Why WorldSBK Makes More Sense than MotoGP to Eugene Laverty

The final piece of the MotoGP puzzle has finally dropped. Eugene Laverty has decided that he will be switching back to WorldSBK, where he will ride a factory-backed Aprilia RSV4-RF with the Milwaukee Racing SMR squad. The departure of Laverty means that Yonny Hernandez will get to keep his place in the Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati team, filling the final empty slot on the MotoGP grid.

It may seem strange for Laverty to abandon MotoGP, just as his star has been rising in the class. Since Aspar switched from Honda's RC213V-RS Open Class machine to the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2, the older Ducati working very well with the Michelin tires, more rear grip helping to reduce the understeer the GP14.2 suffers from. He is currently eleventh in the championship, and has a fourth and a sixth as best finishes, Laverty being annoyed that early traffic cost him the chance of a podium at Brno. It took the factory Ducatis on their brand new GP16s six races to get ahead of the Irishman in the championship standings.

So why has Laverty decided to abandon MotoGP in favor of WorldSBK? There are a number of reasons, but all of them boil down to a single issue: Eugene Laverty is a winner, and he likes to win. On two-year-old machinery, in a private team (though with good factory support, unlike other satellite set ups), Laverty's only chance to win in MotoGP would come when the weather acts as the great neutralizer.

GP15 vs GP16

Speaking to Neil Morrison of Crash.net, Eugene Laverty made it clear that the fact that he would be on a Ducati Desmosedici GP15, rather than a GP16, was what tipped the scales for him. Though the difference between the two bikes is relatively small, the changes to the GP16 have helped reduce tire wear and make the bike better over race distance. In terms of a single lap, there is little to choose between the GP15 and the GP16. But by the end of race distance, after 25 laps or so, the difference can be measured in seconds, rather than tenths of a second.

Ducati will expect to make a similar step between the GP16 and the GP17. That would effectively double Laverty's disadvantage to the factory bikes, putting the gap over race distance between the bike he would be on and the bike Jorge Lorenzo will be on in the range of tens of seconds rather than seconds.

In WorldSBK, Laverty will be aboard a factory-backed Aprilia. Though final confirmation is yet to arrive – paddock gossip suggests that the official announcement that Shaun Muir's SMR Milwaukee outfit is to run the factory Aprilia team has been kicked down the road two or three times already this month – it is as good as certain that the SMR Milwaukee team will run the factory Aprilia effort.

Though the Aprilia RSV4-RF has not had many updates in recent years, general consensus in the WorldSBK paddock is that the Aprilia is highly competitive, as long as the team running the bikes has support and assistance from the factory. "The Aprilia is the best package on the grid," one WorldSBK rider told me off the record at Misano. "But you have to have factory support." Without factory support, getting the best out of the bike, especially through its sophisticated electronics package, is almost impossible.

Beating the best on their own terms?

So the choice for Laverty is between winning in WorldSBK and fighting for top tens in MotoGP. There is no doubt that MotoGP is currently the better series, though this has not always been so in the past. The current top four riders are already dominating the record books, and have earned a special place in history. There are signs that some of the other riders in the class are on their way to join Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa in the MotoGP pantheon.

That is not to underrate the current field in WorldSBK, however. The cream of the World Superbike riders could hold their own in MotoGP, if given the right machinery. Laverty's achievements on a two-year-old Ducati prove what the best WorldSBK men are capable of. But Jonathan Rea, Chaz Davies, Tom Sykes are all too old to be considered for rides in the factory MotoGP teams, and even the strongly-supported teams such as Pramac Ducati are looking more to young riders in the support classes rather than riders such as Chaz Davies.

But MotoGP is the big show. Crowds are triple what WorldSBK brings in, and TV audiences are similarly much larger. Given the extra prestige of MotoGP, and the extra exposure for sponsors, the choice should be simple? Surely, given the choice, a rider should choose MotoGP every time?

Not necessarily. Given the freedom which the engineers have in MotoGP, and the budgets the factories have to spend, the machine makes up a bigger part of the overall performance equation than it does in World Superbikes. With more power, better tires, more engineering freedom in the technical regulations, and a bike designed solely for the race track, with no compromises for road use, MotoGP is more of a playground for engineers than WorldSBK is.

Building down to a price point

The limits of a World Superbike machine are determined much more closely by the technical rules, by the fact that the bikes also have to function well at street-legal speeds on terrible surfaces on public roads, and by the fact that the bikes are designed to be built down to a cost. The differences are most visible in the engine: the engines of WorldSBK bikes use the cases and much of the internals of the road bike. Cases are vastly overengineered to last for many years and hundreds of thousands of kilometers. The engine cases of most MotoGP bikes are machined from a single block of aluminum, keeping just the very minimum material necessary. A set of MotoGP engine cases might be expected to last 10,000km, and not 200,000km.

With riders having more of a chance to find the difference in themselves, WorldSBK gives them a better chance of winning, or getting on the podium. That, above all, is why a racer would choose WorldSBK over MotoGP. For personal reasons, for psychological reasons, and even for financial reasons.

Racers = psychos

The psychological reasons are perhaps the most interesting. Racers love to win. It is their very reason for existing. They make a competition out of everything, and are determined to win that competition. Woe is you if you overtake a professional racer on the motorway. They will go out of their way – even if it means missing their exit and adding half an hour or more to their journey – to get back in front of you, despite the fact that you were probably not even thinking of your commute as a competition. So perhaps, woe is the motorcycle racer.

Every MotoGP racer turns up at the start of each weekend firmly believing they can actually win this thing, though it would require things to go their way to a greater or lesser extend, depending on the bike. They know rationally that they are more likely to get tenth than top, but the unique combination of hubris and Panglossian optimism which lives inside every racer means they will still give it their best shot. But in their darker moments, the knowledge that tenth is the best they can realistically hope for starts to wear on them, sucking the motivation and the positivity out of them.

So sometimes it is better to switch to a different championship, and get back to winning ways. On Sunday, the only people who count are the rivals on the track, and beating them is an obsession. In a series where the rider can make more of the difference, the attraction, the availability of the drug of winning, is a difficult temptation to resist.

Money makes the world go round

Switching from MotoGP to World Superbikes can make a lot of financial sense as well. Though I am not privy to the precise details of either Eugene Laverty's deal with Aspar, nor with the Irishman's new contract with Aprilia, it is clear that the Aprilia deal will be more lucrative. Riders are offering themselves for nothing – or even offering to bring money – to MotoGP teams with empty seats. The limited supply and unlimited demand mean that rider salaries are skewed. The teams also have more budget for riders, as they don't have to spend €2 million plus on machinery. For half that, they can field two bikes. That means the WorldSBK teams have a lot more money to spend on riders, and still have budget to spare.

A switch to World Superbikes can be lucrative from the view of personal sponsors as well. Leathers manufacturers, helmet manufacturers and more all have personal deals with riders which include bonuses for podiums and wins. Those podium photos are valuable marketing for a leather suit manufacturer, and they are more than willing to reward their riders for results. Those same sponsors are less likely to be shelling out bonuses for tenth places in MotoGP, no matter how hard fought they were.

More money, more competitive equipment, and the chance to fulfill a deep-seated psychological need? I see exactly why Eugene Laverty decided to abandon the MotoGP paddock for WorldSBK. Winners like to win. And winning makes solid financial sense. Laverty is easily one of the very best MotoGP satellite riders in the world at the moment. But the chances of that appreciated, acknowledged and rewarded are very slim indeed. Laverty did the right thing, no matter what it looks like.


Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2016 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.

Source: 
Total votes: 160
Total votes: 148

Back to top

Comments

Interesting reading as always. I can understand why Eugene has decided to make this move given his long standing assertion that nothing less than a GP16 would do but find it harder to understand why Ducati didn't try a little more to help him out. Surely having Laverty riding for decent top ten finishes is more valuable to them than having sliding Yonny circulating at the back of the field (even if he is bringing money to the team)? It's really impressive to witness the tv footage and photos of red shirted techs (including even the great Luigi himself) frequenting the satellite Ducati team garages in an effort to assist but also presumably to gather valuable data and info for Ducati themselves. I wonder whether the Japanese will realise that they may be missing a trick here and emulate Ducati in this respect? Anyway I'm going to miss watching and rooting for Eugene Laverty in MotoGP, I only loosely follow WSB but wish him all the best on the Aprillia next year. 

Total votes: 150

With Bradl, Melandri and Laverty joining the series, there's a pretty good mix of speed, crazy, experience and villainy. So now we really need Dorna to step up and sort out the calendar and promotion. 13 events with a 2 month summer break is not good enough. With control of both WSB and MotoGP it shouldn't be hard to avoid clashes on the same continent. And while they're at it, can we please get back to the 2 races on Sunday at 13.00 and 16:30 plus WSS and STK support races. The last trick is a few more tweaks to the rules to let more manufacturers be competitive.

Total votes: 162

For whatever it's worth I actually like the Saturday / Sunday race format, if only because it brings a bit of extra race day excitement to both days.  Also, there's greater chance of varied conditions between the two days which can mix up the results a bit.  

Total votes: 165

I think the switch to Sat/Sun races could work but they need to offer more to the Sunday 'viewer'. This could be easily solved by introducing a second WSS 600cc race on the Sunday, after the first on a Saturday.

Total votes: 148

They want to get people interested in the series and the racing, but have an abysmally bad live video subscription service.

Ok, the main races are covered (sort of) live on-line, albeit with a couple of cameras and amateurish commentating that is truly cringe-worthy at times.

However, practice sessions (often the more interesting and revealing) are only covered live by timing, and a pathetic "highlights" package, usually posted the next day.

Clearly, the broadcasters are not interested in SBK, so Dorna need to step up and bring the video subscription service into line with the content provided by the MotoGP service, and use the expertise they already have developed for MGP.

Obviously it will need to be cheaper that the MotoGP service, to attract subscribers, but it's just another form of promotion spend, and another way to get people interested in SBK.

Total votes: 142

I know the logistics would never work, but it would be amazing if Dorna could work out a way that the top non-factory rider each season earned a Factory ride.  

That would make for some interesting battles down the field.   

Total votes: 152

"Panglossian optimism..." The 'optimism' is superfluous, I believe, as Panglossian is, by definition, optimism. You can't have optimistic optimism. How can you allow such shoddy writing.... ;-)

Total votes: 151

I stand corrected. Cap doffed for the accuracy of your criticism.

Total votes: 142

Just for interest the Oxford dictonary uses the following three examples of the use of the word:

  • Like Hammond, Athanasiou argues that the various modes of Panglossian optimism that envisage only win-win scenarios obscure the fact that humanity now faces some tough choices and problems.
  • The Panglossian optimism underpinning such remarks obscures other more serious flaws: To offset the shortfall in domestic savings, the US private sector has been borrowing from abroad.
  • The film suggests that US rehabilitation involves lots of hugs, tears, group chants, and saccharine effusions of Panglossian optimism.

Each has optimism following panglossian. Just saying.

 

Total votes: 136

What a word. I shall add that to the treasure trove and one day nonchalantly drop it into conversation :-)

Total votes: 139

Well, this adds interest to the series. Aprilia, a new Honda (hopefully) with Nicky, maybe Yamaha will find the pace with Bradl, plus the normal competitive Ducatis and Kawasakis, and BMW is getting closer too. Really, the dominance of Rea has been sucking the interest out of things for me. He deserves the results but let the field catch up and I'm back, eagerly waking up to check the results. For me, I like the races on the two different days. It means I get to eagerly wake up twice, Sat and Sun! Also if a rider goes down the extra day could possibly even things up again

Total votes: 130

He deserves to be on a competitive bike in MotoGP, so I don't blame him for heading back to WSBK where he will be a race winner, and championship contender.

It's a good series, I enjoy the racing immensely, but it needs more riders that can challenge the Kawasakis on a regular basis - they've taken 13 wins of 18 wins (incl the last 6 in a row), and and additional 18 of 36 podiums.

Total votes: 147

I won't be attending WSBK again until they combine the main races back into a single day. I'm very happy to commit the cash, and have done so at MotoGP and WSBK for 30+ years - but for me the two days with no extra racing is 1) milking it, and 2) a royal pain to attend live. I can't be the only punter put off by the stretched weekend, so I reckon that means even less live attendance.

Maybe we're going through what the music industry has been through - it was just download the tracks, but there's no emotional attachment. Buying the musc is only the first step - the real pinnacle is seeing the band live. Its the same for bikes. Being there is the real spectacle. The noise, the smell, and knowledgable crowds enthusiastically spotting progress that commentators often miss.

So roll on Silverstone for my local round - will it be wet, will it be dry?!

Total votes: 138

As someone who is  at Siverstone from next Wednesday to the following Monday for the British MotoGP you'd better be wrong!

That's wrong about the rain, not again please.

Total votes: 146

Don't worry mate... Attending a MotoGP race for 5 days at Silverstone is not just about the racing. My 10th year this year from Thursday to Monday. Last year it rained on race day. Didn't matter. Most UK people don't care, we still enjoyed our weekend cheering on the best in the world! 

Weather forecast is good so far, but hey, doesn't matter! Have a good time... We always do!

Total votes: 129

Each to their own @richtea, but if it makes you feel any better the closest MotoGP and WSB races to me are both about 2500km or 3 airplane connections away, and the next closest require me to cross either the Atlantic or the Pacific. I'd take a Tuesday morning race format if it didn't require 2 to 4 days travel time :)

Total votes: 133

So does this mean Milwaukee have switched from BMW and who is out of a ride ?

Total votes: 136

Both Josh and Karl are out. Hope Josh gets another shot in WSBK as he's very fast. Think of the championship we'd have in Sykes never got another shot after his dismal display on the Yamaha. 

Total votes: 146