Michael Laverty is the latest British Superbike star to opt for pastures new in 2011, taking up the offer of a factory-supported contract with Shaun Muir’s all-new Swan Yamaha team alongside Englishman Tommy Hill.
The 29-year-old Toomebridge lad, now residing in Wales, finished fourth in this season’s BSB series with Relentless Suzuki, but the lure of riding Yamahas, with direct information coming from his brother Eugene’s Sterilgarda Yamaha World Superbike team, was, as Laverty explained, 'too good an opportunity to turn down.’
“What swung the deal, was being guaranteed the bikes will be built by Eugene’s WSB team in Italy,” he enthused.
“We will have all the same parts as them and we will also get the chance to share their data. Obviously not after every round, but it’s as close to a full factory team as you will get in British Superbikes.”
This season the official Yamaha British Superbike effort was headed up by former Grand Prix rider, Rob McElnea's Motorpoint Yamaha team, albeit with little success.
Having gone through a number of top riders such as Andrew Pitt and local man Ian Lowry — Laverty insists that leaving what, from the outside at least, appeared to be a safe seat at Suzuki, is not a risk.
“People have said to me, ‘it’s not the bike to be on,’ but with factory support the bikes will be as good as the ones GSE ran under the Airwaves Yamaha banner in 2009 and no one could touch them,” he said.
“Eugene was also really impressed when he rode the bike for the first time at Magny Cours and once I got assurances we’d be using the same bikes, including engines, suspension and electronics — I knew, on paper, this would be the best team in BSB.”
Laverty fought out this season’s BSB championship with Hill on different sides of the Suzuki divide, with the Crescent Worx and Relentless by TAS teams.
Now team-mates at Yamaha, former British Supersport champion Laverty is relishing the prospect of riding alongside his former rival.
“I have been guaranteed there will be no number one in the team,” said Laverty.
“Tommy was also adamant he didn’t want that. We are both pretty much at the same level in experience and ability and will push each other all the way.
“After that, it’s down to the best man on the day. Shaun has also told us the bikes will be identical and if new parts become available, the team will wait until both riders can use them; I can’t ask for much more than that.”
The decision to leave Hector and Philip Neill’s set-up was a difficult one for Laverty having finished the season so strongly, but he has nothing but praise for his former employers.
“TAS did an excellent job for me this season and I have nothing but praise for them, but the Yamaha deal with factory support and Eugene’s potential input swung it for me,” he said.
“Also, this opportunity could lead to a World Superbike ride, which is still my ultimate goal. I’m getting stronger every year and I think given the opportunity, I could have four or five good years on the World scene.”
Laverty and his mechanics will travel to Italy in the coming weeks to meet the Sterilgarda Yamaha team who are currently testing at Phillip Island in Australia; then it’s off to Spain in the New Year for tests on the team’s YZF-R1, before commencing official BSB tests that kick-start the 2011 season.