The Milwaukee Aprilia World Superbike team failed to capitalise on their pre-season testing pace over the opening weekend of the new season.
A momentary lead, a crash and a double points finish were what the North East based team took away from the Australian round at the Phillip Island circuit.
Lead rider Eugene Laverty started the opening race from 13th on the grid after a disappointing qualifying session. The Irishman, who set the record for fastest lap at the circuit in 2013, pulled off a couple of fine overtaking moves as he picked up eighth place in the first race.
Junior rider Lorenzo Savadori, on the second bike, surprised the paddock with a sixth on the grid. A slow getaway from the line was compounded as the Italian lost control and crashed at the fast left-hand Siberia corner early in the race.
Team boss Shaun Muir was honest in his appraisal of the position of the team. He said: “I’m pleased for Eugene to get a result, unfortunately 8th isn’t where any of us want or expect him to be. At the moment we haven’t given him a bike that he can race on, and that’s something we’ve got to work hard on.”
The second race of the weekend, which featured a reverse grid for the first time in World Superbike history, gave Laverty fifth place on the grid. With 13 career victories in the category, he used his experience well in the opening laps.
A fast start saw Laverty run up front in a podium position over the first couple of laps as he battled Alex Lowes and Xavi Fores for the lead. On the second lap he nipped past Lowes for the lead at Honda corner before Lowes retook the place before the next turn.
Laverty is credited as being leader of the race at the beginning of lap three when once again he nosed ahead. Although he was credited as being leader, in reality he only had the top spot for a matter of four seconds.
From lap four onwards reality was to set in. Frontrunners Jonathan Rea, Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri sliced and diced their way back to the front of the field after starting from mid-grid. Laverty fell off the pace.
Savadori had started in 11th. A consistent run saw him slowly climb up the standings. A two lap battle with Laverty in the middle of the race over eighth place saw the Italian come out on top.
Savadori kept up his forward momentum to eventually pick up a sixth place as Laverty, having suffered from severe tyre degradation, dropped to 11th.
“It was a really tough race today,” said Laverty. “At the start we had some good pace and I was shaping up to take on Alex [Lowes], but my pace dropped off and I started to go backwards. I rode hard and I tried to hang on, but our race pace just wasn’t enough.
“The track hasn’t really played to our strengths this week and that’s shown, but I’m confident we can use this weekend to find some pace and improve.
“We don’t just want to take small steps forward; we want to take big chunks out of the guys at the front. At the moment the bike is some way from them, but the team know that and I know they’ll work to fix it.”