It was announced this morning that Michael Laverty will return to the British Superbikes championship in 2015 with the TAS squad riding a works BMW. The Irishman sat down over the weekend to talk about his decision and what he expects on his return to the championship after two years in MotoGP with PBM…
You must be excited to finally have everything confirmed with TAS for next year?
Yeah, it’s good because this time of year can be difficult so it’s really nice to be in a good, strong position. I’ve spent two years in MotoGP and I think that that experience has benefited me and I’m coming back to BSB in a stronger position. I could choose from the top teams and decide who I wanted to join. The TAS team is a nice fit and I get on really well with the guys and I won the Supersport title with them before and Philip was really keen to get me and he was pushing for me.
We made the deal happen in the end, there was a lot of comings and goings with Shakey being a four time champion and he was speaking to TAS and BMW, but in the end I ended up at TAS and Shakey stayed at PBM. We’re both happy with that but there was a bit of sadness to be leaving PBM after two years and it would have been nice to have continued that relationship but you’ve got to go with what your heart says is the best option and the TAS team and the BMW package ticked all the boxes for me.
I’m over the moon about it and it’s the strongest package that I’ve ever had around me. It’s all been almost tailored to suit me and give me the ingredients that I need to finally win the BSB title.
Coming back to BSB after two years in MotoGP this was probably the first time that you’ve been able to dictate the market and be the “big fish” that teams were looking for. How different was it for you to be able to take your time and decide what was best for you rather than having to wait for other riders to make their decisions and then leave you scrambling for the rides that were left?
It’s nice. I’ve been with the top teams before but I was never really a key player in the rider market. This year I had options in World Superbikes as well as BSB so it was a nice position to be in. It was good that the people were watching and could see that we had done a good job at PBM and that the hard work was appreciated for those two years.
That left me in a stronger position that I’d ever been in before so it was cool to be able to hang back and make sure that everything was right. I didn’t have to rush in because I had a few really good options on the table and also if someone was pushing you for a decision and not everything was exactly how you wanted it you could hang back and wait to make your decision.
It was cool to be in that position and in the end I got exactly what I wanted. That’s the first time that this has been the case for me but it also comes with the added pressure that you now have to perform and you’re hired to do that job. You’re paid better and you’re hired to be the big fish for the team. I’m looking forward to that pressure and I’m looking forward to being in the position to fight for the title.
It’s been a few years since I was on the podium in BSB but when I did the Le Mans 24 Hours this year and stood on the podium it made me realise how much that I’ve missed that and when I was weighing up the options what I had in WSBK wasn’t going to be podium contenders but what was on the table in BSB was all sure-fire top teams. That kind of made up my mind to go back to BSB.
Both championships are on a level, if anything BSB is slightly ahead in terms of the crowd size and atmosphere, but I thought that being a winner in BSB was better than fighting for 6th to 10th in WSBK. So it was just a tossup between the teams to decide who gave me the best chance and I felt that was TAS and BMW. So I’m happy to get it all boxed off and done this week.
We had our wedding last weekend and the honeymoon this week so it’s nice to be able to go away and chill out before Christmas. I’ll be training and working for next year but I can mentally switch off and not have to worry about getting a deal for next year. This time last year I still didn’t know what I’d be doing for this year but I was lucky because Paul [Bird] said that he’d look after me in either MotoGP or BSB but I ended up struggling to get my leather and helmet deals together, this year though I’ve already got good offers for them. It’s all a knock on effect once you have your contract signed.
Does it surprise you to an extent that after two years in MotoGP you’ll move back to BSB and earn more money and have more sponsors?
It’s funny that in a lot of ways. Being a big fish in a smaller pond is nice because people want to be involved with you whereas at the back in MotoGP, even though we were doing a good job and punching above our weight but we still weren’t getting a lot of media attention and you’re in a position where you can’t do much more and it’s hard to attract a lot of interest from sponsors.
Companies don’t see the value in sponsoring you at the back of the MotoGP field whereas they see the value at the front of BSB. There’s a lot of social media and internet coverage in BSB, as well as the TV coverage, so there’s a lot more bang for your buck in BSB. Every sponsor in GP wants to be with the top riders in the three classes and it’s the same in BSB. It’s frustrating because we were doing a good job at the back in MotoGP with PBM and you need those funds to be able to take the step forward and that was ultimately our downfall because we couldn’t raise the money to lease a Factory bike to give us a better shot.
What did you think of your two year stint in MotoGP?
I loved being in MotoGP and I think that I gained a lot from it and learned a lot technically about riding. I also travelled a lot and met a lot of good people within the industry and it improved the credentials behind my name so it’s been good overall.
Are you going to be taking anyone from your PBM crew for next year or will it just be a TAS crew?It’ll be a TAS crew and I’m looking forward to working with Stewart Johnston as my crew chief. He’s got a great reputation as a very clever guy so I’m looking forward to seeing what he offers. Stewart was with Hopper last year but he’s also the technical co-ordinator of the team and in charge of all of our technical developments. The rest of the guys are good too. I worked with David Cortez, the electronics engineer, for years and he’s still there. My mechanic crew hasn’t been decided yet but it’ll be TAS. I get on well with all the guys in the team so I’m looking forward to working with them.
You obviously had a lot of discussions with PBM and Yamaha for next year as well how close did you come to joining either of those teams?
Paul was the first to express an interest in me, that was in August at Indianapolis, and he said that there would be a BSB ride there for me. When we first spoke I kind of thought that I’d end up staying with PBM but things changed quite late in the day and with Shakey being a four times champion…I didn’t want to be teamed with him. In a selfish way I wanted to lead whatever team that I was in and if I stayed with PBM I would have been teamed with Shakey. I felt that if Shakey had have gone to BMW that I would have led the PBM team. That was a bit of a factor, not a massive one, in my decision. It can be difficult when your championship rival is on the other side of the garage and Paul was good with it at the end, he told me to do as I please and we didn’t fall out and we’re still friends so it’s worked out well for both of us.
The Yamaha deal was very attractive because of the World Superbike wild cards but I had to weigh it all up in my head and do what I felt was right and from quite early on the BMW deal made the most sense to me.
Philip is a good team boss and he’s good to work under. He was so keen to have me that he was on the phone to me every day and making sure that I was happy with what was on the table and adjusted anything that I wanted. When anyone wants you that much it definitely is a driving force behind your decision too.
Changing manufacturers is a very difficult task but I’m very confident that he’s doing everything he can and everyone is going to be going at it 100% to make sure that we can be challenging for wins from Round 1.
Last year Kiyo challenged for the title on the bike with Buildbase so that much give you a lot of confidence that with TAS working on that bike that you can challenge for the title?
Definitely, I think that Kiyo did a great job last year and the Buildbase team proved what the bike can be capable of. Kiyo is an underrated rider in some ways, on his day he’s one of the very best Superbike riders in the world but he has his up and down days. Last year when he found his form he was able to keep it at that level and take it to the last race of the year with Shakey.
I looked at that and obviously you can’t take away from what Kiyo was doing but looking at it when Tommy Bridewell was riding it he was quick too. It’s a good package and it’s got speed right out of the box and has 200 bhp, that’s important because we won’t be chasing speed and having people pass us on the straights.
It’ll be up to me to setup the bike and develop one and what I’ve learned over the last two years will help us. It’s a new motorbike but we’ll get base settings and engine specs from BMW and hopefully from the first test we can hit the ground running. We don’t want to get embarrassed by the Buildbase crew and even though they’ve got three or four years experience with the bike I’m confident that we’ll be right there from round 1.
You always said that BSB was unfinished business for you and it must be really important to go back with the title being the legitimate goal and to finally tick the box of BSB champion?
I always felt that I was a little bit robbed in 2012 with Samsung-Honda. I felt that from the end of 2011 I had really matured and I had become a fast enough rider to win races and challenge for the championship. I moved to Samsung-Honda and we had some issues that year that were ironed out the next year. It was frustrating but I left in 2013 and went to MotoGP but I always felt that I’d come back and win that title.
I feel like the complete package now with the blend of speed and consistency. Shakey isn’t an easy person to topple and he’s strong and consistent every weekend. You’ll need to bring your A-Game to beat Shakey, Kiyo and Brookes every weekend because the field in BSB is world class, it might be a national championship but it’s every bit as competitive as WSBK and MotoGP at the front of the field. You have to fight for every place in the top ten and I’m looking forward to the scraps again.
I think that some people will look at it and that that I was at the back of MotoGP so I’ll come back and be poor but I think that I’ll be stronger and it’s going to be an interesting year.
You’ve made the step back from MotoGP now so do you look at it that that stage of your career is over but is it impossible to get back GP at your age?
I think that it’s difficult, I’m a realist and I know that with the younger Brits doing a good job there that at 33 years old I’m already being deemed old for that championship. I’ve got quite a lot left in me but it’s an ageist paddock and they are prejudiced against the older riders but you never know. I never thought that I’d get there in the first place but I’ll be doing something in the GP paddock next year as well that we’re just finalising at the minute.
You really never know what is on the horizon in this sport and I think that the opportunity to get involved with a manufacturer like BMW is massive and if it leads to a few titles in BSB or a move to WSBK or MotoGP again in the future than I’ll be thrilled.
I’m 33 but I really feel that I’m hitting my peak now because at this age I’m in the best shape physically I’ve been in, I have the experience and the hunger to win so as long as I have that desire I’ll keep going as long as they keep giving me jobs!