New MCE British Superbike Championship recruit Glenn Irwin is setting his sights characteristically high as he counts down to his debut in the series in 2016 after signing for Paul Bird's new-look Be Wiser Ducati team.
The young Ulsterman's eye-catching performances in the British Supersport class earned him the biggest opportunity of his career to date after team owner Bird granted the 25-year-old the chance to team up with four-time champion Shane 'Shakey' Byrne on the Panigale next year, switching manufacturer from Kawasaki.
Irwin and Byrne completed a three-day test at Almeria in Spain on Sunday, where the exuberant Northern Ireland prospect rode a road-going version of the Ducati fitted with race fairings, footrests and slick tyres, using the warm weather track time to familiarise himself with the Italian machine prior to riding the full-blown Superbike for the first time in the New Year.
Fourth in this year's British Supersport Championship on the Gearlink Kawasaki – a result he also matched in 2014 – Irwin feels the time is right to step up to the Superbike category and is targeting a victory in his maiden season, even if he admits he faces a massive task to challenge for the rostrum in his rookie year in BSB.
“That's the 50 million dollar question!,” said Irwin, asked by Crash.Net
what his expectations are for his eagerly-anticipated foray into the unforgiving Superbike class in 2016.
“If I look at what I'd be satisfied with at the end of next year, it would be a win and a couple of podiums. I know that it will not be easy whatsoever, but I do feel with the package we have and the testing programme in place, it gives me a great chance.
“All the ingredients are there and I'm a lot more of a mature rider now and I'm a lot more focused on my racing. When the opportunities came along in the past, I wanted them but I wanted everything else as well.
“It's a fantastic opportunity for me but all along I've said that if I got the chance to progress to a higher-level series, I'm not going there simply to make up the numbers. If you come along with a mountain of money, then anyone can basically get a ride where they want, but I wanted to earn my chance.
“Gearlink is a fantastic team but we didn't have the budget to compete against the likes of Profile Racing in Supearsport and that Triumph was a superior machine. Our bike wasn't a match for it but I knew that 'Birdy' was looking out for a rider from Supersport and a few names were in the mix, so I wanted to make sure that I was the one who got that golden egg.
“I did everything I could with what I had to get the best results possible and Gearlink stepped up as well and we changed to another suspension brand, which made a big difference in the final part of the season and allowed me to fight for wins and podiums properly without trying to just scrape through.
“Fair play to Paul [Bird] for giving me the chance because he was watching and he knew the package I had and what I was doing with it which probably helped me shade the deal.”
Bird's Be Wiser Ducati team will benefit from full factory support direct from Bologna and Irwin revealed he will have Byrne's crew chief John Mowatt in his corner to ease his transition into the Superbike championship.
“Our British Superbikes are at the workshops now and the boys have been to Bologna to collect them; we've got a full-factory 2016 Panigale,” Irwin said.
“They don't work with Motec electronics in World Superbikes, but we're having work done on the wire loom for the Motec system and then they're going straight back to Ducati and they are going to work on our software for us, which is the important bit because electronics play a big part.
“We can't take a map out of a Magneti Marelli system and put it into Motec – it'd be like putting petrol into a diesel car and it just doesn't work. Ducati will study the Motec system and will write a map for it that is relative to their map [with the Magneti Marelli system],” he added.
“That shows the amount of support we're getting and we really do have the dog's balls. We've got a fantastic piece of kit and we're going to have an Italian engineer in the garage as well.
“I'm working with 'Shakey's' former crew chief [John Mowatt], who has been with him for the last number of years and won championships with him, so when I heard that I was delighted because they're giving me a really top guy and that gives you a real boost,” said Irwin.
“The Italian engineer will work with 'Shakey' but obviously if I have any queries or issues, he's there for both of us, even though he's 'Shakey's' man. I feel it's a really good recipe all around and I can't wait to get stuck in next year.”
Irwin's primary focus will lie with his commitments in the MCE British Superbike Championship but he hasn't ruled out the possibility of returning to the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix, where he proved a sensation on the Gearlink Kawasaki this year.
Irwin pushed Alastair Seeley all the way in the opening Supersport race at the North West before an engine failure cost him the chance of a dream win in his debut race but undeterred, he regrouped to finish second behind Seeley in race two.
The Carrick man also excelled on his return to Dundrod at the Ulster Grand Prix, finishing on the rostrum in both Supersport races to mark himself out as a serious contender for race wins should he have the chance to build on his 2015 results next season.