Eugene Laverty swapped Aprilia’s RSV4 World Superbike for the factory’s RS-GP MotoGP racer during an eye-opening private test at Jerez in late November.
The Irishman, who claimed a best MotoGP finish of fourth during two seasons on satellite Ducati machinery, returned to WorldSBK with Aprilia last season.
In addition, Laverty is contracted to perform test riding duties and was called-up at Jerez to replace the healing Aleix Espargaro.
That meant Laverty rode for five successive days at the Spanish circuit; two on the Superbike and then three, alongside new Aprilia signing Scott Redding, on the grand prix machine.
“We were trying to work out how many laps I’ve done and we think it’s about 360. Not bad! We ride in circles, so 360 is a nice number,” Laverty quipped.
Laverty – who rode the RS-GP at Valencia and Jerez a year ago – soon adapted to the grand prix bike and Michelin tyres, revelling in its braking capabilities after a season spent struggling to stop the RSV4 in World Superbike.
“It was the opposite bike!” Laverty explained. “That was cool for me to experience because the problem I’ve had with the Superbike this year is so much weight on the front.
“I’ve almost had to adapt my riding style to ride with straight arms, try and sit as far back as I can to get the weight off the front.
“But this [MotoGP] bike has got a really rigid front and, for my size, is quite far away. I had to try and ride up over the front, like Simon Crafar, to keep load on the front wheel.
“So in that respect the two bikes are opposites.
“But the biggest strength of the [MotoGP] bike is the braking and on my second or third exit I was already matching Aleix’s braking.
“I know he’s a really strong braker, but I am too when the bike is capable, so that felt good. It was just that we lost all the time in the faster corners.”
Part of the reason for the fast-corner difficulties was simply the height difference between Laverty and Espargaro.
“I’m riding Aleix’s bike and he’s a tall guy, so we’d need to change the bike to suit me and that wasn’t really on the cards here,” Laverty said.
“Riding Aleix’s bike, in the fast corners I can’t load the front enough, because he’s a tall guy and he’s up at the front. I can’t do that so the bike starts hopping away.
“We tried to load the front more to help in the fast corners by playing around with things like springs and preload, but it was give-and-take because it messes up the slow corners, the hard braking and rear grip.”
Had bigger changes been possible, Laverty was clear about the solution:
“We knew what we had to do geometry-wise; the front wheel is too far away from me, so we’d just have to move it closer and everything would be fine.
“Instead I wasn’t really able to attack the bike and that was frustrating. But the bike has such potential and works well, as Scott showed with his lap time.”
Click below to watch Laverty testing the RS-GP at Jerez:
Laverty had finished the opening day with best lap of 1m 39.995s, around half-a-second from Redding, who made his debut on the machine at the previous Valencia test.
The Englishman went on to set a 1m 38.778s, which was 0.748s behind the fastest final-day MotoGP lap by Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone and just over one-second from the best of the week by Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Laverty, unable to shed the racer’s urge for a fast time, felt frustrated that he didn’t make the most of a ‘Superpole’ opportunity on the final day.
“I was a bit pissed because I didn’t get a chance to really extract a lap time from it,” he said.
“I had a little go at the end. We put in a new tyre and I was on course for a 1m 38s, but I locked the front under braking into Turn 8, on the kerb.
“I left a nice black line there on what was my fastest lap and lost over half-a-second.”
That big front-end slide meant Laverty, tenth overall with a best result of fourth in his comeback World Superbike season, concluded the MotoGP test with a time of 1m 39.537s.
“While I’m here as a test rider, you are still a racer. I’m not past that point of wanting to go fast. But that’s the only thing I’m kicking myself for; I had a little Superpole moment and messed up!”
Perhaps the best news for Laverty was that by making a direct comparison between the two Aprilia machines, on the same track and just days apart, he could illustrate to the engineers exactly where the Superbike is lacking.
“Testing the Superbike and MotoGP bike here teaches us a lot,” he said. “When the guys saw what I was able to do in braking on the MotoGP bike, straight away…
“I’ve been on a bike that doesn’t want to stop and then you put me on a bike that does want to stop and I’m matching Espargaro, who is one of the latest brakers in MotoGP.
“So we know what we’ve got to do. The front-end of the MotoGP bike is completely the opposite of the Superbike and we’ve got to learn from that.”