Voltcom Crescent Suzuki’s Eugene Laverty reflects on a busy three weeks that saw him visit Suzuki HQ in Hamamatsu in Japan, test the Suzuki MotoGP machine in Okayama and Phillip Island; and then race to a podium position at the Sepang World Superbike round in Malaysia.
The past few weeks have been one hell of an adventure. The trip started out in Donington for the British round of the World Superbike Championship and from there I travelled directly to Japan for my debut test on Suzuki’s MotoGP prototype. My brother/ manager John accompanied me on the epic journey and helped to make it a trip to remember.
Upon arriving in Osaka airport on Tuesday morning, we jumped on a train across Japan to Hamamatsu to visit the headquarters of Suzuki Racing. It was a great honour to be shown around the racing department and meet so many enthusiastic SMC staff. I’d only visited Japan once before when I raced in the 250cc World Championship back in 2007 and I had very fond memories of the country. I really feel at home in Japan as I have quite a similar character to the Japanese people. Also, Japanese cuisine is among my favourites so I was pretty excited about dinner! My brother John wasn’t so sure how to operate the chopsticks at first but he got there in the end.
The next morning we jumped back on the train bound for Okayama. When we arrived at the circuit on Wednesday afternoon I was able to circulate the track in the car a few times together with Suzuki’s Japanese test rider Takuya Tsuda. I’d already done my homework on the flight from the UK by watching last year’s Japanese Superbike Championship round in Okayama so I had a fair idea of where I was going before I took to the circuit. I was so excited going to bed that night that I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve!
The weather was fantastic so I was able to make the most of my three hours on track. My plan was just to use the time to get comfortable on the bike but before long I was pushing the limits of the tyres and getting a real feel for the machine. My crew chief for the test was fellow Irishman Tom O’Kane and we struck up a good rapport immediately. At the end of the three hours I’d clocked the fastest-ever two-wheeled lap of the Okayama circuit; a whole one second faster than my goal. I’d expected to struggle to get a feeling for the tyres and brakes but it wasn’t a big hurdle for me. My transition to a MotoGP machine was seamless and I was in good spirits ahead of the upcoming two-day test in Phillip Island, Australia.
We arrived into Melbourne airport on Saturday morning and took it easy for the day. We all agreed to meet that night to watch MotoGP practice live from Mugello and in spite of jet lag we all made it. I was relieved when I checked into my hotel room and was able to unpack my suitcase for the first time since leaving the UK. I’d slept in a different bed for eight successive nights so I was ready to settle down and remain in one place for a few days. I felt rather jetlagged from switching time zone every other day and had no idea where I was upon waking each morning! After a good night’s sleep I went for a steady run to clear my head and that did the trick.
John and I walked the track on Monday afternoon under clear skies. I was praying for the good weather to hold out for a few days more but we were out of luck. I was scheduled to test on Tuesday and Wednesday alongside Randy de Puniet but due to the bad weather we weren’t able to do so many laps. The test couldn’t have started out any worse as after just three flying laps I suffered a huge crash into turn one. I was incredibly lucky to escape with just a fracture in my foot but the bike wasn’t so fortunate. It was the biggest crash of my career and I counted my blessings that I wasn’t seriously injured in the fall.
Track temperatures hovered around 15ºC, a fraction of what we’d found in Okayama. We knew before arriving in Phillip Island that the weather could turn against us as we were faced with the beginning of the Australian winter. The Phillip Island test may not have gone according to plan but it was an incredible experience nevertheless. The Suzuki prototype is a fantastic bike and it fitted my riding style very well. I’d love to test the bike again as I feel that that there’s much more to come from both machine and rider.
My brother John and I said goodbye to the Suzuki MotoGP test team on Wednesday evening and started our journey towards Sepang for the upcoming round of the World Superbike Championship. Our flight left Melbourne at 02.00 and arrived into Kuala Lumpur at 09.00 on Thursday morning. I managed a few hours sleep on the flight through the night so I felt fine during set-up day at Sepang. It was incredibly hot and humid; quite a contrast to the bleak conditions we’d met in Phillip Island!
I was worried that it would take time to get reacquainted with my GSX-R1000 on Friday morning but it felt like I’d never been away. We were looking good during practice and although I only qualified in seventh position I was confident of a strong showing in the races. Race one was fantastic and I climbed the rostrum again for the first time since winning the opening race of the year. It had been much too long but I feel that we’re now back where we belong. My injury didn’t cause me too much bother in race one and it was only during the final four laps that I struggled to feel my foot. Race two didn’t go so well and after the chequered flag I reached down to undo my boot as the pressure was excruciating. Riding injured is never easy but the hot and humid conditions in Malaysia made it even tougher. I have enough time to recover before the next round in Misano and I’m determined to mount the rostrum once again.
We’ve made somewhat of a breakthrough with the GSX-R lately and my aim is to fight at the front in the run-up to the summer break. A race win would be a just reward for all the hard work of my Voltcom Crescent Suzuki crew; and I’ll be giving it my all as always!
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