Eugene Laverty was taking life at a distinctly more mundane pace as he made a fleeting return home last week ahead of a gruelling triple-header of flyaway MotoGP rounds this month.
The 30-year-old took time out of his hectic race schedule to treat the children at Taylorstown Cross Community Playgroup near his hometown of Toome to a special day, delivering an important safety message on the need for wearing protective equipment before donning his helmet to particpate in a fun bicycle race with the beaming kids outside.
Laverty, whose little nephew Joseph McLaughlin attends the playgroup at Taylorstown, was in relaxed mood last Friday morning as he posed for photographs with the staff and chatted with the eager toddlers before giving interviews to the media.
It was a welcome break from the high-pressure MotoGP lifestyle but Laverty’s mind is never far from the job and his recently-confirmed return to World Superbikes in 2017 was a key topic of conversation.
The Aspar Ducati rider still has some unfinished business to take care of as he strives towards his aim of ending the 2016 MotoGP World Championship with a top 10 finish in the final standings, but Laverty was happy to turn his thoughts to the new challenge he faces next year, when the unassuming Northern Ireland star told the News Letter he feels he is in the right moment of his career to finally become a world champion.
“I’ve finished as the runner-up two times in World Supersport and once in World Superbikes, so I’ve now finished second three times in the world championships and the aim now is to win a world title,” said Laverty, who will ride a factory-supported Aprilia RSV4 for Shaun Muir Racing in a team backed by Milwaukee alongside Italy’s Lorenzo Savadori.
“I was perhaps not ready then to be world champion and made errors at the wrong times: I was always capable of winning races but to win a championship you have to put a whole season together and I feel more complete as a rider.
“Now that I’ve gone to GP and ridden under-par machinery and sometimes had to settle for an 11th place, it has taught me a lot and now it’s time to try and put a run together and try and win a world title at last.”
Laverty’s compatriot Jonathan Rea was crowned World Superbike champion last year and is on course to retain the title this season as he remains the dominant force in the championship on the Kawasaki ZX-10R.
The prospect of both Northern Ireland riders potentially going head-to-head in a title showdown in 2017 is a mouth-watering one for the fans and pundits alike and Laverty acknowledges the hype is going to be ramped up a level next year.
“On the track, Johnny is just another rival but it’s clear away from the track we understand the weight of it because having both of us from somewhere as small as Northern Ireland at the top level of the sport is fantastic for everybody back home to be able to watch us and support us.
“I’ve been watching Johnny the last few years and always supporting him on a Sunday and he’s been so strong these past few years, so we’re all going to have to chase him down.
“I’m under no illusions and I don’t expect to go in and knock him off his mantle straight away because Johnny is going to be the toughest guy to beat,” added Laverty.
“It’s not just one year, it’s been these two years that he’s been building and building with the Kawasaki.
“It’s not going to be easy, but that’s why I signed on for two years because it’s a big task, but I feel up for it.”
After a tough rookie season in motorcycling’s MotoGP premier class in 2015 on the uncompetitive ‘Open’ class Honda, Laverty has shown what he is capable of this year following the Aspar team’s switch to Ducati machinery, with his standout results including a fourth in Argentina and sixth at Brno in the Czech Republic.
In an ideal world, Laverty would have been offered the sole Desmosedici GP16 machine made available to Aspar for 2016, but instead the bike was earmarked for new signing Alvaro Bautista.
Rather than settle for the older and less competitive GP15 version of the Ducati, Laverty decided a return to World Superbikes with a factory ride was the smart choice.
“At first it was difficult but then you start thinking with your head and looking at it in black and white. It was a case of: if I could get a better bike I’d stay in MotoGP but if not, then I’d go to World Superbikes.
“When you have a factory bike in World Superbikes versus a bike that is midfield in MotoGP, then it’s a matter of head over heart,” Laverty said.
“That’s motorsport in general at the top level, not just MotoGP. If you’re coming into MotoGP on a midfield bike then it’s difficult to get to that next level of machinery and there’s only so much you can do on a midfield bike: Valentino Rossi isn’t going to win on a midfield bike and that’s motorsport nowadays.”