‘ THAT BUZZ FROM WINNING RACES IS WHAT DRIVES ME’
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