UNBEATABLE SHAKEY RULES BRANDS HATCH
Byrne rides around Ducati’s front-end issues to score commanding double victory in front of home crowd
Shane Byrne showed his class at the seventh round of the MCE British Superbike Championship, defying a persistent lack of front end feeling to take a triumphant double victory in front of 55,000 fans.
The four-time British champion topped every practice session, set the fastest ever two-wheeled lap around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and stormed to his first double of the season (and Ducati’s first since Byrne won both races at Brands on the Airwaves Ducati in 2008), but it was harder than he made it look.
While Byrne was able to set a fast pace, the weekend saw a plethora of uncharacteristic mistakes as he grappled to make the Panigale behave the way he wanted it to around the 2.4-mile GP circuit.
“It’s fair to say we didn’t really hit the nail on the head with the bike this weekend,” Byrne told MCN, trophy in hand. “Don’t get me wrong, we still won but we won in a scenario where I wasn’t comfortable with the bike, not like we did at Snetterton and Thruxton where I felt really good.
“This bike is a thoroughbred, when it’s in its window it’s the absolute nuts and I’m really enjoying riding it, but when it’s off it is completely spiteful and punishes you for mistakes; if you slide you’re out of the seat and it’s difficult to control.
“It’s been frustrating at times, but now I have an affinity with the bike I know if changes are working within the space of a couple of laps. I’ve said all along that our achilles heel with this bike is fine-tuning it to each circuit we come to, and that’s something we struggled with this weekend as I wasn’t happy with the feeling from the front at all.”
Key to taming the Panigale’s difficult and temperamental nature is the relationship Byrne has struck up with crew chief Giovanni Crupi, who has come to the PBM team direct from Ducati Corse in Bologna – prompting some rivals to complain the squad has an unfair advantage (see p76).
“Giovanni and I work well together, he has a lot of faith in me and I have a lot of faith in him. I tell him what I feel and he gives me the bike he thinks I need. He knows the bike like the back of his hand. My job is to ride the bike and give him the best feedback I can, and it seems to work as in the second race he gave me a much easier bike to ride.”
Having won five of the last seven races, Byrne is beginning to look like a clear favourite to win the 2016 British Superbike title. However, he admits he’s not convinced it’ll be plain sailing.
“Can we win anywhere? I’d never assume that,” he said. “Cadwell is next and although we’ve tested there we’ve still a lot of work to do. Our test went well but I don’t think it’ll be easy.
“After that we go to Oulton, and we struggled there earlier this year. I think we’ll go better there this time, but you can never be sure. The thing is, British Superbikes isn’t easy. If you brought a Ducati Desmosedici GP bike here it wouldn’t be simple to go out and win.
“If I’m honest that’s why we chose this route this year. It’s a fresh injection of life; a new challenge, something we all needed in the team. It’d have been easy to stay with Kawasaki and we had all the settings we needed to go fast, but who wants easy? Now I get to take so much pride in doing what we’re doing and this means the world to me.”
‘It would’ve been easy to stay with Kawasaki but who wants easy?’ SHANE BYRNE
‘This was a really important weekend. While we were fast on Friday and Saturday, we were really struggling with the feeling on the front, maybe because we were pushing the tyre too hard. We found a compromise and it was a winning choice, but it was not perfect.
‘That to me shows just how good Shakey is as a rider; he is class, there is no doubt about that. I’m trying to do everything I can to give him the perfect bike he wants, like it was immediately from FP1 at Thruxton and in qualifying and the races at Snetterton but here, we had to work hard to find a set-up and Shakey made up the rest.
‘The bike is now at a good level, now we turn our attention to the smaller things. We have lots to try and if these things work, there is more to come from the bike, but when you have a rider like Shakey there is always more to come. We have worked hard and you can see our progress, at the start of the year we could not win but were close. We then took our first win at Brands and Shakey has won at every round since and then took the double here.’
Shakey was the man with the fizz at Brands Hatch – but the wins didn’t come easily