Our interview with the former top racing driver
Similar to his predecessor Victor Palomo, Gregorio Lavilla might as well have been a film actor or perhaps a hotel manager. But just like his well-known compatriot, he was interested in speed. You have to know that when Spain in his active years somebody was an active racing driver, it was not yet the “Eldorado of motorcycle racing” as it is today. On the contrary, the man who is now Sporting Director of Dorna for WorldSBK initially had to go through the tough school of being a private driver.
Lavilla’s rapid rise in WorldSBK
Gregorio Lavilla, who grew up in L’Hospitalet de l’Infant in the southwestern corner of Catalonia, drove his first WorldSBK season in 1998. In the midst of the heyday of riders like Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser, Aaron Slight, Colin Edwards and of course Troy Bayliss from the 2000 season onwards, he drove. Like his compatriot Pere Riba, now crew chief of Johnny Rea, he had already shown his talent in wildcard missions in the two years before that. The best result was rank 7 in his home race in Albacete in the first run.
Entry as a regular pilot and the many stations of his further career
For the private De Cecco team on a Ducati 916, 1998 started its first full season. Only too high a number of failures and “dnf” has prevented a better result than World Cup rank 12. However, with two podiums in Albacete and Kyalami, he had already beaten drivers like Colin Edwards, Aaron Slight, Akira Yanagawa, Nori Haga and former world champion Scott Russell. The following year he became a Kawasaki works driver and after three years in the team led by the German Harald Eckl, he switched to Suzuki as works driver..
The difficult years as the only Suzuki works driver
As a (almost) lone fighter for Suzuki he achieved numerous successes and World Championship rank 5. After a season as a MotoGP test driver for Suzuki, he immediately won the title in the British Superbike Championship (BSB) 2005 on Ducati on the many new tracks for him. Lavilla continued to race until 2009 before retiring as an active driver, now he is the most important Person at Dorna for WorldSBK. In the golden age of WorldSBK in the 1990s and at the beginning of 2000, quite a few were convinced that the Catalan would have finished the World Cup significantly further with better material. We were part of it then. Mainly because the effort of Honda and Ducati was gigantic compared to Kawasaki and Suzuki during this time. All the more, the performances of him and other strong drivers who did not win a World Championship or runner-up title in these years are to be rated accordingly highly.
- Regarding your (rider) career in general, as a rider for one of the best teams, for example on a Ducati Works-spec Bike we suppose the history would look different and you could achieve at least one vice-championship from 1998 – 2003. Do you agree?
“Well, when I stopped racing, I reflected a lot in what happened during my career and some decisions/options I took at that time. Many things have changed since then. Not only bikes but also main parts, from suspensions to tires but also brakes and many more. I could say many things now, but I think it´s fair to say that what I learned and lived is helping me now in certain aspects of my decision making in my current role and my duty. Hoping, to address what was not possible back then.
- There is a “stolen” podium in 2001 Misano Race 1 in your Career as we suppose. Because you got a Penalty but we could not see where something was wrong and we are sure it was not a jump start from your side. What do you think, it was before 20 years, but today such strange penalties cannot happen?
“You caught me on this” I don’t remember honestly, I know I did a rostrum in the second race but you say the results show 4th in the first one. I will ask our timekeepers if they remember.“
- Which one was your favorite track you ever run (and why)?
“II had always a great feeling for fast flowing tracks like Phillip Island or Donington Park even if in the opposite way I got my first dry podium in Kyalami, a place I liked also.”
- What racetrack (during your racer-career) would you refuse to drive today?
“Uff, it’s not an easy answer, the situation was very different in the past, in many aspects and you should do this analysis with the environment at that time. Today I can say nearly all tracks have decent standards when they start applications to be approved to hold a race.”
- Who was the strongest driver you have fought with in your career?
“When I started WorldSBK in a privateer team and after that with Kawasaki and Suzuki there were many variables as twins Vs 4. Michelin vs Dunlop vs Pirelli factory tires vs non factory, factory suspensions vs non factories, etc so before you had a hard time to settle in for the race, you had big challenges in front in front of you. Honestly now that you are askingit was a pleasure to fight with the likes of Kocinsky, Fogarty, Slight, Edwards, Bayliss, Yanagawa, Chili, Corser, Goddard, Hodgson, Whitham, Haga, Bostrom. And I am sorry if I forgot someone, but a lot of respect for the mentioned and the missing.”
- Besides Jonathan Rea (and yourself), who was the strongest driver on Kawasaki in your opinion?
“Well I remember Russell and Gobert. But once I was with Kawasaki I remember my team mate Akira Yanagawa being always very fast.”
- How much stronger are tyres in comparison today with before 20 years?
“Sher performance has changed a lot, the main difference from today and at that times was the availability, if you had factory support then you probably were getting the best tires from your brand, (Editor: Back then there were no uniform tires like today in WorldSBK and MotoGP). “sometimes if there were low quantities , that wouldn´t always be the case.”
- Did you have friends in the paddock among the drivers and if so, which ones were they?
“II was going alone to races, so I always liked to interact with other team members and listen their experiences, there are a always good stories to listen from riders or members from the paddock family.”
- What was your best season of your career, was it the 2005 English title or which one?
“I have special memories of each of them but if I have to choose one it would be 1998, my first season in SBK with a private team with 2 mechanics doing front rows and podiums with the likes I mentioned above, that was awesome.” (Editor’s note: We would have expected the incredible performance with the BSB title in 2005, but you could be wrong!).
- The A1-Ring (now Red Bull Ring) is not for WorldSBK with about 80 percent full throttle, are we right?
“I raced there and even if it’s a fast track I enjoyed, Monza was faster and was good fun too so would say everyone would be happy to come back there.” (The editors: It’s amazing how different the perception of a Cal Crutchlow 20 years later is compared to a driver whose active days you safety precautions were ridiculous compared to today).
- Who was the best driver (besides you) who never won a title?
“(Noriyuki) Haga and (Frankie) Chili”
- What was the best motorcycle of your career that you rode and in which year?
“In 1998 Kocinski and Checa were injured in the Movistar Pons team and I had the chance to race in Sachsenring with an Honda NSR 500, first time in and straight on Friday, difficult to ride that bike on that tiny track (not the current one, the one in 98 was much different) but by Sunday I had great fun and decent lap times.” (The editors: An 11th place on such a toxic two-stroke rocket on a completely new route, Chapeau!).
The provisional calendar for the 2021 WorldSBK season
Donington Park is the only European station not to have any WSSP World Championship races planned, but a round of the Yamaha R3 BluCru Cup. In contrast to the first version of the provisional solution for MotoGP, which is still to be revised, the planning of the Motul WorldSBK for 2021 seems much more plausible. Nevertheless, various changes are still conceivable here due to the corona pandemic.