GSE Racing team manager Colin Wright has tipped British Superbike Champion Shane Byrne to be a challenger for the World Superbike title in 2009.
Byrne, who dominated the 2008 BSB title with the GSE Racing-run Airwaves Ducati team, graduates to the world championship next year aboard a Sterilgarda Ducati ahead of what is anticipated to be one of the most competitive seasons in history.
However, with several top riders switching bikes in 2009, including Noriyuki Haga, Max Biaggi and Troy Corser, Wright believes Byrne is capable of making the most of what will be a more seamless transition from one Ducati team to another.
“In the short-term I would say Shane [can be our next British WSBK champion],” he told Crash.net
. “If you consider that Haga, Corser and Biaggi are all moving to new teams next year, on paper my absolute personal feeling is that Shakey can win it.
“My top three at this moment – and it will probably change – are Shane, Haga and Ben Spies, plus maybe Neukirchner. I don't know what order they'll be in but we'll have a better idea after the first two rounds.”
Wright's comments come after Byrne made an immediate impression on proceedings during the post-season tests at Portimao. Marking his first appearance on the Sterilgarda bike by setting the fastest lap time of the two days, Byrne's title challenge could yet depend on how quickly he can settle with the Italian-based team, Wright adds.
“I don't believe he would have a problem with winning, albeit only if he can be comfortable with the team, especially now that he has a young son and a family to look after… All Shane needs to know is that people are working well around him, so if he has that then he can succeed.”
Byrne's move to World Superbikes became a subject of fevered speculation throughout the season, with many believing he was in contention to replace Troy Bayliss at the factory-backed Ducati Xerox team.
However, the team would go on to sign Noriyuki Haga instead, leaving Byrne to chase a seat with the race winning, but semi-private, Marco Borciani-run squad. Wright, however, thinks Byrne would have been just as effective as Haga at Xerox - and for considerably less money too.
“I think the factory team should have offered him a deal. I have a lot of respect for Haga on the bike but I don't know how much they've paid him, but Xerox Ducati could have got better results for a lot less money if they'd taken on Shane.”