Byrne crowned champion on dramatic day
IN one of the most dramatic finishes to the season in many years, Shane “Shakey” Byrne overcame a 33-point deficit to win his sixth MCE British Superbike Championship title.
Riding the factory-backed Be Wiser Ducati Panigale R, he knew the odds were stacked against him following a poor run of results in recent rounds which saw him trail title-rival Leon Haslam going into the final round.
The weekend started well, with the 40-year-old topping all three free practice sessions as well as being fastest in all three qualifying sessions. From pole position, he went on to take victory in the opening race of the triple-header weekend as Haslam came home fourth, to close the gap between him and Byrne to 21 points.
In the second of the weekend’s races, Byrne was involved in a titanic scrap for the lead, cheered on by his legions of fans in the record 58,000 crowd at his local track.
He went on to take victory by half a second, and with Haslam encountering problems and struggling to 10th place, Byrne, who claimed BSB career win number 84 and a 21st around the famous GP track, reduced the gap to a mere two points in Haslam’s favour.
Byrne lined up in the middle of the front row for the final race of 2017. A slightly sluggish start saw him drop back to sixth at the end of the opening lap, one place behind Haslam.
Positions remained the same until lap six when Haslam crashed heavily, which gave Byrne the advantage. Needing a top 11 finish to claim his record-breaking sixth crown, Byrne did what he needed to do and brought the bike home in eighth place to wrap up the title and give Paul Bird’s Langwathby-based team its 11th British title.
Team mate Glenn Irwin ended his year strongy, with a seventh and a 13th place to finish the season 12th overall.
Byrne said: “You always go racing to win championships, but after having such a rough ride over the last few rounds I was beginning to think 2017 just wasn’t meant to be, so the weekend was all about having some fun and whatever happened happened.
“After yesterday’s race, I was suddenly a lot less points behind and back in the hunt but I knew Leon wasn’t going to take it lying down and he proved that in the final race. When he crashed in front of me, it threw me a bit though and for the next few laps I wasn’t sure what to do. I kept hearing things and making the odd mistake, so it took me a while to get back into my rhythm.
“The race took an eternity, but to defend my title for the first time is an amazing feeling. We got the job done so a big thanks to the PBM team, Ducati, my sponsors, my family, everyone.
“I’ve always wanted to defend the title so I’m over the moon to do it and going into the winter as the 2017 BSB champion is an amazing feeling.”
Team owner Paul Bird said: “I’m absolutely flabbergasted. We came here with a small chance of the title, but it got more realistic as the weekend went on and Shakey rode sensationally all weekend.
“It was a very fast Shane Byrne that turned up this weekend. Full credit must go to the team as well as they were under pressure all weekend to put a bike under Shakey that would deliver.
“It’s the first time Shakey’s defended the title and it’s both his and our sixth BSB title, but this is probably the sweetest.
“It’s a very proud day for all of us and not a bad effort at all for a little team from up north!”