SofaRacer Speaks - An Open Letter To Michael Laverty
Dear Michael Laverty,
You are a thief.
In 2013, riding an Aprilia powered PBM CRT bike you will compete in the 18 round MotoGP world championship. Between the months of April and November you will travel the globe, racing against the best of the best on some of the most iconic circuits in the world.
You have stolen my dream. How very dare you.
I've had that dream for ages Michael. It's mine. I've thought about it, honed it, polished it, and set it in various scenarios over many, many years. The basic tenet involves being plucked from (relative) obscurity and offered the chance-in-a-lifetime ride in Grands Prix. Then being quicker than everyone expected, raising a few eyebrows and ruffling a few experienced MotoGP feathers in the process.
Your talent, dedication, professionalism and a lifetime spent racing motorbikes in preparation for this opportunity are not the point. Top five for the last three years in British Superbike? Not the point. Neither is the fact that I posses nothing that could even remotely be described as discernible talent regarding ability to race a motorcycle. (Though I once pulled a wheelie of utter magnificence on a Fireblade. You should have seen it, truly a thing of beauty. The only way it could possibly have been any better was if it had been intentional. I still don't sleep at night).
Anyway, I digress. You stole my dream. That's the point.
Think I'm a deluded fantasist? Wrong. I'm a dreamer. A dream is different to fantasy. A dream is something that could, conceivably, possibly, maybe, just maybe, happen. Besides, my fantasy is a completely different scenario, which I have, in fact, written to Beyoncé about. I received a reply too, albeit from her legal representatives. Their brief, but strongly worded, letter interestingly contained the phrase "anatomically impossible". But that's a story for another day.
The bottom line is you got the call to race in MotoGP this year, I didn't. C'est la vie. As it happens, even if I had got the call, I would have been unable to take my rightful place on the grid. This is in part due to my previously mentioned lack of talent, but mostly as the consequence of a catastrophic series of unfortunate events that can be best summed up as 'my life'. You can, I'm sure, imagine my disappointment. I am, however, willing to be magnanimous. I want you to have the ride and race in the 2013 MotoGP world championship. I can't live my dream. So I want you to live it for me.
There was surprise at your outright pace in the first test of the season at Sepang. Having never previously ridden a MotoGP bike, never mind one on spec Bridgestones, fitted with carbon discs, at a circuit you were unfamiliar with, you ended up as second fastest CRT bike with, in your own words "more to come". Even your younger brother Eugene (of whom more later) saw fit to comment publicly at the speed with which you got up to speed. Impressive stuff.
Personally, I wasn't surprised. I knew you'd be quick straight out of the box. Because you're the guy who's living my dream, one of the integral parts of which is that when I show up as an unknown in the pitlane they sit up and take notice pretty quickly. To be honest, they'd have noticed me a bit earlier than they did you. Having done the calculations based on a lifetime of dream laps, I reckon I'm about half a second up on you. Per sector. (It's a dream, gimme a break).
For me to give you advice on set-up, how to ride the bike or race tactics would be pointless. You're a professional bike racer, you know what you're doing. The team is packed with people who know infinitely more than me about both the technical aspects and the ins & outs of a race weekend in the Grand Prix paddock. What I can do however is offer you some guidance on how best to live the MotoGP dream to the full.
You've got a year. Maybe two, who knows? There are just under seven billion human beings on the planet. Of those seven billion souls, fewer than thirty will be MotoGP riders this year. You are one of them. Think about how incredible that is, just for a second. Pretty cool, huh?
So let's make the most of it…
It's not all glamour. I understand that. There will be interminable waits in soulless airports to board interminable to flights to, eventually, collapse into a bed in an interminably anonymous hotel room only to wake up at an interminably inconvenient time of the day. Riding in wet, cold or changeable conditions on a Friday morning isn't much fun on the way to work, and just because it's televised it doesn't mean it's much more enjoyable on a MotoGP bike. There will be frustrations along the way. It's racing, so frustration of one sort another is pretty much the standard state of affairs until someone throws the chequered flag out and it turns out that, after all, you did really well.
You will have a demanding and at times totally unreasonable team owner to contend with, but who doesn't? It comes with the territory. When asked if they have any hobbies or interests outside of racing, the average team owner/manager lists 'clubbing baby seals' as a relaxing pastime. Let's be honest, as a breed they're not generally known for their fluffy side – you can't picture them getting home after a long day at the racing, pouring a glass of wine, lighting some candles, running a scented bath and losing themselves in the tranquillity of Enya.
So, as you grind your way through the challenging times and it's all getting you down a bit, take a moment. Whether sitting uncomfortably in cold, wet leathers, perspiring horribly under a searing sun, or trying to fathom the latest piece team logic which would have Socrates himself turning to drink, reflect on the fact that you are a MotoGP rider, and remind yourself just how stupendous that is.
The upside, of course, outweighs any downside by a factor of a million to one…
Enjoy it. Every. Single. Second. Drink it in, savour it, experience it, live it. Take photos (loads), get programmes, and grab memorabilia. Nick stuff. It'll all be over before you know it, so embrace every part of the experience you can. Win lose or draw, this season will be the one you will remember for the rest of your life. Make sure that when you look back on it you took every opportunity to live the life of a MotoGP rider to the full, because you'll be dining out on your tales of Grand Prix derring-do for decades to come ("You raced against Márquez? THE Márquez?!?" they'll say…).
How do you do this?
Keep it real. Never forget what it means, how much you want it, and how lucky you are to have it.
And do cool stuff…
Example? Mugello. On the main straight at Mugello you won't be far off pecking two hundred miles an hour on the cheek. That's not important. What IS important is crossing the start/finish line then, whilst flat out in top and tucked in tightly under the screen, dipping across the white line into the pit-lane exit. I've no idea if it's worth a tenth or two. I've no idea if it sets you up a bit bet better to brake manically for the rapidly approaching San Donato. What I do know for sure is that it looks breathtakingly cool. And for that reason alone, you should definitely do it.
You'll be wearing a full-face helmet with a dark visor. Nobody can see your face. So, as you hurtle down through Casanova-Savelli, heading with ever increasing velocity toward Arabiatta 1, take the opportunity to grin like an idiot and shout, "I'm hurtling down through Casanova-Savelli, heading with ever increasing velocity toward Arabiatta 1 and it is awesome!" (Say it quick though, it comes up real fast).
At every track, wave to the crowd on the slowing down lap, and every other opportunity you have. They like it, and let's face it, it's gotta be a pretty good feeling to do it. Do this whether you feel you performed well or not. It may be just another race weekend to you but for the crowd it may be their first or last ever experience of MotoGP, make it a good one for them. Slowing down lap wheelies are also important. Can you do the really good wheelies? The ones where you've got one foot on the foot-peg and the other one slung over the back of the bike? With the steering turned a wee bit? Pumping the throttle in exaggerated fashion, elbow out? Do loads. They're immense, and the crowd will love you.
Interviews. A tip. When you're sitting on the grid looking gladiatorial and the wee grid reporter person is trying to get that last minute live interview with you, wait a few seconds. Just long enough for their producer to start screaming down the earpiece and for them to start seeing their life flash before their eyes. Then, give the tiniest of nods, indicating that yes, you will deign to speak to them. That has to be loads of fun. Oh, and on interviews in general, try and say something, anything, interesting, few do.
Also, don't wear sunglasses unless it's sunny. You'd get laughed at if you did that in Toome, so don't go all 'Superstar' on me just because you've got the lanyard to beat all lanyards.
Don't stand for any nonsense from either factory riders who think they have god-given rights or satellite guys whose heels you are nipping at on race pace. You've earned the right to be there as much as all of them. They're bullies, don't let them out psyche you. A good hard Norn' stare will do the job.
Over 18 three-day race weekends, it's virtually inevitable that there will be some kind of bum/tarmac interface. Even then, look on the bright side. How many people get to be patched up by THE Dr Costa? I hear he gives out Alpinestars band-aids. Grab a handful.
Keep your feet on the ground, metaphorically (I'm agnostic about leg dangling, up to you). You're a MotoGP rider this year, but you will always be Michael Laverty. Don't let yourself down with any prima donna behaviour. You won't of course, because you're from a thoroughbred racing family, who will be there to support you at every turn. Listen to their advice when it's offered, it has to be some of the best around. But, at the same time, remember that you are the senior racing member of that family. So if young Eugene starts blabbing on about "my factory this" and "my factory that", a quick reminder that in any Laverty family game of Top Trumps, the 'MotoGP' card beats the 'SBK' card hands down will gently, but firmly, shut him up. As a MotoGP rider, you get both the comfy seat and the biggest portion of food at any Laverty family gatherings. It's the law.
You are in a great position to have a really good season. Riding an unproven CRT bike, there's no real sense of expectation being placed on your shoulders. You're not gunning for a factory ride, nor are you desperately trying to hang on to one. You don't have to worry about moving up a class next year or fret about being moved down one. So you can focus on what's really important; riding freely race by race, putting the accumulated knowledge gleaned from every lap you've ever done to the best possible use. And performing to the best of your abilities, which we both know, are well beyond the standard of 'good enough'.
Ride like hell Michael Laverty. Grab that bike by the scruff of its neck and wring it mercilessly. Nail every apex. Don't brake until your testicles disappear into your stomach. Bump. Barge. Dive inside. Weave outside. Zig when he zags and zag when he zigs. Rev that thing until the valves beg for mercy, and then show them none. Slipstream slipstream slipstream. Use every tactic, trick, ounce of adrenaline and iota of determination. Do so relentlessly until you see a guy waving a chequered flag with the zeal of a Belieber with a ticket. (Don't forget to wave & and do the wheelie thing).
You're going to live my dream this year Michael Laverty, I never will.
Tell me it's a good one.