The Be Wiser Ducati Racing Team got their 2018 Bennetts British Superbike Championshipcampaign underway in fine style at Donington Park today with reigning champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne taking second place and team-mate Glenn Irwin sixth in the opening race of the new season.
With yesterday’s free practice sessions being severely affected by wet weather, and a heavy spill for Irwin which necessitated a hospital check-up, today dawned dry but with very cold temperatures as organisers shuffled the race schedule to counter the worst of the Easter weather. Both riders were in good form in the final free practice session this morning and they carried this into qualifying with 41-year-old Londoner Byrne placing third and Northern Ireland’s Irwin tenth ahead of the afternoon’s 18-lap race.
At the start, Byrne’s good work was undone, however, when he pulled a big wheelie off the line and by the end of the first lap, he’d dropped back to ninth with Irwin two further places back. Consolidating their positions in the early stages, both riders started to move forward on the factory-backed Be Wiser Ducati Panigale Rs and by lap six, six-times and defending champion Byrne was up to sixth and Irwin ninth.
With consistent lap times, Byrne was able to reel in the riders in front and having moved up to third on lap 12, he was close enough to challenge for the lead. He managed to get by second placed James Ellison at the Melbourne Hairpin on the final lap and although an overtaking manoeuvre on leader Bradley Ray may have been possible at the final corner, he opted for caution and settled for second place and 20 solid points.
Irwin’s race followed a similar pattern and he overtook riders throughout eventually crossing the line in sixth place, no mean feat given he was taken to Nottingham Queen’s Medical Hospital after the Carrickfergus rider’s crash on Saturday. And with both riders putting in strong lap times, they’ll line up in second and third on the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s second race.
Shane Byrne: “It hasn’t been the easiest of weekends so far with the weather and cold temperatures and qualifying was particularly tricky as I had a number of moments. We made a slight mistake, but I was reasonably happy with the front row of the grid, but all the hard work disappeared when the bike went vertical the moment I dropped the clutch. I lost a lot of ground, but I didn’t panic and stayed calm. I kept chipping away and made some good moves forward and I was being very careful not to use too much of the tyre, so I still had some left at the end. In that sense, I managed the race well and having overtaken James, there was a chance to go for the win, but it would have been a bit of a lunge and I obviously didn’t want to go down myself or take out Brad. It was a good, fun race and I’ve come away with 20 points so a big thanks to the team, it’s a positive way to start the season.”
Glenn Irwin: “After the crash in practice, standing here now with a sixth-place finish is very pleasing,particularly with how I rode in the race. I had a small problem off the line with the clutch but other than that the race went really well, and I had no problems at all with my injuries, so I’ve got to say a big thank you to the medics for looking after me so well. I made some good moves forward throughout the race and no-one overtook me and whilst I can make some improvements to both myself and the bike, we’re in a good position for tomorrow’s race.”
Johnny Mowatt, Team Co-Ordinator: “It’s a very good start to the season and with both riders in the top six, we’ve got to be happy. Obviously, Shakey’s target is to be on the podium in every race and to come through from ninth to second shows how well he was riding and how well the bike was working. He could maybe have passed both riders on the last lap to take a great win but we’re still happy with second whilst Glenn came through the pack in a similar way. We’ve seen him do that in the past and his race pace is always strong so with both riders on the front row for tomorrow’s race, we’ll be pushing to have both riders on the podium.”
Bennetts British Superbike Championship Race One (18 laps)
1 Bradley Ray (Suzuki)
2 Shane Byrne (Be Wiser Ducati)
3 James Ellison (Yamaha)
4 Dan Linfoot (Honda)
5 Luke Mossey (Kawasaki)
6 Glenn Irwin (Be Wiser Ducati)
Images courtesy of Double Red Photographic: Shane Byrne (67) and Glenn Irwin (2) in action at Donington Park.