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.

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