You need guts for NW200 road race, says MotoGP ace Eugene Laverty
Eugene Laverty has spoken for the first time about his "great admiration" for road racers, adding that it takes "real guts" to propel powerful and potentially lethal motorbikes around courses such as the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT.
The MotoGP star, who has previously steered clear of the debate about the safety of road racing, gave his thoughts in the wake of a dark month for the sport that yielded three deaths and one serious injury.
Toomebridge native Laverty and his wife Pippa (27) were present at the North West 200 last month when promising 20-year-old English rider Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was tragically killed during a race. Two days earlier, Dungannon racer Ryan Farquhar (40) sustained serious injuries in another crash.
Less fortunate were 27-year-old Australian Dwight Beare and England's Paul Shoesmith (50), both of whom were killed at the TT last Saturday. And a MotoGP colleague of Laverty's - 24-year-old Spaniard Luis Salom - tragically died last Friday during practice for Sunday's Catalunya GP in Barcelona.
Laverty, who went on to compete in the Barcelona event, which was overshadowed by Salom's death, said: "I have great admiration for the courage of road racers. It takes real guts to ride tracks like the North West 200 and the Isle of Man TT."
The Aspar Ducati rider, a global star in what is regarded as the normally safer short-circuit version of motorcycle racing, where the competition is held in specially constructed, enclosed tracks, said he was a big fan of road racing and had been visiting the North West 200 since he was a young boy.
"I was really excited that my schedule allowed me to go this year," said Eugene, who lives in Monaco with Pippa, his wife of six months.
"It's such a well-organised event, and event director Mervyn Whyte and his team do a fantastic job.
"Unfortunately, there were a few serious crashes this year, most notably the late Malachi Mitchell-Thomas.
"I'd quickly become a fan of Malachi, and just the night before the race I'd said how great a character he was for the sport.
"That's the downside of the sport, but Malachi knew the risks and died doing what he loved.
"Our own Ryan Farquhar suffered a heavy fall and thankfully he is now on the road to recovery."
Laverty, who turned 30 last Friday, wore a special retro-green helmet designed in memory of a close family friend during the Catalunya race.
Eugene was named after Portglenone rider Eugene (Gene) McDonnell, who was tragically killed during the Junior Isle of Man TT race on June 4, 1986 - the day after Laverty and his twin brother Eamonn were born.
Just like his older brothers Michael and John and his father Mickey, Eugene grew up with a burning desire to race motorcycles, although he stayed off the roads.
Gene's brother Ciaran came up with the idea of the tribute helmet, and Eugene said it was "a great honour" to wear a replica of Gene's helmet during the Barcelona race.
Pippa, who was at the Spanish grid with Eugene, said they were still enjoying "married bliss" six months after a fairytale wedding at Dromoland Castle in Co Clare - but have yet to fit in their honeymoon, which is scheduled to take place a full year after they tied the knot.
"We've been on the road a lot and so far the only break we've had was in Portstewart during the North West 200," she said. "Our relationship has been better since we got married. Everything that happened leading up to the wedding was crazy but now that things have settled down we really feel like a unit."
By "everything that happened", Pippa means a horrifying 160mph smash during testing at Jerez, Spain, last November that left Eugene hospitalised with multiple injuries, including a broken wrist, dislocated shoulder and fractured collarbone, and threatened to jeopardise their December 7 nuptials.
Ultimately, the only casualty of the crash - which Eugene described as the worst of his career - was the honeymoon, which was put on the back burner while he underwent treatment.
And now Pippa has revealed that the couple, who were together for 10 years before they married, will finally get away to the Caribbean later this year.
"Eugene only gets time off in December when there's a testing ban so we've booked a week in St Lucia, which we're really looking forward to," said Durham native Pippa.
"We were meant to be going there at the end of last year, but then came the accident."