Though confidence inspiring to the masses, a win from the underdog would be classified as an “upset”, going against the grain, disturbing the order of things. We all hear of the “favourite”, the top dog, the one to put your money on. A win from the favourite is expected. More than likely. A forgone conclusion.
September 2010, I am at Silverstone raceway, the fastest circuit on the Superbike calendar, grey clouds have
formed overhead and
for one o’clock in the afternoon it’s dark. With rain laying down a deadly reflective gloss and doing its best to destroy my camera, I wait for my perfect shot. Restarted as an official wet race, the flag drops and Silverstone erupts with the sound of thunder. The broadcast commentary is drowned out as twenty nine Superbikes scream away into the distance.
Here they come.
The noise of the pack returns. Steadying myself, I peer through the viewfinder and get ready to take my shot just as the front runners come into focus sliding out of the last turn and roaring up the main straight for lap three.
The bikes flew past me in a blur of colour but with no sign of John’s red number ten I know something’s up. Shielding my gear from the rain I make my way along the pit lane staying as close to the safety barrier as possible. Bikes entering the pits are limited to 60
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miles per hour but that’s more than enough to end my day early. Watching out for any returning riders I cross over to Buildbase Kawasaki pit garage where I find team manager Stuart Hicken glued to the race monitor;
“he’s come off, first bend of the second lap, it was a high side”.
Silverstone’s main straight sees bikes braking from speeds in excess of 170 miles per
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hour preparing themselves for turn one, it’s here that John had racings worst form of emergency exits.
A high side is the terrifying moment when the rear tire loses traction and the bike begins to power-slide. With the bike disappearing from under you and the rear tire catching up with the front, you instinctively close the throttle.
A painful error.
Violently the rear tire regains grip and snaps the bike back to vertical turning the 200 miles per hour missile into the world’s fastest catapult. The high side is never a slow way to exit the bike and unfortunately at 100 plus miles per hour it’s never the softest of landings…
Having left the organised chaos of the garage I find John by his motorhome. Changed out of his soaking wet leathers, walking, talking and looking as if everything is still in place, I’m taken back by how relaxed he looks!, what happened John?;
“ahh, the weather conditions were to our advantage this
weekend because in the dry we couldn’t find a setup
that worked. I was a bit eager to get forward as soon as possible and lit up the throttle but the electronics didn’t respond quickly enough to the slide and I went over the handle bars. That was that, race over”. You ok John?, “oh yeah, I wrenched my shoulder but I’ll be out there fighting in the next race!”.
Kawasaki are no strangers to winning having consistently been front runners and often championship winners in motocross events around the world, yet for a long time they have been considered the underdogs of the superbike grid having not won the British Superbikes Championship since 1992 when John Reynolds was at the helm of the Ninja ZX-7R – a 750cc race bred road bike. On the grid of today, John faces an uphill battle taming the factory’s craziest road bike to date, the 1000cc Ninja ZX-10r. Although a supremely capable machine, Kawasaki’s premier class superbike has struggled to make an impact in any national or international race series. The same can’t be said of John Laverty. Having won the British Superbike Cup in 2008, John showed tremendous promise for Britain’s premier class and in 2009 he signed with Stuart Hicken’s Hawk Racing Team for his rookie season securing a commendable 10th overall. With younger brother Eugene recently topping the World Superbike time sheets and older brother Michael in with a shot of the British title, competition, though friendly, is very close to home.
Unlike the official Kawasaki squad, Hawk Racing is a privateer race team and is not supported by the factory but even without a substantial upgrade in 2010, John and the team took the current superbike to a new level becoming the only team to get the ZX-10r on the podium all season. For the championship final at Oulton park we got to see the true underdog at work with three top ten finishes ending the current season on a massive high with John achieving 2nd place in the riders cup (8th overall) and beating the official Kawasaki team to become top Kawasaki rider in the British championship, this makes John and his team’s achievement all the greater, with their nearest rival being Alistair Seeley onboard a factory backed Relentless Suzuki – the same bike his eldest brother Michael rode to 4th place this year and widely regarded as a superior machine.
Kawasaki have continued to make drastic financial changes to their road race program and not just because of the recession. The scrapping of their Motogp team in 2008 allowed the factory to push extra funds into the superbike program increasing the development of the new superbike by an extra year. A bold move, allowing the competition to race their latest machines realistically unchallenged in 2010.
Kawasaki, like John is preparing to seriously shake up the Superbike season in 2011 with their all new Superbike, “I have a good feeling for the championship next year. If this new bike comes out strong, I know that stuart with his mechanical knowledge and racing background will quickly adapt it to a race bike and get it up there on the podium, he did it before in 2005, who ever we land with its stuarts ability with a race bike thats spurring me on for next
They often lose.
There are athletes that glow like beacons, their talent seemingly out of reach, there are those riding luck and good fortune and passing it off as talent and then there are those like John who shows you that with dedication, anything is possible.
My weekend at Silverstone came to an end far too quickly but I have seen more than enough to know why John relishes the underdog status. A racer is under no illusions. Scrapes, bruises and even broken bones are some of the risks a Superbike rider faces, John wasn’t the only man to crash that weekend but not many started the second race from 23rd on the grid and passed fourteen other riders to finish 9th on a bike that only hours earlier was cartwheeling into the gravel trap!.
But this is John Laverty.
John, is aiming to upset the Superbike fraternity. Inspiring confidence in those who follow his fight for a place on the grid and having gave everything he had for an allusive Kawasaki win in 2010, he is now saddling up on BMWs impressive S1000r. More determined than ever, John is the definition of a true competitive sportsman, an underdog through and through.
XSVpro – Anthony Brown – February 2011