'It is all about learning secrets of the circuit and how to be fast'
After six rounds of the World Superbike Championship, Ireland's Eugene Laverty is lying in third place in the overall standings. Riding for the Aprilia Racing Team, alongside Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, Laverty has taken four wins, a second and two third places out of the first dozen races and but for an unfortunate series of mishaps, the Toomebridge man would probably be leading the championship in just his second year riding at Superbike level.
With each round of the series containing two races, all of Laverty's wins this season have come in the second contest, with mechanical misfortune ruining his chances in the first.
The affable Aprilia rider's latest mishap robbed him of almost certain victory in race one in Portimao last week, when his engine blew with nothing but open road ahead of him after 11 of 22 laps.
"In Aragon, it could well have been two wins too," says the 27-year-old, who earned his first triumph at Mondello Park back in 2001. "I was dominant there, but I didn't get very far and then for it to happen again in Portugal where I was so strong and it looked like it was in the bag, was disappointing."
Although Laverty recovered in Portimao thanks to some sterling work by his mechanics in between races, he can only ponder what might have been if the problems hadn't happened.
"The first race has been a bit of a curse for us this year," he admits. "I was quite careful in the very first race of the year, in Philip Island, but all of the others have been technical problems, pretty much. It's been unfortunate, but the important thing is the pace is there and we're fast. I wasn't angry in Portimao, because I knew we had a second chance to get it right that time.
"The mechanics have a lot of work to do to make sure everything is right for the second race. It's nice and complicated now with all the electronics and even after the formation lap to the grid last week, things weren't quite right and we had to change a few things on the grid to make sure the bike was similar to race one.
"Thankfully, it ran perfectly for the second one. I think to win the second race by four seconds demonstrated our strength and what we were capable of in the first race if it had run its course."
When things do go right, however, the 27-year-old Antrim man is virtually unstoppable and has proven to be the most consistent rider in the championship race this year.
Despite not scoring due to not finishing in a couple of those incident-filled rounds, Laverty is just 39 points behind current leader and Aprilia team-mate Guintoli and 11 points behind British Kawasaki rider Tom Sykes. With the season not yet at the halfway point, Laverty believes he has plenty of opportunity to become the first ever Irishman to take the title this year.
"I want to win the championship," he says. "I've won the most races, but unfortunately I've had a few mechanicals which have cost me the lead, but there's a long way to go and I can get back into it. I've been the strongest guy at every round bar one, which was Donnington Park. I've always struggled there, even though I managed to get a breakthrough and finished on the podium there this year.
When I first rode Portimao, I didn't get on with the circuit, but I did so many laps in testing that I really learned every inch of it, and because the track is up and down, the rider can make a big difference there. If you can climb over the front of the bike on an uphill, you can keep the front wheel down and gain a tenth of a second.
"If you're physically fit and strong around there, you can gain time and it's fast becoming my favourite circuit now. It's all about learning the secrets of the circuit and understanding how to be fast there, but that will come in due time."
Unlike some motorsport stars Laverty is open to sharing his files and information with team-mate Guintoli, and with both riders using each other's data to get the best out of the Aprilias, it's no coincidence that they top the manufacturer's standings by a comfortable margin.
"I'm never going to stop a rider seeing my data," says Laverty. It's all well and good when you're the faster rider and you don't want the other guy seeing your data, but then, maybe in three rounds time, maybe on a circuit you're struggling on and he's faster, then all of a sudden you'll want to see his data. If you're the one that's put the data ban on things, then you have to come crawling back and it's pathetic really. For me, it's all open, and I use it as a tool.
"It's something I can learn from and it's something Sylvain can learn from. That's why we're at the front of the championship. The Aprilia is a great package, maybe the best all-round package. The Kawasaki, on its day, is a massive step above everybody, but they've yet to crack it on every track, whereas we can be fighting for the win week in week out, which we've shown this year.
"We've won on just about every track, which is great and it's great having a rider like Guintoli on the other side of the garage as well, because he's a similar rider to me and he's asking the same questions and is pushing development in a similar way to me as well."
With racing only taking place every other week, Laverty was to keep on top of his condition with a variety of training, from running, cycling and swimming to gym work, but admits a move from Ireland to the sunnier climes of Monaco at the start of the year has helped.
"I don't spend much time in the hustle and bustle of Monaco. We spend more time in the quiet end and head into Italy for a spin in the mornings. It's expensive to live here, but everything's on your doorstep. You don't have to go very far for anything. I just zoom around on the scooter during the day and when you're travelling so often, it's the simple things in life that make it easy.
"Back home in Ireland a lot of my friends were working nine to five, so the weekend was special, but here just about every day is like a weekend."
"I used to train really intensely indoors at home, but here you just enjoy it more with the sunshine.
"As well as cycling, I've been doing some running and swimming in the mornings. I run a few errands in the afternoon before going to the gym to do some strength work. It's mostly core work to build up the power in my upper body. I'm tall, but my build is small by nature.
"It's getting that bit tougher with the kind of fork the Superbikes have now compared to back in the day when the bikes were more aggressive and easier to manoeuvre. Now, we have to hang on to the bike on a corner exit and you've got to climb over the front of the bike to keep the front wheel down.
"Superbikes are hard work to manoeuvre. The important thing for me is to be able to use the body weight that I have on top of the bike, to encourage it to move around. If I just sat in the middle, it would be a lot tougher, so the gym work helps that."
Having successfully progressed up the ranks of motorcycling, from that first win in Mondello Park to become one of the best riders in the world today, many see Laverty as an ideal candidate for the step up to the prestigious MotoGP circuit in the future.
"I've got ambitions to do it," he admits. "Of course I'd like to eventually go to MotoGP and fight against the best riders in the world, like Jorge Lorenza and Dani Pedrosa, but I think World Superbike is at a better level than ever now. A lot of the guys outside of the top five in MotoGP, if they came to World Superbike now, would struggle."