It's been a turbulent 12 months for Shaun Muir Racing. Their much touted move to WorldSBK in 2016, as reigning British Superbike champions, proved to be an exceptionally trying campaign that ended with infighting between the team and their lead rider, Josh Brookes. Armed with the BMW S1000RR, expectations were high for the British squad but ultimately they struggled to find a consistent balance, and the season and their relations with the German manufacturer petered out.
For many teams that would have brought dark clouds but instead SMR may have hit the jackpot. The team launched their 2017 project today at Jerez and while beautiful sunshine flooded the Jerez circuit the team lifted their garage doors to a genuine belief that they can win races. Their partnership with Aprilia began at the November tests last year but it was today that the real fruits of that relationship came to bear.
"The only way that this could be more factory would be if Aprilia paid for everything," was how one team source assessed the situation as the WorldSBK media and paddock took their first view of the new bikes. With a new slimmer fuel tank, a MotoGP spec swing arm, a new seat unit and 2017 suspension parts the bike certainly looked "full factory" and the initial comments from their lead rider, Eugene Laverty, will certainly give the team plenty of encouragement.
"There were quite a few changes compared to when I rode it in November," said the Irishman. "It took a bit of time to get dialed in. It was a positive end to the day. I would say we are back to where we were at the last test. We've arrived at the same problem and we're struggling to get the bike stopped and turned. It feels like it's pushing the front a lot so that's a direction we need to improve on tomorrow. The problem is in the last part and getting the bike stopped and turned. I'm really struggling in that area. That's just chassis-wise, geometry that we'll have to work on, the electronics are working well. There's a lot of different ways to approach it but it's pretty clear what we need to do – to get some weight off the front to help with my riding style."
The team will test at Jerez and Portimao this week, but having been in Italy building the bike there was plenty of shakedown work to do on day one. With the new tank the order of the day was to ensure that it fitted correctly when on track and didn't damage the frame by rubbing against it when at racing speed. For Laverty the tank was a big step forward in letting him move around the bike.
"It feels neater. For me the fuel tank is an important thing. That's where the rider is sat around. It gives you the impression of the size of the bike so it feels smaller definitely. It makes it easier to move around it. That's the nice thing that they've been working on. It's neat, well finished and looks like a proper little race bike."
As was the case in November Laverty raved about the Aprilia electronics and the feeling and confidence they offer him. The steps made by the team in recent years have allowed them to improve tire life while still giving the rider the feeling he needs to slide the bike and despite the bike not being as powerful as he remembers it the ease of use is something that Laverty feels will allow him to be much more consistent this year compared to in the past.
To get to that point will take time however and that's not something that Laverty is looking past. It's still early for the SMR Aprilia partnership and while results will be expected from early in the season, he is taking a realistic approach to the task facing the team.
"In the dry we're still not there. At the last test we only had one dry day so we need track time in the dry. We need to really work hard tonight and tomorrow to chase down those guys at the front. To be two seconds off…we need to be within a second. For testing you can't be content with being two seconds off. We need to be in range of them and feeling more comfortable."
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