‘ THAT BUZZ FROM WIN­NING RACES IS WHAT DRIVES ME’

Performance Bikes (UK) - - 2018 Contenders - One more year on the V-twin Panigale for Byrne. Can he make it three ti­tles on the bounce?

AT 41 YEARS OLD, Byrne is now the old­est rider on the grid (un­less Rutter fi­nally rocks up for those Su­per­bike races he’s been threat­en­ing to do for a while...), and af­ter so much suc­cess, he could eas­ily be for­given if he hung up his leathers and em­i­grated to his haven in Spain with wife Pe­tra and their two kids.

How­ever, head­ing into his 21st sea­son of pro­fes­sional rac­ing, he seems to have more fire in his belly than ever.

“Want. De­sire. Sta­tis­tics,” he replies when asked what his mo­ti­va­tion is to con­tinue. “I’ve never wanted to do any­thing other than this job. I still get giddy and ex­cited be­fore a sea­son starts, I en­joy my train­ing and stay­ing in shape. I al­ways told my­self once that en­joy­ment stopped, I’d stop, but it hasn’t.”

A six-times British cham­pion, Byrne says his mo­ti­va­tion still comes from the ela­tion he gets from each and ev­ery race win, and his goals for the fu­ture have lit­tle to do with ti­tles won, but ev­ery­thing to do with reach­ing a magic num­ber of wins.

“I’m at a stage now where cham­pi­onships are great, they are a statis­tic and will stand for a long time, but to me they aren’t the driv­ing factor. Win­ning races and get­ting that buzz is the thing that drives me to keep go­ing. I now know where I want to go in my ca­reer. The 100 win mark has al­ways been a mas­sive thing for me, some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to achieve. I’ve won 84 races now and an av­er­age year for me is be­tween seven and 12 races so hope­fully I can reach that tar­get in a cou­ple of sea­sons, but that’s not to say I’ll give up there.”

Some say age is but a num­ber, but surely at his age Byrne can’t be as fit as some of his younger ri­vals?

“Peo­ple al­ways say you can’t put an old head on young shoul­ders and I think that’s true, but at the same time you can’t get the ex­pe­ri­ence or bod­ily de­vel­op­ment into a young kid’s body ei­ther. I’ve spent 20 years rac­ing and ev­ery year I’ve honed my­self that lit­tle bit more, learned more about what I need in or­der to feel my best on the bike. My body has gone through that evo­lu­tion. Yes, you can say I’m old – and I am com­pared to some rid­ers on the grid – but age isn’t a bar­rier for me.

‘I WON’T LIE – I’M NOT OVER THE MOON THAT THERE WON’T BE A LOT OF DE­VEL­OP­MENT FOR THE BIKE THIS YEAR’

“When I was younger I trained hard but I wasn’t as smart as I am now. My body is older but my head is a lot wiser, and all of those laps around all of those tracks on dif­fer­ent mo­tor­cy­cles are all stored up in the mem­ory bank and that ex­pe­ri­ence is very im­por­tant at times.”

Pre-sea­son test­ing was mixed for the Be Wiser Du­cati ace. He went from a re­ally pos­i­tive test in Carta­gena – where he lapped 1.9 sec­onds quicker than his last visit to the track on the Du­cati – to Mon­te­blanco, where he suf­fered sig­nif­i­cantly with get­ting the bike stopped and turned into cor­ners.

“We had a re­ally bad test at Carta­gena in 2016. It was a dis­as­ter,” he ex­plained. “So to go there and be much quicker was a re­ally nice sur­prise as we weren’t go­ing for lap times. Even more sur­pris­ing was that I didn’t ex­pect the chas­sis op­tion we have gone for this year to work well there. But then we went to Mon­te­blanco and the bike again be­haved in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way to what we were ex­pect­ing, but this time for the worst...

“Some­times it is im­por­tant to have these is­sues in test­ing; it’ll get the team think­ing about how we can re­solve them for round one. And of course, it’s bet­ter to know about them now rather than when we roll up at Don­ing­ton Park.”

Du­cati’s Panigale V4 will be raced for the first time in 2019, mean­ing there’s lim­ited de­vel­op­ment for Byrne’s V-twin race bike, but his tar­get re­mains the same.

“I thought we were go­ing to get a year on the V-twin and then change to the V4 in 2018 but that ob­vi­ously hasn’t hap­pened. I’m not go­ing to lie – I’m not over the moon that there’s not go­ing to be a load of de­vel­op­ment for the bike this year, but I won’t stress my­self out.

“I’ll do as best as I can and that’s been enough for the last two years! Paul Bird and I have never fin­ished lower than sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship since we started work­ing to­gether again in 2012, so the tar­get is quite ob­vi­ous. Niall Macken­zie has done the triple, how nice would it be to repli­cate that?”

This win­ter’s Mon­te­blanco test high­lighted def­i­nite ar­eas for im­prove­ment

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