John Laverty is a former professional motorcycle racer, who raced three seasons in BSB. He is currently manager and rider coach to his brother Eugene Laverty, racing for the Aspar Ducati team in MotoGP. John acts as a track spotter for Eugene, checking what he sees on track from Eugene and other riders, and providing feedback to help the Aspar Ducati rider go faster. John will be contributing his insights into the things he sees at each track on a regular basis.
It was a cool and overcast Saturday morning when John Laverty came to take me out around Jerez. We were headed for some of the faster corners round Jerez, where John was particularly interested in gear selection, as Jerez' low grip meant the bikes were spinning the rear Michelin much more than normal.
First stop was the section between turns 3 and 4, the two fast lefts which lead round towards the right hander at the start of the back straight. "Getting the right gear is crucial here," John said. "You've got to choose what you want on the exit, if you want to short shift or spin it." It used to be easier to spot gear changes, but the seamless gearbox has made that much harder. "You can hardly hear it now. You've got to look at the foot a lot more." Sure enough, some riders were snicking a gear up on the way in, where others were not.
The importance of gear selection was evident on corner exit, especially between the Ducatis and the Yamahas. "The Ducatis have that much power that you don't want to get the bike into the aggressive part of the power." Managing that was a good deal easier for the factory and Pramac Ducatis with the seamless gearbox, however. John pointed out the two Andreas shifting gears between turns 3 and 4, then on the exit of 4 again, the seamless box keeping the rear relatively stable while the bike was still leaned over.
That was harder for the Avintia and Aspar Ducatis. John pointed out how Hector Barbera was managing it. "Hector's spinning it up, but he's still getting drive," he said. "The rear of the bike wants to pump, but he's still keeping it pretty stable.
The Yamahas had an added advantage. "The Yamahas roll the bike through the corner, keep it leaned over. That changes the gearing, so they can manage the power better." The Yamahas' sweeping style keeps the bike on the edge of the tire. "That's good to keep the revs up when you make the next gear shift. It means you can hit the next gear without the revs dropping."
That was also audible in the traction control: where the older Ducatis were using a lot of ignition cuts, the Yamahas were just cutting one or two cylinders. The result: a much smoother power delivery. John pointed to Valentino Rossi through that section. "Rossi is really looking after his tire there, where others are spinning the rear." Would that help in the race? "It's got to be a factor. That's experience for you."
Through Turn 5, Sito Pons corner, Laverty notes how often riders are cutting across the inside of the kerbs, using the abrasive and highly grippy special paint to get extra drive. Not everyone, though. "Scott Redding is using the rear to steer his way round there."
John then makes some interesting remarks on Marc Márquez. "He uses a lot of sag in the rear, puts a lot of weight on the back to spare the front tire." Márquez was using the back brake to control that too. The advantage was that the Repsol Honda rider could manage the attitude of the bike using the front brake as well. "He's kicking the rear sideways, then using the back brake to sit the bike down. That prevents too much weight transfer towards the front happen when he uses the front brake. That means he can use more front brake without squashing or pushing the front tire."
That was one key to being fast, but it wasn't just on corner entry where Márquez was making the difference. "His transition from off front brake to on throttle is so precise," John said. "He backs it in, getting the attitude of the bike onto the rear. That allows him to use lots of front brake until the attitude then moves forward with the building braking power of the carbon brakes. Then his immediate throttle connection transfers it back to the rear, and he makes amazing drive off the corner exit."
We headed down the back straight towards Dry Sack, Turn 6. "This is a tough one," John said. "You want to take your foot off the peg to get into the corner. But you also need the back brake to help the bike turn. You want constant brake pressure, but that's hard if you've just put your foot back on the peg." That was one area where Jorge Lorenzo had an advantage, John pointed out. Lorenzo never dangles his leg, keeps his foot on the peg. His smoothness meant he could control the bike a lot more.
As we were talking about Lorenzo, the two Suzukis hove into view. "A lot of people say Maverick Viñales rides like Lorenzo, but he's a lot busier on the bike," John said. "You're supposed to get into position as you brake, before you get into the corner. Maverick's moving his ass mid corner, and it's upsetting the bike." That didn't seem to slow the Spaniard down, though. "Maybe he needs that to feel what the bike's doing."
Then there was Aleix Espargaro. "They've done something to the front of the bike, and that's helped him with braking." That's very much Espargaro's strong point, John said. "It's amazing how he can grab a handful of front brake and get the thing stopped. There was a braking competition in town last night on Kawasakis. Aleix would have won that hands down."
As we headed back towards the paddock, we stopped to watch the final laps. Eugene Laverty ended the session in fifteenth, a second off fastest man Valentino Rossi. "Eugene didn't look like he really pushed for a fast lap there," John said. But he pointed out that Eugene had helped others to a fast time. Andrea Iannone and Aleix Espargaro had followed Laverty around the track, not getting a tow but using the Irishman more as a target. Espargaro had put the factory Suzuki into eighth, while Iannone had finished in ninth on the factory Ducati.
It was the one criticism John had for his brother Eugene. "Eugene would have been better using another rider as a target to chase a fast lap. Especially through the two fast right handers, you can use them as a reference, know where you need to hit the line."
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