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.
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.
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.
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.