Shane Byrne took an emphatic double win at Donington Park to not only take back top spot in the standings, but to go more than 25 points clear than nearest rival Leon Haslam, However, this is more of an opinion article and not a race report. Is Shane Byrne the greatest BSB rider of all time?
His career started back in 1999, when the Londoner jumped on a very old, privateer Kawasaki. However, he rode the wheels off it, and the next season, he was given the all new SP1 Honda. A year littered with injuries meant that he didn’t utilise neither his nor the bike’s potential. We must remember that this was the same bike that Colin Edwards was winning on in WSBK and that Joey Dunlop had won his last TT on. For 2001, he joined the Performance House Suzuki, achieving five top-5 finishes.
But, the best was yet to come. In 2002, Shakey jumped aboard Mark Griffiths’ Highland Spring Renegade Ducati, alongside experienced BSB star, Michael Rutter. The year was also a big year for the team; Griffiths had decided to enter the world of road racing, with the first event being the North West 200. Rutter crashed out of both Superbike races, the second one of which he crashed out with more than a minute lead to his advantage.
Things would improve back in England though, as Byrne romped to his first win of his career in tricky Donington Park conditions in just his 5th race of the year. He crashed out dramatically at Snetterton when he wiped out teammate Michael Rutter, but was gifted a win at Knockhill, one of the most intense final laps in BSB history. The late, great Steve Hislop was leading by a narrow margin from Michael Rutter, with Byrne just two seconds back in 3rd. On the run out of the Clark’s, Rutter went wide, all but ending his chances of victory. Then, Michael did the unthinkable. In a desperate attempt to win the race, the Midlander went for the gap that Steve Hislop didn’t leave. Rutter the Nutter went into the back of Hislop at final corner of the final lap, wiping them both out. 40,000 Scots were stunned. Byrne inherited the win, his 2nd of what was to turn out to be an illustrious career.
In 2003, Byrne dominated the championship and wrapped it up with a few races to go at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire. He left Superbike racing altogether for two seasons as he went to MotoGP. Uncompetitive machinery and injury plagued his first year in 2004, despite leading a race briefly at Mugello. In 2005, he joined the KTM team which was a disaster from the off.
Every British Superbike fan smiled when the news was announced Byrne would be back in the championship on a Rizla Suzuki for 2006. It wasn’t his best season, but a win at Knockhill proved that he still had what it takes to become a champion once more. In 2007, he moved back to the PBM team, winning races on the Stobart Honda, but that wasn’t enough for Shakey; he left the team once more and joined up with Ducati specialist Colin Wright, who won back to back titles in 1999 and 2000 with Troy Bayliss and Neil Hodgson.
2008 was a Shakey season. Dominating from start to finish, Byrne won title number two at Silverstone. However, like in 2003, Byrne would not stay around to defend his title and was snapped up by the Sterilgada Ducati team in World Superbikes. One podium meant that Byrne didn’t particularly shine, but he stayed in the championship to join Carlos Checa at Althea Unibat Ducati. However, the WSBK championship was a lost cause, and in 2011, it was announced that he would return to BSB for the 2nd time.
HM Plant Honda was the team of choice this time, but after a run of bad luck at the start of the year, Byrne wasn’t able to take it to Hill and Hopkins at Brands Hatch. He won the final race of the year and finished 3rd overall. He left the team to join Paul Bird Kawasaki, where he has stayed ever since, although now, it’s a Ducati.
Byrne has accumulated an incredible 77 wins in his career, which leads me to ask the question: has anyone ever been so successful and will anyone ever match him in the future? He has maintained the same level of enthusiasm year in, year out, something that is a skill in itself.
He always makes time for his fans too. I met him for the first time back in 2008 and he has remained one of my favourites ever since. I met him at Donington Park in 2016 and yet again, he was well up for the selfies and for signing the tops of his fans. Even after the years of being stopped in the paddock, he still finds the will to meet his fans. And it isn’t fake either. A lot of riders now do it because it’s “good PR stunts” or “because they have to” but Shakey is different; Byrne is genuinely happy to be stopped in the paddock and will often go out of his way for his fans. And that is a very rare gem.
It’s also Byrne’s on-track heroics that make him one of the most liked riders of the paddock. Named “Shakey” because of his style in his early days, I would call him “Smooth” but that’s not quite right either. He rides the wheels off everything he races, he’s even more determined now than he was before. Look at Silverstone this year; he almost chucked himself off the bike going for the inside line to win the 2nd race of the day, in the most incredible finish ever in BSB (that didn’t decide a title).
However, some say that Byrne hasn’t helped BSB because of his domination and four championships. However, because this is an opinion article, I don’t particularly share that view. If anything, I think that Shakey has made the sport even more popular. His incredible flamboyancy and his heart-warming personality makes him one of the biggest stars, not only in BSB but in World championships.
To conclude with, I’d like to say that Shakey has made us all realise just how hard it is to ride one of these beasts. He has re-invented himself every year with different bikes in different eras, on different tracks with different rules. He has won with and without the showdown, on Ducati and Kawasaki, against all kinds of opposition from all series worldwide. He has highlighted that to be the best, you have to better yourself, even if you were King of the Castle one year previous. He has made step changes, even at the age of 39, to be at the top of the standings and to be the best he can possibly be. One of the most versatile riders in motorcycle racing history, Byrne has contributed to make British Superbikes one of the most attended sports series, not just in the UK, but across Europe, and without doubt made it a ‘class to be in’ for all motorcycle racers coming through the ranks. Thank you Shane, for the memories you have provided us with, continue to provide us with and we all hope you keep providing us with in the future.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko
Photo Credit to Gareth Davies
Rizla Suzuki Photo Credit to Suzuki Racing Archives