THE DEFENDING CHAMPION
Five-times winner Shakey is the first man everyone has to beat
THE 2017 British Superbike championship is shaping up to be one of the toughest seasons yet, and while that’s become a racing cliché over the years, this time it’s for real. A five-times British champion, the 2014 World Superbike champion, multiple WSB race winners and numerous British and national champions line up on the grid this year, making one of the most competitive fields BSB has ever seen. A quick glance at the entry list and PB reckons there are at least 15 riders capable of making the top six showdown.
Of course, the man they all want to beat is the bloke with the target on his back: reigning champion Shane Byrne, who returns to BSB after clinching a recordbreaking fifth title for PBM Ducati last year.
Byrne has finished either first or second in the series for the last five years, and with 79 wins under his belt – more than any other rider – he is the odds-on favourite to clinch yet another title as he heads into 2017 with the same bike he rode to victory last year.
However, dominant as he may seem, Byrne has never successfully defended a British title. On the two
occasions he has returned to the series after clinching the crown (2013 and 2015), while he came close, he couldn’t quite manage two in a row.
“I don’t really know why I’ve not won back-to-back titles; I can tell you it’s not through lack of trying!” he retorts as we ask him about the ‘year on, year off’ pattern that’s formed over the last four years (Byrne won titles in 2012, 2014 and 2016).
“That being said, as a racer of course I have little things I want to tick off and winning back-to-back titles would be a nice box to tick. Only Niall Mackenzie and Kiyo have done it, so it’d be cool to join that clan.”
While the odds are in Byrne’s favour at the start of the year, with most of his rivals having to get to grips with some form of change (whether it be a new bike, team or even championship) the level of competition is high.
Former WSB man Leon Haslam pushed him hard in 2016 and with the man who beat him two years ago, Josh Brookes, back for the season ahead, as well as 2014 WSB champion Guintoli joining the fray, Byrne knows it won’t be an easy task. But that only spurs him on.
“I think it’s amazing to see these big names coming to our championship,” he said. “Absolutely nobody can question the level of our series when the bloke who won WSB three years ago is coming to race against us.
“Leon came back last year after winning the last race of the 2015 WSB season and he won as many races as me, but finished second. WSB race wins don’t come on the back of Frosties packets so that just shows the level of racing we have here in BSB.
“At the moment it’s too difficult to say who’s going to fight for the title. What’s to say one or more of these new bikes or teams isn’t going to take such a huge step forward that it’s difficult for me to even stay in the top six? At the same time, they might be shit! One thing’s for sure – it’ll all become clear soon...”
‘WHAT’S TO SAY ONE OF THESE NEW TEAMS ISN’T GOING TO TAKE SUCH A HUGE STEP FORWARD THAT I CAN’T STAY IN THE TOP SIX?‘
Even Byrne doesn’t know who’ll be closest to his Termis at round one
Shakey – along with most of the paddock – has been racking up the miles in pre-season tests in Spain