The opening round of the 2015 MCE British Superbike Championship turned out to be a success for the Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM) Kawasaki team, with Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne leaving Donington Park as the championship leader.
The reigning champion finished on the second-step of the podium in race one after staying in-touch with, but unable to overtake, James Ellison’s JG Speedfit Kawasaki.
Byrne got a great start from third on the grid and took the lead away from pole-sitter, Ryuichi Kiyonari, going through Redgate. Following a re-start after a safety car period, brought out due to a crash from Rhalf Lo Turco, Byrne initially tried to pull out a gap but lost the lead to Ellison going through Hollywood.
Despite Byrne’s best efforts, and brief concern for Ellison’s rear tyre, the PBM Kawasaki rider was unable to re-take the lead.
Race two brought a new challenge to the table as Byrne and his team-mate, Stuart Easton, battled with the returning Honda Racing Team’s Dan Linfoot for the win.
The three could not be separated throughout the race, with the Honda Fireblade looking strong mid-corner allowing Linfoot to put some great moves on Byrne going through the Foggy Esses and Old Hairpin.
Eventually, with only a couple of laps remaining, the rear tyre on Linfoot’s machine began to fade and the Honda rider struggled for grip. This allowed Byrne to re-take the lead of the race and take the chequered flag by a margin of 0.589s.
Looking back at the opening weekend, Byrne said: “I’m made up with how the weekend’s gone given how I launched myself into orbit back in Spain. I’ve done everything possible to be on the grid but my fitness isn’t where I want it to be. The bike is very much a work in progress too, particularly with the balance and the team have been working hard all winter to improve.
“We opted for the harder tyre and with the increase in track temperature, the bike was the best it had been all weekend. To start the season with a first and a second is brilliant and fair play to the whole PBM Kawasaki Team, they’ve done a great job.”
Easton joined Byrne on the podium at the end of race two after a strong performance in third position. The Scot was able to stay with the leaders for the majority of the race, ready to pounce should they make any mistakes.
Easton would have finished higher than the 11th position he achieved in race one had he not suffered from arm pump. The 31-year-old hit a false neutral going into the Old Hairpin, causing him to go straight on and onto the grass.
Easton said: “I’m really happy to end the weekend with a podium as the first race was a bit of a disaster. I started to suffer with a little arm pump and I simply couldn’t pull the clutch in. It meant I hit a false neutral going into the Old Hairpin and it cost me the chance of a good result but third in the second race was a good way to finish.”
” I was still struggling a bit and whilst I could run the pace of Shakey and Dan, I couldn’t really challenge them but I’m more than pleased to start the season with a podium.”
The double podium finish for PBM in race two was the third-time that the team has achieved this, with Byrne and Easton finishing in the same positions at Oulton Park in 2012, whilst Tom Sykes led Byrne to a one-two finish at Donington back in 2007.
Donington also gave the PBM Kawasaki team a chance to give their Isle of Man TT rider, Ian Hutchinson, some time on the track ahead of the International road racing season.
Hutchinson qualified in 24th position and put in a solid performance yesterday to finish 18th in race one and then 20th in race two.
After the event, Hutchinson said: “I’m really pleased with how the weekend’s gone and to get so much mileage under my belt is great preparation for the Isle of Man TT. I’ve gone quicker than I’ve gone before here and was running in the company of some established BSB front runners so it’s been very positive.”
The weekend’s results leave Byrne top of the championship on 45 points, with a 12-point lead over Linfoot in second place. Easton meanwhile, finds himself sixth in the championship on 21 points, a point ahead of seventh-placed man Christian Iddon.
The second round of the 2015 BSB Championship takes place at Brands Hatch on April 17-19, where Byrne and the rest of the PBM team will be looking to continue their good form.