It's MotoGP's Laverty v Rea again in World Superbikes
MotoGP ace Eugene Laverty, sixth in Sunday's Czech Grand Prix, will today announce his return to the World Superbike Championship in 2017.
Laverty has agreed a deal to ride a factory-supported Aprilia RSV-4 for Shaun Muir's Milwaukee Power Tools backed team next season.
After two years in the MotoGP paddock riding privateer machinery with the Aspar team, Laverty is heading back to World Superbike with Italian manufacturer Aprilia - who took him to second place in the championship back in 2013 - in the all-new British-based Milwaukee Aprilia set-up.
Confirming the deal, the Monaco-based Ulsterman told the Belfast Telegraph: "This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career.
"The choice between staying in the elite class of MotoGP or returning to World Superbikes with Milwaukee Aprilia, to fight for that elusive world title, was not an easy one."
Laverty will now get the chance to renew his on-track rivalry with fellow Ulsterman and current World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea, who was shocked, yet pleased, at the news.
"I'm really excited to hear that Eugene will be joining us again," said the factory Kawasaki rider.
Heaping praise on his countryman, Rea added: "When he left the championship to go to MotoGP he was a top rider, but it was clear that he was not on a competitive bike.
"He has really found his feet in MotoGP this season and will be a huge loss to that paddock, but his natural ability and work ethic will no doubt see him back fighting for a championship next year.
"On top of that, the Aprilia is a competitive bike, so with Eugene on it, they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2017."
The Sean Muir team, who won the 2015 British Superbike Championship as Milwaukee Yamaha, are currently in their debut season in World Superbike running BMW machinery. But after a disappointing season to date, they have been forced to make the decision to change manufacturer yet again, in a bid to attract top class talent.
Team owner Muir revealed his short-list contained just three riders ‑ German MotoGP star Stefan Bradl (who has since signed for Honda in WSB), 2014 WSB champion Sylvain Guintoli and Laverty, who was his number one target.
Having got his man, Muir said: "Doing the deal with Aprilia was the deciding factor and we are delighted to have Eugene on board. We have two more years on our deal in World Superbike with title sponsor Milwaukee Power Tools, so to tie that in with Aprilia who are weighing in behind us with factory support, ticks all the boxes.
"There will be a level of expectation, of course. But we didn't intend coming here to just make up the numbers. I want to win races and I believe we can do that with Eugene and Lorenzo."
Italian Lorenzo Savadori (23), the reigning European Superstock 1000cc champion, who currently rides for the Ioda Racing team (on an Aprilia) in WSB. will be Laverty's new team-mate.
Looking ahead, Laverty said candidly: "Ultimately it was the competitiveness of the machinery that tipped the balance for me. I would really be up against it in MotoGP if I were to continue riding a two-year-old bike. In World Superbike, I will have a bike capable of winning each and every race weekend, which at the end of the day is the very reason I go racing."
Another factor for Laverty came when the Aspar team announced the signing of prodigal son Alvaro Bautista. The Spaniard will be furnished with a 2016 specification Ducati, which would have left Laverty on inferior machinery, despite scoring points at 11 of the 12 rounds so far this season in MotoGP.
Looking ahead with optimism, Laverty concluded: "I feel that I have improved a lot during these past two seasons and as a result I am much more complete as a rider. "Perhaps in the past I wasn't ready to fight for a world title, whereas now I feel that I've ironed out my weaknesses and I'm ready for the challenge. Maybe I could return to MotoGP one day as World Superbike champion - now that really would be something very special."