As a rider with two British Superbike Championship titles under his belt, a dose of MotoGP experience and even a pair of wild-card World Superbike wins to his name, it is surprising that 2009 marked Shane Byrne's first full season at WSBK level.
Preceded by a dominant performance on the Airwaves Ducati in BSB, his 2008 title – coming five years after the last one – certainly got rumour mill running at full speed during the year.
Originally linked to the factory team, Byrne instead landed at top satellite outfit Sterilgarda Ducati for 2009, a deal that – on paper – suited him well. Indeed, with no room in the factory team, Byrne was nonetheless sticking with his much-loved 1098 and it was still being prepared by a race-winning outfit.
With that, and a few spectacular lap times during testing, in mind, Byrne and the words 'title tilt' were being quietly mentioned.
However, there are no prizes for testing and when the season did eventually get underway, Byrne was nowhere to be seen. Given it had managed to lure Max Biaggi and Ruben Xaus to its fold in 2008, it was surprising to see the Sterilgarda team whittled down to just a single bike for Byrne just before the start of the year as the credit crunch began to bite the series.
Furthermore, with Byrne being hampered by a lack of knowledge around certain circuits, the results in the first-half of the year – four top ten finishes in twelve races – were a far cry from his giant-killing efforts in testing.
Nonetheless, the turnaround did eventually come, starting at Miller Motorsports Park when Byrne reached the top eight shootout in qualifying for the first time and lapped well.
His high point, however, came in treacherous weather conditions at Misano, where a damp circuit allowed Byrne to flex his wet weather form and lead for much of the opening race. While a rapidly drying circuit would eventually see Ben Spies snatch victory from him, a second place finish certainly went against the grain of Byrne's season thus far.
A much-needed boost for rider and team, the result spurred Byrne onto further success during the second-half of the year, the Briton finishing inside the top five at Donington Park, Brno and Portimao.
Drastically improving his overall championship position – which had been as low as 15th immediately prior to Misano -, Byrne was one of the top scorers towards the end of the season, earning him eighth in the standings, a feat you have recognised here by voting him as your tenth top WSBK rider of 2009.
A switch to Althea Racing beckons for Byrne in 2010, where he will stick with familiar machinery and look to capitalise on his swift end to his maiden year
Ducati 1098 RS
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2008: