Tissot Australian Grand Prix Wrapup for Michael Laverty & Paul Bird Motorsports Aprilia

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The Tissot Australian Gran Prix got off to an inauspicious start: as mentioned in the Japanese Grand Prix Wrapup, me Michael Laverty and our Paul Bird Motosports Aprilia team had a tough time getting out Tokyo due to a cyclone that was stirring up in the South China Sea and causing massive flight delays throughout Australasia. So, what should have been a relatively routine flight on Monday, ended up with a detour and delay in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and we arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday, a day late. From Melbourne, we had a 2-1/2 hour drive to Phillip Island, where we stayed in a beautiful house, Michael Laverty, Victor & I, and Broc Parkes, Tom & Andrew from the other side of the garage, just a few blocks from the ocean and 10 minutes from the track. It was walking distance to the town & 7 blocks to the beach! Wednesday morning, we checked into the track and went through the routine of setting up the PBM Aprilia pit box, leaving the bikes on the work tables for service, the next day. Victor and I got to the track bright and early Thursday morning and began swapping the better motor out from ML2, Michael’s primary bike and putting in a motor with more hours & mileage on it for practice. It was a pretty straightforward process for us as we’d had nearly a full season’s worth of practice and we were able to turn off the lights in the pit box at a decent hour and go into town for a team dinner.

It was bitterly cold for Friday’s FP1 & FP2 sessions, windbreakers and sweatshirts were mandatory; the temp for MotoGP FP1 was 15º, 50º f, amplifying the issues we’d had with edge grip. Michael Laverty finished the first MotoGP practice session in 23rd, last on the sheets with a 1:33.432. For FP2, the ambient temperature didn’t get any warmer, although the track warmed up slightly, but Michael’s PBM Aprilia still struggled for grip, as it was really hard to keep heat in the tires, even with the special, asymmetrical compound tires that Bridgestone brought for the race weekend. Michael Laverty finished the day with a best lap of 1:32.843, marginal improvement from the morning practice, but still at the bottom of the time sheet.

"I love the Philip Island circuit but it's not much fun when you can't get the correct temperature in the tyres " Michael Laverty Photo by Gold & Goose

“I love the Philip Island circuit but it’s not much fun when you can’t get the correct temperature in the tyres ” Michael Laverty
Photo by Gold & Goose

Saturday was slightly warmer, but temps were still in the low 60’s for FP3. Michael had a better pace, but was still having a hard time keeping heat in the tires and the tires were just too hard for the temps. As a result, edge grip was lacking, especially on corner exits, we just couldn’t get the bike to hook up on the gas. We did a quick back to back on shocks, starting with a 0.85kg spring, then swapping to a 1.05 for the 2nd half of the session. The stiffer spring was better, but didn’t fix everything; Michael Laverty finished FP3 with a 1:31.984, nearly a second faster than FP2, but only good for 22nd place. In between FP3 & FP4, we had a conversation with the Bridgestone tire engineers about dropping the pressure, but  they were adamant about keeping pressures within their recommended range.  Michael went out in FP4, but came back in about halfway through the session for fresh tires. As I was adjusting his shock, he leaned over and said “Please mate, drop the pressure on the rear, I  need more grip out there.” I had a quick word with Phil and we decided to drop it down to a pound below recommended pressure. It didn’t perform any miracles, but Michael finished the FP4 session in 21st, with a 1:31.907. For Q1, we stuck with the stiffer spring option to keep the rear tire planted to the ground and Michael Laverty reeled off a 1:31.492, nearly a half second faster than FP4, qualifying him in 21st, ahead of our Paul Bird Motorsports Aprilia teammate, Broc Parkes and NGM Forward Yamaha’s Alex De Angelis. After qualifying, Victor and I got right to work swapping back the low mileage Spec 4 engine back into ML2 so we’d be ready for sunday’s MotoGP race action.

Photo my Cormac Ryan-Meenan Photography

Photo my Cormac Ryan-Meenan Photography

For the Sunday Morning MotoGP Warmup, the temperatures were a bit warmer, in the mid 70’s and we made the call to run the 1.0 shock on ML2. Michael went out and without really pushing it, gave it a good shakedown and the thumbs up for the race, which had been pushed back to 4 n the afternoon, with a threat of rain looming about for the day. For the race, we opted for the softer of the compounds with the rationale that while it would likely go off faster, it would at least be more consistent throughout the race. After the green flag dropped, Michael Laverty got off a pretty decent start and quickly moved into 18th place, but that was to be short lived, as he was shuffled back to 21st during the 2nd lap. While the rain had held off, a front had moved through and the ground temps had dropped precipitously. Much of the field had chosen the harder of the two asymmetrical compound Bridgestone BT31 tires and with the ground temperature only 84º farenheit, riders were having a difficult time keeping heat on the right sides of their tires, which made the made transitioning from L-R in the high speed Doohan’s, turn 1 particularly treacherous, as well as in the hard braking, point and squirt Honda Corner, turn 4.  Michael managed to pass Avinta’s Mike di Meglio and tucked in behind IodaRacing’s Danillo Petrucci. Because the Petrucci’s Octo Ioda Aprilia had gotten revised electronics and strategies from ART a few rounds before, he was able to get better grip and pulled a bit of a gap on Michael, who maintained a conservative, but solid pace for the race. Attrition dealt its hand and 9 racers crashed out of the race, including MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez and Paul Bird Motorsports Aprilia teammate Broc Parkes, most of them victims of the harder tire compound. The cold track and tires made it a difficult race, but as much as we struggled though out the weekend, we did pretty well: Michael Laverty brought the bike home in one piece, with our season’s best finish, a lucky 13th place.

After the race, we packed up in a speedy 2-1/2 hours- Glenn had us make diagrams for packing the flight cases, which made the job both quick and easy. We then headed back to the house for a quick change and Michael Victor and I watched British Superbike racing before everyone in the team walked into town for some Mexican food as our team meal. After dinner, Michael, Victor & me walked down the block to “the Hotel,” overlooking the ocean for the Red Bull MotoGP after-event, where we parties and had a good time until late in the evening. Monday, we slept in, ate a good breakfast and drove to Melbourne to catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s been quite a long trip on the road and everyone is looking forward to getting home!

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