Born into an Ir­ish roads rac­ing fam­ily, Glenn Ir­win could have fol­lowed a dif­fer­ent path to his BSB ca­reer. But now he’s won the NW200, is that all about to change?

Performance Bikes (UK) - - Contents - Words STEPHEN DAVISON | Photography PACEMAKER

British Su­per­bike con­tender on his up and down re­la­tion­ship with roads rac­ing.

Two defin­ing pho­to­graphs book­ended the 2017 road rac­ing sea­son. Both fea­tured Glenn Ir­win, one in a mo­ment of pure joy and the other an image of to­tal de­spair.

The BSB star cel­e­brated with a mas­sive burnout af­ter blitz­ing North West 200 spe­cial­ist Alas­tair See­ley in the fea­ture Su­per­bike race on his Be Wiser/PBM Du­cati at the North­ern Ir­ish meet­ing last May. Six months later, Ir­win’s fea­tures were a mask of tor­ment as he rode back to the pits af­ter wit­ness­ing Dan He­garty’s fa­tal crash at the Ma­cau Grand Prix.

De­pict­ing the plea­sure and pain of road rac­ing, they also high­light the con­tra­dic­tions in Glenn Ir­win’s be­tween-the-hedges am­bi­tions.

The son of top Ir­ish road racer, Alan Ir­win, the 28-year-old was a school­boy mo­tocrosser who chose the short cir­cuit route into bike rac­ing. Com­pet­ing in Ir­ish and British cham­pi­onship events, suc­cess came with vic­tory in the British Su­pers­port Cup in 2012 fol­lowed by a fourth place fin­ish in the 2014 Su­pers­port series. But a child­hood spent in the Ir­ish race pad­docks meant Ir­win found it dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the roads.

“Peo­ple out­side North­ern Ireland don’t re­alise what it’s like to grow up there in a rac­ing fam­ily,” Ir­win says.

“Our sum­mer hol­i­day was a week at the North West 200 when my dad was rac­ing. I re­mem­ber as a kid watch­ing Ian Duf­fus, Michael Rut­ter (who? – CN), Ian Simp­son and David Jef­feries at Ju­niper Hill, and I wanted to race around there my­self.”

Ir­win’s roads de­but at the 2014 Ul­ster Grand Prix was sup­posed to be a low-key af­fair as he deputised for the in­jured Jamie Hamil­ton on a VRS Kawasaki ER-6. A new Su­per­twin class lap record for Dun­drod high­lighted his po­ten­tial, and his first ap­pear­ance at the 2015 NW200 was even more sen­sa­tional.

Ir­win had not been shy about declar­ing he wanted to

win on his de­but at the sea­side event and he showed it wasn’t just talk by fin­ish­ing on the podium along­side Alas­tair See­ley. A re­turn to the Ul­ster in Au­gust brought more Su­pers­port podi­ums.

Al­though 10 years older, See­ley, who hails from the same town of Car­rick­fer­gus, has re­mained a con­stant pres­ence through­out most of Ir­win’s rac­ing ca­reer. The for­mer British cham­pion has not raced the TT but has been an in­spi­ra­tion for Ir­win as he in­flicted de­feat on all the pure road racers at the North West 200.

Ir­win ad­mits he loves the adu­la­tion his rac­ing ex­ploits bring. The BSB star is en­gag­ing and friendly, adept at em­brac­ing so­cial me­dia and win­ning le­gions of fans.

Up to now, most of that at­ten­tion has been earned from his achieve­ments on the roads rather than tracks, in spite of the North­ern Ir­ish­man be­ing Shane Byrne’s team-mate in Paul Bird’s BSB Du­cati squad since 2016.

A 12th place fin­ish in the 2016 BSB series was fol­lowed by an­other bril­liant roads de­but, at the Ma­cau GP. Ir­win qual­i­fied third in the daunt­ing Chi­nese street race and ran up front with eight-times win­ner Michael Rut­ter, Mar­tin Jes­sopp and even­tual vic­tor Peter Hick­man, be­fore the Du­cati quit go­ing into the fi­nal lap.

That per­for­mance en­sured the Car­rick man would be back on the Be Wiser/PBM Du­cati in 2017. His BSB progress in­cluded win­ning his first race at Sil­ver­stone, but a shoul­der in­jury picked up in a crash at Knock­hill ruled him out of last year’s cham­pi­onship chase. Once again it was Ir­win’s roads ex­ploits that earned him more plau­dits as he won at the North West 200 and Ma­cau.

He knows he has to make a ma­jor im­pact in BSB this sea­son if Paul Bird is to con­tinue to view him as a nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor to Byrne. Ir­win’s fo­cus will be firmly set on the su­per­bike series, with the NW200 be­ing the only roads out­ing pen­cilled in for 2018.

“My sole am­bi­tion is to win the BSB cham­pi­onship,” Ir­win says. “The rest of the rac­ing I do just pro­vides patches of ex­cite­ment. It breaks the sea­son down a bit and keeps morale high. When I am rac­ing at the North West it feels like I am on hol­i­day – I’m down at the sea­side hav­ing fun with my fam­ily and friends.”

This will come as bad news to the TT or­gan­is­ers, who would love to at­tract the young Ir­ish­man’s tal­ents to the Moun­tain course. The event has strug­gled to find

‘The North West 200 or Ma­cau take two days, but the Isle of Man TT is two weeks; two weeks of un­cer­tainty’

high-pro­file new­com­ers since the de­but of Josh Brookes in 2013 and Peter Hick­man in 2014.

“I can’t give a fixed an­swer as to whether or not I will ever do the TT,” Ir­win ex­pands.

He ad­mits fa­tal ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing He­garty in Ma­cau and his good friend Alan Bon­ner at last year’s TT have made him pause for thought. He has stated, for in­stance, that he won’t re­turn to Ma­cau.

“I watched the TT at Bray Hill last year and I thought it was class but then Alan had his ac­ci­dent and it makes you think,” he ex­plains. Fam­ily pres­sure also plays a part in his roads op­tions. “Dad would pre­fer me not to do the TT, al­though he did say that last year’s North West race was the first time he wanted me to win and not just get the bike home!” Ir­win smiles. “But I have my own son now and I want to be around for him in the fu­ture.”

An­other neg­a­tive el­e­ment the BSB rider points to is the amount of time in­volved in rac­ing the TT. As Brookes and Hick­man have found, even the fastest new­com­ers start at a mas­sive dis­ad­van­tage to ri­vals like John McGuin­ness, Ian Hutchin­son and Michael Dun­lop, who have honed their knowl­edge of the 37.73-mile course over many years. Leav­ing aside the end­less hours spent on learn­ing laps, the event it­self also lasts much longer than any other meet­ing Ir­win races at.

“The North West or Ma­cau take a few days, but the TT is two weeks; two weeks of un­cer­tainty,” he says.

But de­spite these ob­jec­tions, Ir­win re­tains an am­biva­lence in his at­ti­tude to com­pet­ing on the world’s most dan­ger­ous race track.

“I would love to win one but I would also like to be able to say I re­sisted it and never went there,” he sways.

He in­sists it is not be­cause of any lack of com­mit­ment when it comes to switch­ing dis­ci­plines.

“I ride the roads as hard as I do in BSB,” he ex­plains. “You don’t go into a road race think­ing, ‘I want to ride at 90%.’ If you want to win it has to be 110%.”

“I have to want to do the TT, to have a pas­sion for it.” he says. “I don’t have to do it, but Michael Dun­lop does.”

The ref­er­ence to Dun­lop stirs up a hoary com­par­i­son be­tween short cir­cuit rid­ers and their road rac­ing coun­ter­parts that rages on, es­pe­cially in Ir­win and Dun­lop’s home­land. Re­la­tions be­tween the pair have soured as Ir­win has proven his pace on the roads of the NW200 and Ma­cau.

De­spite his am­biva­lence to­wards the TT, does Ir­win feel the only rea­son to race the Moun­tain course would be to beat his con­tem­po­rary in Dun­lop’s cho­sen arena?

“Michael has never beaten me in a road race,” Ir­win goes on, fu­elling the flames be­tween the NW200 ri­vals even more and en­sur­ing the only 2018 roads meet­ing the BSB star races in will pro­vide plenty of fire­works.

Top: Ir­win on his way to vic­tory over Alas­tair See­ley in the 2017 North West 200 Su­per­bike race

Above: A dev­as­tated Glenn Ir­win rides back to the pits af­ter pass­ing the car­nage of Dan He­garty’s death fol­low­ing a crash at last year’s Ma­cau Grand Prix. The race had been red flagged but rid­ers were al­lowed to re­turn to the pad­dock past the scene

Far right: Glenn Ir­win, Lee Jonhston and Alas­tair See­ley to bat­tle in the 2015 NW200 Su­pers­port race Right: Ir­win throws his gloves to the crowd af­ter nail­ing his vic­tory in the 2017’s Su­per­bike race on the Portrush cir­cuit

Above: Glen Ir­win at Sil­ver­stone, where he took his first BSB race win in 2017

Left: Ir­win and Michael Dun­lop rarely meet on track, so when they were in­volved in a ‘Road Racers vs Cir­cuit Racers’ char­ity foot­ball match ear­lier this year, sparks were al­ways go­ing to fly...

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