Racing Legends: Shane Byrne

For every season in any sport we crave close action and the thrill of a championship battle. Sometimes we also need someone to stamp their own authority on a discipline; a measuring stick so to speak.

Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne at the 2017 BSB chmpionship at Oulton Park. Image courtesy of Ducati

In the 1990s and 2000s my beloved Manchester United swept the board in English football, Phil ‘The Power” Taylor became the doyen of darts with 16 world championship titles while Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and latterly Lewis Hamilton have monopolised the Formula One driver’s championship through different eras of the sport.

British Superbikes is no different. While some may point to Niall Mackenzie’s hat-trick of title wins in the 1990s or Leon Camier’s 2009 championship victory as examples of BSB dominance, these pail into insignificance when one name is mentioned above all the rest. Shane Byrne.

After emerging in the championship during 1999 and an impressive eighth place finish aboard a privateer Suzuki in 2001, Byrne claimed his first BSB victory at Donington Park in 2002 on board the Renegade Ducati machine. Controversy reigned at the end of 2002 when ‘Shakey’ first linked up with Paul Bird to ride the MonsterMob Ducati bike for 2003. He replaced champion Steve Hislop in the process, and one of British motorsport’s great manager-rider partnerships was born.

The 2003 season saw Byrne claim the BSB title in stunning fashion, winning 12 races to take his maiden championship title with the first nine victories coming within the first half of the season. To add to his imperious domestic form, Byrne also claimed a convincing double victory in the Brands Hatch World Superbike round as well. The impressive return in 2003 saw Byrne make the jump to MotoGP as he gained a seat aboard the Aprilia alongside Jeremy McWilliams.

Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne At BSB Oulton 2017.Image courtesy of Ducati

After a less than successful stay in the premier class, Byrne made his return to the British scene in 2006 with Rizla Suzuki. During a season that involved a stomach virus, bike thefts and an injury at the final round, Byrne managed to pick up podiums at Oulton Park and Knockhill, winning the second race in Scotland. After highsiding in the final round at Brands Hatch, Byrne was knocked out and thus didn’t compete in the final race meaning his final position in the standings slipped from fourth to sixth.

Following a competitive season in 2007, back under the stewardship of Paul Bird on the Stobart Vent-Axia Honda in which he claimed a victory at Mallory Park and eventually finished fifth overall, Byrne was back on a Ducati for 2008. Riding for GSE Racing’s Airwaves Ducati team aboard the monstrous new 1098 machine, ‘Shakey’ took the title in a dominant fashion reminiscent of his 2003 championship year. He only finished outside of the podium places on one occasion (a fifth and a fourth respectively in the two races at Croft) and claimed the title by a comfortable 117 point margin from nearest rival, HM Plant Honda’s Leon Haslam.

Two more fruitless years followed as Byrne moved up to World Superbikes before HM Plant Honda gave ‘Shakey’ a seat for 2011. Despite notching a handful of victories, inconsistencies saw Byrne and team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari fall behind the leaders Tommy Hill and John Hopkins.

A third reunion with Paul Bird followed in 2012 when the PBM team began racing Kawasaki machines. The old partnership was once again tasting glory at the end of the season. Despite not winning a race until the seventh outing of the campaign, Byrne soon turned his form around, taking four of the final seven races of the season – finishing second in the other three – to capture the championship for a third time.

After finishing second behind Samsung Honda’s Alex Lowes in 2013, Byrne was once again back atop the pile a year later in record-breaking style as he helped himself to 11 victories throughout the course of the campaign before comfortably clinching the title 62 points clear of former team-mate Kiyonari.

#67 Shane Shakey Byrne Sittingbourne Be Wiser Ducati Racing Team MCE British Superbikes

Another second placed finish came in 2015  – this time behind Milwaukee Yamaha’s Josh Brookes –  before Byrne really stamped his authority on the British series with a pair of back-to-back title wins in 2016 and 2017.

The 2016 triumph saw Byrne hold off the challenge of Speedfit Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam with nine race wins contributing to the title win by a 59 point margin while 2017 was a much tighter affair. Despite winning more races than the second placed Brookes  – 7-3 in Byrne’s favour –  the championship was decided by just three points in one of the closest title races in BSB history.

A serious accident during a mid-season test session at Snetterton curtailed Byrne’s 2018 season and he hasn’t been seen on a bike since as the rehab process following the accident continues. However, you can still regularly see ‘Shakey’ on your screen offering his opinions and comments as a pundit for Eurosport.

It remains to be seen whether we’ll see Shane Byrne aboard a BSB machine again although one thing is for certain. Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne is a bona fide racing legend.

Steve ‘Stavros’ Parrish – Motorcycle Racer, Truck Racer, Commentator and Master Prankster

So I know the burning question on your lips is the same as mine – ‘Why is Steve Parrish known as Stavros?’ The answer is that back in his motorcycle racing days when he was teammates with Barry Sheene, Barry nicknamed him Stavros after a character in the TV show ‘Kojak’ as both had a mop of black curly hair. The name Stavros has stuck since then!

Steve began racing at the age of 19 after he ‘got too wild for the roads’ and in 1975 Steve was the Best Young Rider winning the Grovewood Award. The following year, at the age of 22, he started professional motorbike racing and won the British Solo Championship that same year.

Joining Suzuki in 1977 with Barry Sheene as his teammate, Steve finished 5th overall in the 500cc World Championship and returned to British based riding in 1978 where he became the 500cc ACU Gold Star Champion followed by the 500cc Shellsport Motorcycle Champion in 1979 and 1980. Steve went on to become the British Superbike Champion in 1981,

I think it’s safe to say Steve is well known in the paddock and indeed, out of the paddock, as a practical joker. With his infectious smile, mischief seems to follow Steve.

During one qualifying session, Sheene, turned up … um….shall we say, hungover and so Steve donned his teammate’s overalls and helmet and qualified on his behalf on the RG500 Suzuki. Back in the pits, Steve then put his own overalls and helmet on and went out and did his own qualifying lap, annoyingly finishing further down the grid than the qualifying lap he put in for Sheene! Can you imagine something like that happening these days?

Setting off firecrackers outside a brothel where a few of his fellow riders were being, I’m not quite sure how to put this, serviced, saw Steve being banned from Macau and then there was the incident in Finland where the toilet block burnt down …..

Then there was the time Steve posed as a medical doctor in Japan to enable John Hopkins to fly to the Australian GP. I am willing to bet that Steve could make a book out of his antics!

In 1986 Steve retired from motorcycle racing to start a five year stint as the team manager for the Yamaha factory team for whom he used to ride where he led the team to victory winning three British Championship titles.

Alongside managing the Yamaha team, Steve began a fifteen year career as a truck racer becoming the most successful truck racer ever. In 1987 he won the British Open Truck Racing Championship, came 2nd in the series in 1989 and went on to win the European and British Truck Racing Championship in 1990 followed by the 1991 British Championship.

Steve then went on to win the European title for the next three years, coming 2nd in 1995 and then taking the title again in 1996. Steve continued to compete in truck racing until he retired in 2002.

Talking about racing motorbikes and trucks, Steve says there is quite an affinity between the two sports explaining that a motorbike doesn’t want to change direction quickly and has to be coaxed into corners which is much like a 5 tonne truck, it doesn’t want to shift around corners either and there is an awful lot more weight to shift than a motorbike!

In 1985 Steve started commentating for BBC radio before moving to Sky alongside Barry Nutley. From 1990 he started commentating for the BBC on the British 125 championship before moving onto MotoGP coverage with Charlie Cox where the pair also commentated on British Touring Cars, British Superbikes and World Superbikes.

As a qualified pilot, commentating on the Red Bull Air Race series is a perfect transition for Steve also.

Alongside former racer James Whitham, the pair commentate on the Isle of Man TT.

I think we can safely say that whatever Steve turns his hand to, he makes a success out of it. Indeed, Steve has even managed to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for, and I quote, ‘The Fastest Speed Achieved in Reverse’! In a Caterham!! I didn’t even know that was a ‘thing’. Sure sounds like fun though ……

Steve is an expert witness for motor racing incidents and can regularly be seen testing various vehicles and racing machines. Steve’s own personal vehicle collection includes a hearse, an ambulance and a fire engine!

You can imagine the antics Steve and his vehicles manage to get themselves into – apparently for example, driving the hearse very slowly until there is a long trail of cars behind and then tearing off up the road leaving the queue behind!

Or when Steve visits the bank in his ambulance – he pulls up outside the bank and parks on the yellow lines, leaves the rear doors open and then pops into the bank to do his banking!

Or the time Steve pulled up outside his friend’s pub on a Sunday afternoon in his fire engine and hosed down the inside of the packed pub!

I think if you see Steve coming, you should certainly have your wits about you as you really just don’t know what mayhem is to come.

A truly talented motorcycle racer, truck racer, commentator and master prankster, I believe that makes Steve a legend in my book.

A little bit of Jonathan Rea history

Jonathan Rea at the 2020 Philip Island Test. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

Jonathan Rea, it seems, was born with racing in his blood. His father, Johnny is a former Road Racing Champion and Isle of Man Junior TT winner, his grandfather sponsored Joey Dunlop and his great-grandfather was a regular competitor on the Ulster Grand Prix circuit. It was little wonder then that Jonathan was only 2 ½ years old when he first sat on a bike barely able to reach the handlebars!

By the time he was six, Jonathan was racing in motocross and was runner up in 1997 in the British 60cc Motocross before moving up the classes, very successfully too.

So why did Jonathan make the switch to road racing in 1997 then?

Well during a tea break one day with his mechanic, they spotted an ad in a magazine asking for a young rider for the 125 class with Red Bull. Far from being enthusiastic about the idea himself, it was Jonathan’s mechanic who persuaded him to apply insisting that he would be really good at road racing. Jonathan put a few words and a resume together and sent it off.

Still not a hundred per cent sure that he wanted to go into road racing, Jonathan went to Ron Haslam’s Race School at Donington Park where he rode a CB500 in effort to start to understand a road bike and ascertain whether or not road racing was for him.

Jonathan Rea Estoril 2020. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

Incredibly, out of hundreds of applications, Jonathan was one of only 20 picked and he spent the day at Rockingham. Five were then selected, Jonathan being one of them, for another try out at Cartagena in Spain where Jonathan was successful and joined Red Bull Rookies along with two other riders.

It wasn’t long before it could be seen that making the switch to road racing was a good move by Jonathan. A British Superbike ride on a factory Honda Fireblade was set up by Red Bull in 2005 in which Jonathan took pole and despite missing two races, finished 16th in the series. The following year Jonathan finished 4th in the BSB Championship in what was only his second year of road racing.

In 2007 Jonathan rode for the Harris factory team where he had his first podium victory at Mondello Park and finished 2nd in the BSB Championship. Jonathan’s motocross mechanic was definitely right to persuade Jonathan to send off that application, he obviously saw something in him.

Also during 2007, Jonathan competed in and won with his teammate, Ryuichi Kiyonari, a three hour endurance race and the pair were subsequently entered into the Suzuka 8 hour race on a Honda factory bike.

Later in 2007 Jonathan signed a three year deal with Ten Kate Honda riding in the Supersport World Championship for the 2008 season and then progressing onto the Superbike World Championship in 2009 and 2010 having turned down a ride with the factory Xerox Ducati WSBK team and the option of riding for HM Plant Honda and Rizla Suzuki in the British Superbike Championship.

It wasn’t long before Jonathan had his first win in WSSP which came at Brno followed by two further wins at Brands Hatch and Vallelunga. Of the twelve races he competed in during this year, Jonathan had six podium finishes, three wins, one second place and two thirds.

At the end of the 2008 season Jonathan switched to the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda WSBK team therefore making his WSBK debut at Portimao in the final round of the 2008 Championship.

In 2009 Jonathan had two third place podiums before his first WSBK win at Misano. A further win in Germany and then one second place and five third place finishes meant that Jonathan finished fifth overall in the Championship, second best rookie of the season behind Ben Spies (who won the WSBK Championship).

Jonathan Rea at Aragon 2020. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

The 2010 season ended slightly better with Jonathan finishing fourth overall having had ten podium finishes, four of which were wins, five second place finishes and one third.

Of 18 races in the 2011 season, Jonathan only managed a podium five times, two of which were wins and three second place finishes and ended the season down in 9th overall but the following season he finished fifth overall with six podiums. The 2013 season was not good again when he finished in 9th overall again with only one win during the season but two second places and one third.

In what would be his final year with Ten Kate Racing in 2014, Jonathan was on the podium nine times having had four wins, one second place and four third places finishes and finished 3rd overall – his best result in WSBK to date.

Jonathan made a brief appearance in MotoGP when in 2012 he had his debut for the Repsol Honda Team replacing an injured Casey Stoner in two races at San Marino where he finished 8th and Aragon where he finished 7th.

Having been riding a Honda for his entire road racing career, in what would turn out to be a career changing move, Jonathan moved to the Kawasaki Racing Team in 2015 with Tom Sykes as his teammate. In his first year with the Kawasaki team, we saw Jonathan dominate the season with an impressive twenty-three podiums, fourteen of which were wins, seven second place and two third place and his first WSBK Championship. WoW!

Jonathan Rea 2020. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

The rest, as they say, is history – Jonathan went on to win the WSBK Championships in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. The first person to have won six consecutive WSBK Championships.

Jonathan has gone on to break records in WSBK with most wins in a season, most points in a season and most podiums in a season.

A truly awe inspiring achievement from someone who wasn’t sure if he even wanted to go into road racing!!!

Karen Bristow

Six Of The Best: BSB Nuggets

As the countdown to the 2020 Bennett’s British Superbike Season ticks towards the series roaring into life at Donington Park on August 7th, here are a few fun facts about the series’ history for you to wow your mates with down the pub when taking in a (socially distanced) cold one.  Each fact is relevant to its numerical position in the list.

1. The Birth Of The Championship 

The British Superbike Championship (BSB) can trace its origins back to 1988 at the start of the Superbike racing boom, which coincided with the inaugural World Superbike Championship season.

The first BSB season was contested under Formula TT rules with race number one taking place in May 1988 at the Carnaby track on the site of a former RAF base near Bridlington in East Yorkshire. The first race winner was Darren Dixon who piloted his Suzuki RG500 all the way to the first championship title later in the year.

Dixon went on to become a star in the field of sidecar racing, winning the World Sidecar Championship in 1995 and 1996. Dixon’s son Jake came second in the 2018 BSB Championship and now competes in Moto2.

2. Always The Bridesmaid 

Fact number two refers to the second position in the BSB Championship achieved by Chris ‘Stalker’ Walker four years on the trot between 1997 and 2000.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these second placed finishes came at the climax of the 2000 season. With just three laps remaining in the final race, Walker led the pack only for his engine to fail on him. Despite trying desperately to reignite his machine, the mechanical problem allowed title rival Neil Hodgson to overtake Walker not just in the race but overall in the championship.

3. Niall’s Treble Triumph 

They say three is the magic number and it certainly was for Niall Mackenzie who became the most dominant rider of the 1990s, taking the BSB title three years in a row in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Riding on the spectacular Cadbury’s Boost Yamaha team—run by former Grand Prix rider Rob McElnea—Mackenzie racked up 14 wins over the course of the 1997 season. This record was only bettered by Leon Camier with 19 during his dominant 2009 title win, and only Shane Byrne has won more BSB titles than the super Scot.

The Mackenzie name lives on as Niall’s sons Tarran and Taylor both now compete in the BSB and Superstock championships respectively.

4. Champions From Afar 

Over the course of British Superbike history, there have been four riders from outside the UK and Ireland who have finished the season top of the pile.

The first was Australian Troy Bayliss who piloted his GSE Ducati 996 to the 1999 title before going on to win a hat-trick of championships in World Superbikes. Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla only got his ride aboard the Airwaves Ducati 999 just days before the start of the 2005 season as a substitute for the injured James Haydon, but ended the season as champion after surprising many and holding off the challenge of the Honda riders and team-mate Leon Haslam.

Ryuichi Kiyonari became the first Japanese rider to claim the BSB title when he prevailed at the end of the dramatic 2006 championship decider at Brands Hatch. ‘Kiyo’ repeated the feat in 2007 and then after a spell in World Superbikes returned in 2010 to make it a hat-trick of titles all aboard the HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR FireBlade.

The most recent foreigner to win the British championship was Australian King of the Cadwell Park Mountain Josh Brookes who won his first (and to date only) BSB crown aboard the Milwaukee Yamaha R1 in 2015.

5. Rockin’ All Over The World 

Five British Superbike riders (including two former champions) have gone on to win the World Superbike crown after making the move from the domestic series.

As mentioned earlier, Troy Bayliss won the British title in 1999 before going on to add the World crown on three occasions in 2001, 2008 and 2009. Lancashire rider Neil Hodgson capitalised on Chris Walker’s dramatic engine failure in the final race of the 2000 season to win the BSB title aboard the GSE Ducati 996 (same bike ridden by Bayliss the previous year) and then conquered the world in 2003.

James Toseland rode the Paul Bird-backed Vimto Honda VTR1000 during the 2000 BSB season before moving up to the World Championship, winning the global crown on two occasions in 2004 and aboard the HannSpree Ten Kate Honda in 2007.

In the same year that Toseland bagged his second World Championship, Tom Sykes made his BSB debut aboard the Stobart Vent-Axia Honda FireBlade. After a year with Rizla Suzuki in 2008, Sykes made the step up to WSBK with Yamaha Moto Italia. Four years after making his World Championship debut in 2013, Sykes won his maiden title aboard the Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R.

Perhaps the most successful rider to have won the WSBK title after making his debut in BSB is none other than Jonathan Rea. After making his bow aboard the Red Bull Honda FireBlade in 2006 and then eventually stepping up to the factory HM Plant Honda team for 2007, finishing second in the championship behind team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari, Rea made the move to World Supersport for 2008. After eventually making the step up to the WSBK Championship in 2009, Rea went on to record five successive World Championships between 2015 and 2019, becoming the most successful rider in the history of the series.

6. Shakey’s Supremacy 

We couldn’t mention this number without making reference to the six British Superbike titles won by the most successful rider in the championship’s history, Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne.

Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne At BSB Oulton Park 2017. Image courtesy of Ducati

The first of Byrne’s titles came aboard the Monstermob Ducati 998 in 2003 before spells in World Superbikes and Moto GP. After returning to the British series in 2006 with Rizla Suzuki and Stobart Vent-Axia Honda in 2007, another ride aboard a Ducati (this time the 1098) yielded his second championship in 2008.

Following another brief stint in the World Superbike Championship and then a return to BSB with HM Plant Honda, Byrne reunited with former team boss Paul Bird in 2012 and netted his third British title the same year aboard the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki, repeating the trick in 2014. After the PBM team switched to a factory backed BeWiser Ducati Panigale 1199, Byrne notched another two back to back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Another rider will have to go a long way to depose Shane Byrne’s place in the BSB history books.

Those are our top six facts from BSB history. We look forward to seeing what the 2020 season can add to that when we hit Donington Park on August 7th.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati