SHAKEY STILL IN CHARGE
Champ kicks of bid for title number five by grabbing early series lead at round one
Michael Laverty and Peter Hickman may have grabbed the headlines at the opening round of the MCE British Superbike championship at Silverstone by winning the two races but it was the familiar figure of Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne who left the Northamptonshire venue leading the overall standings.
The PBM/BE Wiser star made a strong start in his bid to claim the 2016 title by taking a brace of runner-up finishes on the Ducati Panigale.
And the 39-year-old showed just how fierce his hunger for that fifth crown is during a titanic battle with Hickman in the closing stages of race two when he passed Hickman at Brooklands to take the lead for the first time during the day’s racing.
“I tried to make my exit out of the second-gear corner (Luffield) as clean as possible and chucked it up into fifth and tried to keep it smooth,” Byrne explained.
“Then he just came back underneath me and I thought ‘No, no, no, that doesn’t happen just after I’ve got the lead’ and I kept it pinned and just got it completely sideways, too sideways to be able to keep the throttle open.”
It brought the curtain down on a day that was as much a relief as it was a pleasure for the Londoner. Were the results more than he could have hoped for as he battled through the winter trying to find a set up for the V-twin without any of its usual electronic aids?
“I want to be the marker in BSB and you don’t get there by coming second,” he said. “I am happy with the job we have done but I am only really happy when we are winning. That’s just me, I don’t cope that well finishing second.”
Sunday’s results may highlight the advances Byrne and his crew have made in adapting the Panigale to the controlled ECU rules of BSB but there is still a lot of progress to be made.
“Where a Ducati should be a) driving really, really hard from the apex out of a corner and b) be a really, really nice thing to ride mine is still a bit of an animal!” he explained.
“But I point blank refuse to knock a load of power out of the thing because that would be the easy solution, to get it to the point where it doesn’t buck and weave, and go out and try and get results a bit quicker. It would be just my luck to try that just as we are coming into the Showdown, and then you would be wondering to yourself if you shouldn’t try to get some of that power back. You would be running into the same problems you started the season with.” BSB rookie Glenn Irwin made a promising start to his shift from Supersport ranks to the premier class at Silverstone. The envy of many after joining the PBM Be Wiser Ducati squad as Shakey Byrne’s team-mate, Irwin is benefitting from four-time champion Byrne’s experience.
“I haven’t tortured him here because the conditions were so iffy but if it had been dry I would probably have been asking him what he was doing here or there,” the 26-year-old smiled.
“We made a change to the bike for the first race that didn’t really work,” he explained after finishing 14th ahead of riders like Jakub Smrz and Billy Mcconnell.
The Northern Ireland rider improved by one place after a more eventful second race.
“I made a better start and then Billy Mcconnell tried a kamikaze move, crashed and knocked me off the track. After that I was on my own but I am happy with my pace.”
Byrne is frustrated by a lack of understanding of just how big the challenge he has taken on really is.
“I guess in some ways it is a compliment,” he says. “People see me at the front but I guarantee you if I win a race it will be the ‘factory Ducati’ that won the race because nobody seems to be able to accept the fact that actually I can ride a motorbike quite well.” It is a frustration he has faced before. “I had it early on in my career when I won races on Ducatis. Everyone was like ‘He can only ride a twin,’ but I have won more races on a four cylinder bike now and I have won an equal amount of titles on both. Jumping back on to a twin cylinder is a big ask, a big challenge, but I am really, really motivated for it.”
‘Nobody seems to accept the fact that actually I can ride a bike quite well’