The Milwaukee Aprilia rider is back in action this weekend at Imola and he guides us around an action packed lap of the Italian venue
Imola is one of the most historic circuits in the world. Tamburello, Acque Minerali and Rivazza are corner names etched into the fiber of the sport, and with the circuit named after Enzo Ferrari's son, the emotion of Imola is always bubbling away just under the surface.
For a long time Eugene Laverty didn't feel at home at this twisting and technical circuit but over the last ten years he has been able to scratch at the surface and unlock the key to a fast time around this 4.936km circuit.
“Imola is a very technical circuit and it's a real challenge to learn it,” said Laverty. “It took me a long time to figure out some of the secrets of it, and even when I was racing here on the Yamaha Superbike, after a few years of Supersport, I was still struggling. The most important thing is to be white line to white line because there's no 'natural corners.' The straights are so short that everything leads into one another and it's a real challenge to learn the details of Imola.”
With two Supersport podiums and a WorldSBK rostrum he understands what's needed but for this weekend, recovering from an injury, he'll face an uphill task.
“As you come into the first chicane you pass through the speed trap. You need to be at about 280kmp/h through here and this will be one of the keys to this weekend. That speed trap tells the tale of the lap. Last year the top four guys were so much faster than everyone through this speed trap, and it's right before the braking point but they were gaining so much time on us last year. That speed will be a good reference for us throughout the weekend.
“The first chicane, Tamburello, is quite nice because it's slow in the first corner, it's in second gear, but it really starts to speed up for the second part at Turn 3. The entry to Turn 2 is crucial: you need to hit your braking marker because it's easy to go in too hot and your lap time is ruined before it's even began.
“If you're too hot, you're pushed wide, and it sets off a chain reaction through the second part and then onto the straight leading into the next chicane. Imola is all about chicanes but the second chicane, Villeneuve, is a bit odd. You're braking while leaned off the bike and the bike is on the angle before you tip in to the next corner. It's a strange sensation for the rider.”
Up the hill
From the exit of Villenueve the riders are then hard on the brakes and back to first gear for Tosa. This slow right hander starts the run up the hill, the gradient is over 15% and the drag from Tosa leads to the highest point on the circuit, Piratella.
“The run from Tosa up the hill was a big problem for us last year because the Aprilia struggled up the hill, and we were giving away free lap time to everyone else. The key on that section is to weave on the straight, from the exit of Tosa you'll go to the left and then the right. If you're on the angle of the tire it won't wheelie and cost you time.
“As you crest the hill the key is to be as close to the white line on the right as possible and to sweep into the corner and stay as close to the inside white line. If you're a little wide you'll be pushed further wide down the hill and it affects the next corner. If that's the case you'll be braking with more lean angle on the way down the hill. To avoid this you need to be as upright as possible for as long as possible and then throw the bike into the corner for the run down the hill.”
And down again
From Piratella the track falls away from the riders and they seem to fall off the edge of the world as the momentum builds on the downhill section to the double rights of the Acque Minerali complex.
“Acque Minerali is really nice. The rule changes might mean that we have to grab an extra gear on the way into the corner. Last year we could hold third for the whole way down the hill, but now you'll probably have to try to get your foot forward to shift into fourth as you are trying to enter the corner, so that could be a bit different.”
From Acque Minerali the riders climb the hill to the Variante Alta chicane, and like many sections of Imola the devil is in the detail of this corner. It's possible to make up speed through the section but also very easy to make a mistake.
“Imola is very unique because you're running over high kerbs, going through the floppies at the chicanes, and the more aggressive you are the better. Some riders, like Chaz, are so good through those sections because their change of direction is so quick. He's so aggressive with the high kerbs, and that can be a risk but if you can do that successfully you can gain a lot of time. It's hard to change the direction so quickly though because it's such a low speed corner that as you change direction the bike gets unstable and you're doing your best to keep the bike on the ground because it gets light and almost feels as though it's lifting.”
Holding the Kawasakis
From the chicane the riders than run down the hill to the double right of Rivazza. This is the downhill descent where Laverty clashed with Alex Lowes last year and his brake line was cut. The fireball accident became one of the images of 2017, but Laverty will be hoping for a slightly less eventful weekend this time around.
“Rivassa is probably my favorite section of the track. Our bike worked really well there last year and even after the crash with Alex last year I still enjoy it! You definitely need to have a front brake working through there though. I really like this section though because our bike last year worked here as well as the Kawasaki last year. I was following them and they were smoking me everywhere, but once we came to this section I was able to close on them. The second part is the same speed as the first corner, but the RPM is quite different through here and the track can be very slippery through the second part. The last corner is a great overtaking opportunity but it's easy to go in too hot and lose the front like I did in 2010 in Supersport!”
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