Eugene Laverty emerged as a genuine world title contender with a stunning double success at Monza yesterday, the Toomebridge rider triumphing in both World Superbike races.
Laverty’s first wins in his first full season in the premier class made for a dream day for the 24-year-old factory Yamaha rider at Italy’s ‘Temple of Speed’.
A delighted Laverty said: “It’s been a great weekend and I can’t believe I’ve got the double victory as my aim was for a podium.
“Two wins are incredible and they could not have come at a better place as the team’s workshop is literally down the road. So it really means a lot to me to do well here at Monza.
“To stand on the top step of the podium not once but twice is amazing.
“In race one I knew Max (Biaggi) had the speed and I had to hang in there and was always able to fend him off at the end of the straight.
“Then I had a small moment at Parabolica on the last lap, but apart from that it was the perfect race.
“Race two was the complete opposite as I nearly crashed at the first corner and had to work really hard to get back onto the leading riders.
“In the end I waited to the last corner knowing if I got through there was no way Marco (Melandri) could fight back and it worked to perfection,” he said.
The rookie was in sensational form all weekend having qualified in second position before going on to make it a race winning double.
In race one he battled wheel to wheel with reigning world champion Biaggi before the Italian made a mistake half way through.
This allowed Laverty to clinch his maiden world superbike victory one and a half seconds ahead of the Aprilia of Biaggi and the BMW of Leon Haslam.
In race two, Laverty got tangled up in a first corner melee that saw fellow Ulsterman Jonny Rea, Haslam and Jakub Smurz all crash as Biaggi set a hot pace at the front ahead of team mate Leon Camier, but the latter crashed out of contention on lap eight seemingly secure in the runner-up position.
That elevated Melandri and Laverty, who had spent most of the race working his way through the field, into second and third.
However with Biaggi apparently cruising to victory he was given a ride through penalty for an off-track excursion through the first chicane, much to his disgust, handing the lead to fellow Italian Melandri, now under severe pressure from Laverty who hounded and harried him over the latter stages of the race.
Ice-cool Laverty left it until the last corner where Melandri made a slight mistake allowing his team mate to make a race-winning move to make it a magnificent double victory just 0.327 seconds ahead at the chequered flag with Michel Fabrizio in third position.
The two victories catapult Laverty from 11th to fifth, just four points behind Rea in fourth and looking forward to the next round in America on May 30.
From Laverty’s joy to Rea’s despair, the Ballyclare rider left to rue the crash that put paid to his chances.
“I’ll have to see the footage of race two to find out what really happened, but I feel like I got clipped from the inside which forced me up and into the guy on the outside,” he explained.
“Frustrating really is the word, especially in race one when we just didn’t have the speed on the straight.
“I could match the lap times when I was on my own and able to run the right lines. But as soon as I got involved in a race with anyone who slowed me down in the places I was fast, I got forced off the line and lost the speed.
“Sixth was okay but certainly not what I’d hoped for.”
So Laverty and Rea are all set to continue their battle to bring the world crown back to Ulster.