As we waited for the Daytona 200 on Friday afternoon, I caught up with Michael Laverty in the pit lane. He was good enough to talk for a few minutes about his introduction to Daytona and the current versions of American Superbike racing.
SJ: You had a great qualifying result yesterday, surprising a lot of people here at Daytona.
ML: It was my first time ever doing SuperPole, and I managed to jump up to eighth, ahead of Ben Bostrom and Geoff May. I was pretty happy with that. It wasn’t a special lap, just comfortable and consistent, didn’t make any mistakes. I came in from the lap thinking, ah, it should’ve been so much better, but it was good enough for the second row, which was good.
Then in the race, I got not too bad of a start and was kind of hanging in there with the group for fifth place, but I had a problem with my brakes on the second lap and overshot turn one. I got them adjusted while I was coming back on the track, and I think I got back on about fifteenth or sixteenth. As I chipped back through I got back up to ninth in the end. But I could’ve been eighth. I passed Josh Hayes on the second to last lap, but he got me back on the last lap. The motor in the factory Yamaha was a little bit stronger and I couldn’t out drag him to the line and he got me by less than a tenth of a second. So it was good racing. I was pretty happy, considering we’re a private team and it’s a very stock motorbike. We’re down about eight or nine miles per hour on Pegram’s Ducati and the factory Suzukis.
To finish up in ninth doesn’t sound great, but I think there were a lot of positives to take from it. My best lap when I was catching back up was only three tenths slower than Mladin’s best lap. So to come here for the first time on a private bike and lap within .3 of Mat Mladin, I’m pretty chuffed with that.
SJ: What exactly happened with the brake?
ML: We were having problems with the brakes and I crashed in the first practice session while learning the infield section. It was a little crash but I damaged the brake. We didn’t have much track time after putting a new brake system on. It needed to be bedded in for maybe three or four laps, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do that. I did the sighting lap and the warm up lap, and on the grid I thought the brakes were coming good. But after the first two laps they really faded back and came into the handle bar. I was on the back brake into turn one and I just couldn’t stop. I had no remote adjuster because it broke in the crash. If that had been on I could’ve adjusted the brake on the straight. But as it was I had to reach over the front of the level and screw it out three or four turns. The next lap was a little funny, but then it came good and was fine. It was just unfortunate, because if we’d had maybe a ten minute free practice we’d have been fine. But hindsight’s 20-20 and we made the choice to go with the new brake for the race, and that kind of ruined my chance for a top five or six result. But it was good to show the lap times I could do.
SJ: That was very impressive. If not for that brake problem, it might’ve been much different.
ML: Yes, I definitely had the pace, looking at the lap times, to hang with that group for fifth place, which was Blake Young on the Yoshi Suzuki, Aaron Yates on the Jordan Suzuki, and Ben Bostom on the factory Yamaha. So I had the speed to be with those guys and dice for fifth, sixth and seventh. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t there to show that I could’ve done that, but I know that if I come back I can definitely fight with the factory guys.
I’m just hoping that Barry can find the budget and I can do some more races. He plans to do as many of the east coast ones as possible. But at the minute, we’re going to miss Fontana; he doesn’t have the budget to travel all the way to California. So I’ll not be here for round two. But hopefully I’ll be back for Atlanta, or else Barber, for rounds three and four. It’s just one of those things. The economy isn’t so strong at the moment so it’s hard to pick up money.
SJ: Qualifying eighth, then having the problem, getting it sorted and bringing the bike back onto the track at that pace your first time here, it’s remarkable. What do you think about the banking here at Daytona?
ML: It was definitely a bit daunting at first. I did the CCS (Championship Cup Series) here last weekend, and we were running the long course on the 1000s. It’s not scary as such, but the bike is moving and spinning, going up around the banking. The first few laps you go, How am I going to take this full throttle? But once you do it, it’s okay. You just get used to it, do it every time without thinking about it. It becomes normal, but at first it is a bit different from anything I’ve ever done with the wall that close. You’re reaching 180 odd miles per hour here down by the finish line. Pegram’s Ducati was hitting 200 mph, so it’s a fast little course.
SJ: I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of you in 2009, and I hope Celtic Racing can get the money together to do more events this season.
ML: I hope so. I hope to do as many as possible and just race wherever I can this year.