A return to the rostrum in 2018… a return to racing in 2019?
The 2018 Geico US Round was a sort of crossroads in Eugene Laverty’s (Team Goeleven) return to the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship. The 2013 runner-up, a multi-race winner and perennial championship contender in his first spell in the series, made his comeback to the paddock in 2017, joining forces with Milwaukee Aprilia.
It was all set up quite nicely for the Irishman: a team with extensive top-level experience, a familiar bike, and the hunger from two years in MotoGP™ squeezing everything and more out of uncompetitive machinery. But results and fortune refused to follow him back onboard the RSV4, and year one ended with just three top-five finishes, none on the rostrum.
The start to 2018 was worse. Three tough races were followed by a career-threatening crash in the Thai Race 2. Progress was made upon his return from injury, two months later, but still a step below the high expectations everyone in the project had set upon themselves. But then came Laguna Seca. A fantastic fourth in Race 1 was followed by pole for Race 2 (due to the reverse grid format). Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) soared past with ease with one third of the race completed; Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) did the same after two thirds. But neither their respective teammates nor the Pata Yamaha riders were able to catch Laverty in Act 3. Four years later, Laverty was back on the podium.
It was a success that spurred the Irish rider on for the following rounds, where he produced another podium at Misano, a first outright Superpole in years at Portimao, and more promising performances in Argentina and Qatar.
This season, Laverty faces a different predicament. The question at the minute is not whether we’ll see him and Team Goeleven fighting for podiums in the US, but whether he’ll be fighting at all, after being forced to withdraw from the Prosecco DOC UK Round after FP2.
Laverty did offer some cause for optimism when he retired from the UK event, saying: “I am improving week by week, so my focus is now on Laguna Seca, an anti-clockwise track that gives the right wrist a much easier time than Donington Park”.
The American rollercoaster would be an ideal place for the Irishman to return. Aside from that podium last year, he picked up a win and third on his first visit to the WeatherTech Raceway in 2013 and one of his strongest results on the Suzuki. And perhaps most importantly, it’s the last chance to cause an impression before the summer break. From here, it’s Portimao next – another of Laverty’s favourites, yes, but also two months away.
Could the US be Laverty’s 2019 turning point, as it was in 2018? We’ll find out after Friday – but if he’s fit and running, expect the 33-year-old to be fast as ever, joining the rest of independents who have been competing so fiercely in the last few rounds.
Watch qualifying and all three races from the Geico US Round thanks to WorldSBK VideoPass!