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EXCLUSIVE Shane Byrne - Q&A

19 February 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

Shane Byrne won a record-equalling third BSB title in 2012 and is to remain with Paul Bird's Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki team in a bid to become the most successful rider in the Championship's history.

Byrne needs only two more race victories to equal Ryuichi Kiyonari's record of 43 wins while no rider has ever won a fourth BSB title. Byrne is presently tied with fellow triple winners Kiyonari and Niall Mackenzie.

'Shakey' took time out from his busy preparation schedule to talk to Crash.net about his racing career and look ahead to the 2013 season...

Crash.net:
When you started out, you were a bike tester for a magazine?

Shane Byrne:
Yeah, but I'd started racing before doing the bike testing. I used to work on the London Underground and had got banned from driving for dangerous driving so I bought a race bike to go racing instead. After a season or so, I got involved in the Fast Bikes magazine and did testing for them for a couple of years.

Crash.net:
So racing was always part of a plan?

Shane Byrne:
100% yes, as corny as it sounds, right back to primary school, I've never wanted to be anything other than a motorbike racer, which is strange because neither of my parents even had a driving licence.

My mum knew that there wasn't a lot of point telling me it was too dangerous etc because she could tell that's what I loved doing and just kind of rolled with it. She never watches races until after when she knows everything's all right. She usually records them.

Crash.net:
Looking back at the all bikes you've ridden, which stand out as your favourites?

Shane Byrne:
It's a difficult thing to answer because just give me a motorbike to ride, let me go and play and I'm happy. But the Monstermob Ducati and my first ZXR400 stand out as being a great springboard to other things. One thing always leads to another.

Crash.net:
When you're setting up a bike, which aspects do you particularly look at?

Shane Byrne:
There's not any particular aspect. You're really just looking to maximise the package you've got and looking for any weak points, be that how you ride the bike or how you set it up.

Maybe the Kawasaki on Pirellis isn't the fastest turning bike and we needed the bike to be more nimble for the tight and twisty British circuits. But other than that we had a real good feeling from the front and changed the base set-up to help with the turning problem, so we could still do the lap times and look after the tyres. The Kawasaki's fast and it's got a great engine.

There's only so much you can do within the current regulations, but that's why you have a crew chief and you let them crack on with it. The PBM team is a great team and a lot of them are from WSBK so they've always got a pretty good idea of ballpark settings.

Crash.net:
Is the bike similar to the WSBK one?

Shane Byrne:
Not really, no. The regulations are so different. A couple of bits and pieces like the older spec suspension on the BSB bike are from WSBK, but engine, ECU and wiring loom are all different and we've had a new swing-arm made for the BSB bike now. The chassis is also different because the WSBK one is so heavily modified.

Crash.net:
What do you think of the current BSB evo style specs?

Shane Byrne:
Ultimately, no matter what people do with the rules, the results will stay the same. The top teams will always hire the top riders and they'll be winning races. You can't get to a point where you're penalising the top teams for being successful, because it's the people around them that make them do well.

In some ways though I actually enjoy riding the new spec bike more, because you have to give more input rather than relying on anti-wheelie or traction control. But I've got to say, it was cool for me in the days when people turned up at the circuit to see lads jumping onto technology filled, fire breathing monsters with a load of horsepower and watched the riders trying to tame them.

I like the new rules, I just feel it's dumbing down a bit. If you buy a road going ZX10 it's actually got more electronic control on it than our race bikes have, I don't see how that's progress. But from the riders point of view I enjoy riding the bike with as few electronics as possible.

Crash.net:
Many people think that your natural level is to be in WSBK or MotoGP?

Shane Byrne:
One day when I write a book I can tell you everything because by then it won't matter.

I was asked the other day what series I wanted to race in and the way I look at it, when I won the 2008 BSB title most of the British lads who are now doing well in WSBK [Haslam, Camier, Sykes] and Cal [Crutchlow] in MotoGP, were in BSB.

The last year we were all together I beat them all to the title and won 12 races. I put a great effort into BSB because there are still some great goals to achieve here and now I'm trying for a fourth title which nobody's done before.

Realistically I could have found a ride in MotoGP or WSBK for this season if I had wanted to, but in those championships you can only win if you're on one of very few bikes unless you have a lucky ride.

Why would I want to go back there when all the factory rides are taken? Why would I accept a Pedercini ride just to say I'm in WSBK and then get beaten every weekend?

I'd much rather line-up on the BSB grid where if you put me on the Milwaukee Yamaha, Samsung Honda, Tyco Suzuki or Kawasaki I can win a race. The bikes are so equal and I believe I can beat everyone out there.

Don't get me wrong, if I could jump on the factory Kawasaki in WSBK, I would, but I didn't get that opportunity.

Crash.net:
When you were at Althea Ducati in WSBK, do you think you had equal equipment to Carlos Checa?

Shane Byrne:
It's not something that really needs talking about, but the fairings were the same.

Crash.net:
Who are your main threats in BSB this year?

Shane Byrne:
When you're young, you look at individuals and worry about them. Now I'm 36 years old I don't concentrate on Josh [Brookes] or Alex [Lowes], I just concentrate on what I've got to do, worrying about what other people are doing is completely irrelevant.

People sometimes ask me if I've got one more title left in me and my answer is that both Troy [Bayliss] and Max [Biaggi] won their latest title at 41 and did people ever ask them that question at 36?

It's probably because they are global superstars, but I'm a kid who was once from a council estate and now that I'm 36 and back in BSB that I don't want to race any more. Nothing can be further from the truth. I'm really, really hungry to prove my point.

Crash.net:
Is there any difference in your motivation for the 2013 season?

Shane Byrne:
I'm now probably hungrier than ever to make this year count.

I felt incredibly hollow after winning the championship last season. When I finished the third and last race at Brands I was so, so happy and it was a massive buzz. However from a championship point of view all I'd done was achieve the same as other people [three titles].

That's never what I wanted; I wanted to be the top guy.

In order to safeguard that place in history, I think I'll need to win at least another 2 races which will mean that I've been the most successful BSB rider ever. And if Kiyo won another one next season, he'd join me at the top so I need to guard against that. Also I need to do a good job in case I get called away to ride in MotoGP for example.

Also there are always things thrown in the mix, I have to make sure I don't make the same mistakes as last year. Like at Thruxton where I felt strong, went to the front and didn't make a break, and because I didn't make a break, had nothing left at the end to fend off the boys. Now I'm a little bit older and a little bit wiser.

Crash.net:
If you could get rid of the new shootout format, would you?

Shane Byrne:
Yes

Crash.net:
Last season you were asked to test James Ellison's CRT bike, what was that about?

Shane Byrne:
It was just to get some kind of direction from another rider. I rode the thing and thought it was in an incredible pickle. It was like this thing you were sat on top of with a mind of its own and I gave my indications as to what I thought should be done.

Crash.net:
Could you have replaced James?

Shane Byrne:
I don't think so, I might have had to ride the bike this year. For me I like winning races, I don't want to be trailing halfway round the world to get a CRT podium. I'd rather be competitive in a championship.

If Paul owned the Repsol Honda team, then of course I'd want to be on his bike. I think it's important to be happy and I think that the organisers of BSB are doing a good job putting on an exciting show.

Crash.net:
When you were following Josh Brookes in the last race of last season, with the title on the line, what do you think your team was thinking, 'pass Josh', or 'stay where you are'?

Shane Byrne:
The funny thing is, a round before at Silverstone, I was watching Keith [Farmer, team-mate] racing for the Superstock title. I saw how tense the moment was and Birdy was like 'Give him an 'OK' board! Give him an 'OK' board!' We just wanted Keith to bring it home and I remember thinking 'I wonder if it's like that when I'm out there'. It's something I never get to see.

I remember 3 or 4 laps before the end getting the 'OK' board and I thought maybe the tension for me was the same as that for Keith. It made me chuckle a bit.

Josh was setting a really fast pace, but it seemed to me that Josh wanted to win the race as fast as possible. I could just ride around behind him using him as a reference point, which was perfect.

I was thinking, 'I can't see you maintaining that', and sure enough he started moving around and backing it in. like I say, I then got the 'OK' board and I thought to myself 'Right, what now'.

I'd looked after my bike, didn't take any unnecessary risks and job done [Byrne won the race]. I think my team had a few kittens…

Crash.net:
You won all five races held on the Brands GP circuit last year, what is it with you and Brands?

Shane Byrne:
I've won my last 7 races there but it's not always been my best friend. It can line you up for a bit of a fall. I'm not unbeatable at Brands, if I'm beaten there, no drama. I just like riding my motorbike, if they told me to ride it around the local one-way system, I'd be happy to do that too. It's a great track though and I love the place.

Crash.net:
Are you are a nervy rider?

Shane Byrne:
No, I wouldn't have said so. I was nervous before the last race though, probably more than I've ever been, purely because one mistake could have changed the championship.

If you haven't got a certain amount of nerves before a race, there's something wrong with you. Going at 200 mph though a 3 inch contact patch will always do that. What makes you nervous is wanting to succeed, once the lights go out the nerves disappear.

Crash.net:
You seem to be really in tune with your fans?

Shane Byrne:
I like to think I've got time for my fans. It's an important part of the sport, without them we couldn't go racing and Jonathan Palmer and Stuart Higgs couldn't do the great job they're doing. I'm very fortunate to have a good following and if spending 30 seconds saying 'Hello' and that makes someone happy for the weekend, then fantastic.

Crash.net:
As a family man, do you feel pressure from them to stop racing because of the danger?

Shane Byrne:
The only pressure I feel from Petra is to make sure I win! She's fantastic, she understands the sport and we've been together for 7 years now, she's a key part of my preparation. It's the same as my children, seeing my little boy clapping for me after a race means a lot to me.

When things are going bad like in my WSBK years, coming back to my motor home and finding my boy there smiling at me meant that it didn't matter whether I'd finished first, last or whatever. His smile takes everything away and levels things out. The fact that the compression damper's out just doesn't matter, it makes everything real. They're always going to be there for me and I'll always be there for them.

Crash.net:
Do your children or wife ever call you 'Shakey'?

Shane Byrne:
My son sometimes jokes about 'Shakey Byrne', but my wife calls me 'Shane' and my kids just call me 'dad'. My son often comes around with me. When I'm at a race I become someone to him, but apart from that I'm just his dad and that's all he knows. But Zack's done some TV interviews with me.

Crash.net:
What would you say to Zack if he said to you he wanted to be a motorcycle racer?

Shane Byrne:
I would say 'Whatever you want to do, I'll help you'. But I'd rather he picked up a golf club or played football, because this is a cruel sport.

There are a lot of people who are part time friends when things are going well, but don't call you when things are going bad. I would help Zack whether he wanted to be a cricketer or draughts player.

He's got a little motorbike at the moment, but 9 times out of 10 he's not that fussed about going out on it.

Crash.net:
How can the sport be cruel?

Shane Byrne:
It's an incredible small paddock and it's an incredibly small world and many of the people in that small world you wouldn't go out for a beer with, but you have to be nice to them because you might have to do something with them one day.

It's kind of hard because a football player may take six months out of a game because they've cracked a toenail, but they'll be OK because they're on 100K a week, but we struggle. If we don't get on the bike for 5 seconds someone else will jump on to it and the team gives them a job.

The team needs to put the bike out there and we put ourselves through a lot to make sure we're on the grid. There are a few riders out there with chequebooks who'll talk to teams in those situations; I think they're ruining the sport for those who want to make a living out of it.

I was asked why motorcycling isn't big in the UK, and I said that back in the day racers like Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts were earning millions of pounds and living the dream. Nowadays you hear of a footballer smashing up their Ferrari but if you look at the BSB paddock, it's 'Shakey got caught speeding in his Vito [van]', it just doesn't have the same effect!

At the end of the weekend some riders go back to being bricklayers or plasters and that's how our sport is at the moment.

Crash.net:
Top riders - like other sports personalities - sometimes get criticism from online trolls, does it bother you?

Shane Byrne:
Not really, although sometimes you'll read something and think 'What the f**k do you know?' You never meet these people because they haven't got the balls to say something to your face.

There'll always be some haters whatever you do in life. I just think 'You crack on mate, because at the end of the day, I'm the one who's come from a council estate and is now enjoying the life I do and work at something I love'.

Crash.net:
When does pre-season testing start for you and what are you testing?

Shane Byrne:
We've got a few bits to test, but the BSB organisers have put a ban on Spanish testing and we've only got a certain number of days.

Because we've got absolute continuity, it's a good thing for us - and Josh Brookes. But for someone new like Josh Waters it's going to be more difficult.

I don't really see the point of putting a ban on testing in Spain because the team at the back of the grid can't afford to do it anyway, and if you can't afford to do the job properly, then don't come and do it, full stop.

We only tested a handful of days last season. The fact that someone at the back of the grid can't afford to go testing in Spain isn't Paul Bird's or Sean Muir's problem. I'm against the ban.

Crash.net:
Some riders like Guy Martin like to get involved in the technical side of their bikes, do you?

Shane Byrne:
As soon as a rider gets too involved in the technical side of things and dictates to their mechanics, then that's when it all goes wrong.

*I shouldn't say it, but that's why John McGuinness jumps on his bike and wins year in, year out. Guy likes to pull things to pieces and that makes him happy, but he hasn't won one yet.

I don't get involved whatsoever, I give the team the feedback and let them change the bike to let me ride it better. I don't tell them which springs to use, I just tell them what I want.

Crash.net:
Do you enjoy being famous?

Shane Byrne:
I wouldn't say I am. I'm not beating people off with sticks. Sometimes people come up and say 'hello'. Maybe you're famous at the race track, but not really away from the track. I like people coming over to say 'Hi' or whatever.

Crash.net:
Thanks for your time, it's been a pleasure.

Shane Byrne:
No problem!


*Quote corrected, sorry Shakey.


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