Valencia MotoGP Wrap Up for Michael Laverty & Paul Bird Motorsport Aprilia

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"I got everything out of my bike today to do a 32.8, real happy with that. Q2 pace from 2013." Image by Steve English

“I got everything out of my bike today to do a 32.8, real happy with that. Q2 pace from 2013.”
Image by Steve English

The GP Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana at Circuito de Ricardo Tomo is the last MotoGP race of the season, and for most riders, crew & teams, one of the more exciting races of the season. Everyone is charged and the race is a culmination of a year of hard work and travel and on the test on the following Monday, the new season begins, with many riders, mechanics and technicians playing a game of musical chairs in the garages as the join new teams for the 2015 year. For myself and the rest of the Paul Bird Motorsport Aprilia team, it was more than a little bittersweet. Our ‘little team that could’ worked our collective asses off the entire year, brought home points for the team and sponsors, as well as finishing the season with both riders and bikes intact and damage free. Given our limited resources, we should have been thrilled, but for the decision to pull out of MotoGP for 2015 and focus on the British Superbike Championship series for the next year, where Michael Laverty and perhaps some of the PBM Aprilia team would be returning. So instead of shaking hands with the guys in the MotoGP circus that I’d gotten to know over the course of the season, talking about our upcoming plans and saying “see you at the next MotoGP test,” it was more like “It was nice to know you, I hope we’ll keep in touch…” as my 2015 plans aren’t bringing me back to MotoGp. The mood infected both sides of the pit box and while we continued to work our butts off, it was hard to stay motivated.

Due to the challenge of booking flights in sync with the rest of the team, I didn’t arrive to Valencia until late Wednesday afternoon, after Phil & Victor had already set up our pit box at Circito de Ricardo Tomo. When I checked into the track Thursday morning, ML1 was already on the table and Victor and I went straight to work, swapping a high-hours engine into the frame for Friday’s MotoGP Free Practice sessions 1 & 2, which we’d replace with the relatively low hour-ed motor Friday night to use for Saturday Qualifying and the big show, Sunday. After we finished the engine swap in ML1, Victor and I then got to clean and prep ML2 for the weekend, replacing the brake pads and freshening the forks and shock, as well as giving the bike a thorough cleaning and lube job. Once we’d gotten that done, we still had to prep the truck for the journey back to Cumbria, in Northwest England. That amounted to mostly putting the casters back on the flight cases and sorting out everything that we’d brought along with us for the 3 races we’d just finished overseas in Japan, Australia and Malaysia. Fortunately, that didn’t take long and we left the track early enough for dinner. The whole team, with the exception of Broc Parkes and Michael Laverty, who came in on a late flight that evening. We ended up going to an American-style steakhouse and bbq joint called “Ribs,” which my wife Michele gave me no shortage of grief for when she arrived on friday. “You’re in Spain, where they have so much incredible food and you guys go out to an American Steakhouse?!?! What’s wrong with you?!” Still, the food was excellent and the team had a great time together.

Fall in the Spanish Riviera means cold days and Friday’s FP1 was no exception, the ambient temperature was just 20º C, (68º F) and the track temperature was not much warmer, which meant we were back to our usual struggle for side grip and traction under acceleration. With no rain in the forecast, we used both ML1 with last year’s setup & ML2 with the base setup that we’d been running since Indy to A/B between the two motorcycles. Michael Laverty had a hard time chsing between the two, howver, sowe tried setting up ML1 about 6mm taller but ended up dropping the rear in the hopes of getting it to hook up better. Michael turned in a 1:34.393 in FP1, 23rd of 25 entries and dropped a half second in FP2 as the track warmed up to 29ºC, but kept the same placement on the time sheets, ahead of his PMB Aprilia teammate Broc Parkes and Avinta Racing’s Mike DiMeglio.

For Saturday morning’s FP3 session, we experimented with different shock & linkage lengths, with a shorter linkage on ML1, which delivered a more linear rate from the springs, as opposed to the progressive rising rate linkages found on most streetbikes. That, combined with a shorter shock made the spring rate even more linear, moving where the spring enters its progression for better weight transfer. Because the track was even colder Saturday at 17º, we made zero improvement in MotoGP FP3, Michael turning in a 1:33.795, remaining once more at 23rd of 25. For FP4, we set up both bikes identically, with ML1 setup with 2mm more ride height. Michael went out first on ML2, but came back after a few laps, but came back, complaining of transmission issues, so Victor had to drain the oil and inspect the gears and shift forks, leaving me alone to service ML1 and make the necessary adjustments.  Michael made a bit of improvement in FP4, jumping up a spot above Cardion AB Racing Honda’s Karel Abraham, Broc and Mike Dimeglio, with a 1:33.48, but it had begun to sprinkle just a little bit. Phil made the call to prepare ML2 for rain, so I got busy putting on the rain tires, changing the shock, fork & ride height setup, while Phil loaded the rain strategies into the ECU for qualifying. Michael came back in and we put a new rear tire on ML1 and he went out and turned a few laps in Q1. After 3-4 laps, he came back in for a new front and rear tire but with 25 bikes on the grid for the MotoGP season finale, the track was busy and crowded; we didn’t go much faster, with a  1:32.808, good for 22nd place on the starting grid.

Come race time on Sunday, we brought ML1 down to the grid and we were all a little anxious for our last MotoGP race, perhaps ever. Michael Laverty had his game face on and was all “bin it or win it,” but Phil, Michael’s crew chief was nervous. “I don’t feel good about this,” he said looking up at the sky, “we better prep ML2 for the rain.” So, I went back to the PMB Aprilia pit box to get the back up bike ready and while I was bringing ML2 out to the secondary grid on pit road, I missed the start as it started to sprinkle. Victor and I stood by ML2 for the first 8 laps and since we were at the end of pit road, Michael was instructed to just come in in the event of rain, instead of wasting a lap, signalling as he rode by. Since we by the bike, we weren’t able to watch the race, as we weren’t anywhere close to the monitors. By the end of the 8th lap, though, I started taking notes and keeping track of lap times. In spite of the rain drops and cool track, the attrition rate was low for the race, but by lap 22, Michael broke into the top 20 and made it as high as 19th, a couple of laps later, where he ultimately finished.

Michael summed up the race to reporters, saying “The weather made it quite a strange race today ,as right from the very first lap, we had big drops of rain on our visors. I had good pace when the track was fully dry, but found it tough when the track got greasy as my rear tyre had began to cold tear. All in all it’s been a good weekend, I was really happy with the lap time I pulled out in qualifying and we had a good setting going into the race today. It’s a bit emotional today as it’s the final MotoGP for the PBM team, but I’m finishing with a smile on my face, it’s been a great life experience and I feel I’m a stronger rider for it. I’d like to thank all the guys in the team for a great two years and a special thank you to Paul Bird and Phil Borley for making it happen.”

Obviously, it’s been such an incredible opportunity to work with my good friend Michael Laverty on the Rapid Solicitors Paul Bird Motorsport team for the 2014 season. For the first time ever this season, I wasn’t in charge, which was a great opportunity to learn from our crew chief, Phil Borley. Sometimes, he’d make calls that I might not have agreed with, but in talking to him after the races, he’d explain the whys and wherefores of his calls, giving me valuable insight for when & if I go back to working as a crew chief again. Victor was an amazing kid to work with, really bright and talented; we’ll definitely stay in touch after this season. Still, it was a strange weekend for the team. Sunday evening, we loaded out as the Suzuki team took over our pit box and I said my goodbyes to friends that I’d made this year whom I might never see again. After we got the truck packed, Michele, Ryan, Broc’s crew chief and I drove back to our condo, had another meal at Ribs, along with a few Coronas. Afterwards, we went back to the condo for our last night’s sleep in Spain and caught our flight back to Brussels in the morning, the page turned on my MotoGP chapter.

I am excited about possibilities for 2015, though. I don’t have anything set in stone just yet, but the options are tantalizing. Stay tuned and I’ll have some huge announcements around Christmas time!

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