British Superbikes: Battered Shane Byrne takes it easy in bid to deny Lowes first title

Championship leader shakes off two crashes and is one point ahead going into final weekend

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The Independent Online

Shane Byrne limped into the media centre here yesterday and gave a graphic description of what it feels like to crash a racing motorcycle at 140mph. “Dress yourself up in the best Alpinestar leathers and Shoei  helmet like I’ve got, then jump out of your car at that speed and see how you feel. Ultimately, that’s what  happened,” the reigning British Superbike champion said.

Byrne, 36, was tipped off his 1000cc Kawasaki ZX-10R by his closest rival for the Superbike title, the 23-year-old Honda Fireblade rider Alex Lowes, at the Assen circuit in the Netherlands recently. Then Byrne crashed again in practice at Silverstone two weeks ago, and walked to his bike on crutches  before he pulled out a mind-boggling recovery to beat Lowes by 12 thousandths of a second.

There was no sign in that performance of an older rider ceding gracefully to a younger, hungrier rival. But the Londoner is now taking a new  approach to the healing game as he confronts the finale of the title fight here at Brands this weekend.

“My desire to get this job done has been telling me, ‘Come on, let’s go training, let’s cycle, let’s go to the gym, let’s swim further than anyone else, let’s do everything we can to make this job happen,’” Byrne said.

“But my body’s just said, ‘Dude, you need to kick back for a bit. You need some time to start feeling like a body again’. So I’m coming into this round in a remarkably relaxed state of mind. I’ve had some rest and I’ve given my body some time to heal.

“My injuries are nowhere near as bad as they were at Silverstone. I’m hoping that by not thinking about this round too much, not worrying about what the weather’s going to do, and not contemplating strategies for this and that, I’ll be feeling fresh and looking forward to the racing.

“My passion and desire to win is sometimes too strong. But for once I’ve listened to my head. Now I want to win three races.”

The first of these encounters takes place today, the final two tomorrow, and the stakes are huge. Byrne seeks a record fourth British title, and leads Lowes by just a single point. But the younger man is fired by the prospect of winning the first major title of  his career.

“I feel as though whatever I have ever done comes down to this weekend, and then I get nervous and scared,” Lowes said. “The whole of my career has been building towards winning the British Superbike championship. This is now, this is the chance, and I’m going to make it happen.”

Lowes immediately accepted the blame for the incident that punted Byrne into the gravel at Assen, but  insists that the two of them remain friends. “I’ve learnt so much from following Shane and racing with him this year,” Lowes said. “I was impressed by him at Silverstone. But it takes a special person to win this championship three times, and I had no doubt he would be strong there.

“Now it’s just him and me, doing something together and sharing an  appreciation of racing.”

Should anything happen to the big two, the 33-year-old Cumbrian rider James Ellison lurks in the wings, 42 points behind Byrne, on his Yamaha. Should the heat of battle take both Lowes and Byrne off the track – and anything can happen when riders are only centimetres apart at up to 170mph – Ellison could bounce into contention.

Lowes illustrated the challenges of racing by talking about his favourite corner at Brands, the Clearways right-hander that feeds riders on to the grandstand straight. “There’s a big  undulation on the exit, just before you get on the power,” he said. “You’re doing 120mph in fourth gear, and  if you get it wrong you end up fighting the bike all the way down  the straight.”

Byrne led yesterday’s practice sessions by 0.395 seconds from Lowes. His rivals will now be wondering how his battered body will stand up to a total of three hours of practice and qualifying and 58 laps of racing over the three-day event.