Aprilia's new signing Shane Byrne made his first visit to the company's Noale based factory yesterday (Wednesday), where he was formally confirmed as a MotoGP rider in a meeting with president Ivano Beggio.

'Shakey' has been propelled into the GP limelight after a stellar 2003 season that has seen him win both the ultra-competitive British Superbike Championship, on a Monstermob Ducati, and also dominate the Brands Hatch World Superbike round as a wild-card.

"When I was first called by Aprilia, I almost didn't believe it," said Shane. "I only realised that it was true when I left for Valencia, the last GP of the season, to meet the chief of the racing activities, Jan Witteveen. I was really excited to sit on the RS Cube for the first time, it really was amazing!"

The GP deal was also something of a shock for some elements of the press, who just a week before claimed that the 26-year-old had signed to ride for the Foggy Petronas team. However, as the Brit explained, the chance to achieve his dream of a MotoGP ride - with a team that began the careers of so many world champions - was too good to turn down.

"It's true that I had a few other offers to compete in the Superbike championship," confirmed Byrne. "But Aprilia's (offer) won easily because my dream was to race in MotoGP. What convinced me more, besides the good project, was the fact that riders such as Max Biaggi and Valentino Rossi started their careers at Aprilia. They are my heroes, as are other riders in the premier-class, and the thought of riding with them was an enormous motivation."

2003 saw the RS Cube achieve a best result of sixth at the Suzuka season opener, in the hands of double World Superbike champ Colin Edwards, but with both the Texan and fellow SBK race winner Noriyuki Haga never looking completely comfortable on the peaky three-cylinder, Byrne knows he could be in for a tough debut year.

"I know that the first year will be difficult," he stated. "I'll have to learn the environment and the tracks and in the mean time help Aprilia developing the motorbike. It's not going to be easy, but I will dedicate myself to it totally. During the next few days I'll try to decide whether it's better to stay in England or move to Italy. Everything's happened so fast that I haven't got any time to focus on the details."

Aprilia are already tipping Byrne to inherit Barry Sheene's crown as Britain's next GP world champion, but realistically regular top-tens would be a great achievement in his debut MotoGP season.

Byrne looks set to make his Aprilia debut at a Jerez test on November 23. His team-mate is yet to be announced, with Olivier Jacque, Garry McCoy and Jeremy McWilliams thought to be in contention.



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