning. We improved the set-up a lot in Qatar so that is encouraging for this weekend.
“As a team we are moving in the right direction so I am looking forward to continuing with the job,” he added.
“Hopefully I can adapt quickly to the two circuits and gather some more experience with the bike so that when we get back to Europe and Jerez I can really push.”
Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez will be aiming to make amends this weekend after a first corner mistake in Qatar left the 22-year-old on the back foot.
He eventually finished fifth, with Rossi taking a dramatic victory after a stunning race with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Marquez’s team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, will miss the next two races in Texas and Argentina as he recovers from surgery to alleviate a troublesome problem with arm pump, which affected the Spaniard in Qatar.