Motorcycling: Fast learner Lowes promises to end Byrne’s run of victories at Brands

The British Superbike champion is chasing a fourth title but has lost his speed advantage

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The Independent Online

Alex Lowes, at 22 the brightest young hope in the British Superbike Championship, refuses to be swayed by the mountain of statistics weighed against him when he confronts the  36-year-old reigning champion Shane Byrne here tomorrow.

Lowes has won only four BSB races to Byrne’s 48. The new boy has contested 63 BSB races, while Byrne benefits from a 229-race learning curve. On his 1000cc Kawasaki ZX10, Byrne is hoping to win his fourth BSB title this year, while Lowes, on a Honda Fireblade, has yet to earn his first.

But, with youth’s blazing optimism on his side, Lowes remains undaunted. “Shane is probably riding as well as he has ever done, and he’s got everything going for him,” said the lad from Lincoln. “He has this big target in his head about winning four titles, which no one has ever done. I’m not saying he’s now as good as he is going to get, but he’s going to be a little bit worried.”

Last year a late burst  towards the end of the season put Lowes in touching distance of the title going into the final round of three races at Brands Hatch. Unfortunately he crashed out of two and suffered a breakdown in the other. Byrne raced on to clinch the title, and has now won his last seven outings at the 2.4-mile Kent circuit.

“But I like Brands as well – it’s a track that suits me,” Lowes said. “I pushed him there last year until I crashed. I’ve beaten him at Snetterton and Oulton Park this year, so I can beat him at Brands as well.”

Lowes’s ambition is by no means fuelled by exuberance alone. “Last year I was with a privateer team. This year I’ve got a factory Honda,” he added. “It’s great with Honda. I was like a sponge at the beginning of this year in pre-season testing, trying to learn as much I can from them, from my team-mate, from the mechanics, from everyone.

“The biggest thing I am impressed with is how much they improve the bike from the information that I give them. There’s a noticeable improvement the next time I get back on the machine, and for a rider that’s a  fantastic feeling.”

Even the knowhow of experienced Samsung Honda team manager Havier Beltran and his technicians could not prevent Byrne’s Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki from enjoying a top-speed advantage in the early stages of this season. But Lowes takes a positive attitude on this, too.

“His bike is fastest on the straight, so you can’t pass him on the brakes,” Lowes said. “You just have to be more precise with your pass, and set it up a couple of corners beforehand.”

The fact that Byrne has won seven times this season and Lowe just twice does not mean too much in the overall championship at this stage. BSB rules are framed to give the spectator maximum entertainment, so after nine rounds the top six point-scorers are named Title Fighters, and in effect start from fresh over the final three “Showdown” rounds.

Purists may deplore this system – derived from American Nascar racing – but it allows a challenger such as Lowes to build experience and confidence through the season.

“It’s coming to the halfway point in the championship, so it’s important to keep the good results coming,” Lowes said. “I finished last year really strongly, and it gave me confidence over the winter. My whole aim was to get off to a good start this year, and that’s what we’ve achieved.”

Byrne’s crew chief, John Mowatt, said: “I think the others have caught us in top speed. It was evident to see at the last round at Snetterton. No one manufacturer is now able to pull out of the slipstream.” Now Lowes has a double opportunity tomorrow to  depose the master, reaching speeds of 170mph over two 18-lap contests on one of the world’s greatest racetracks.

Lowes factfile: Alex’s CV

Born 14 September, 1990, Lincoln

2002 Took up road-racing, finishing second in JRA Championship, aged only 11.

2005 Debut on British Superbikes circuit, running in the 125GP class.

2007 Rides for Honda CBR in British Supersport Championship.

2008 Rides for Kawasaki in Euro-pean Superstock Championship.

2010 Signs for Suzuki in British Superbikes. But the team folds before season. Rides various bikes instead.

2011 Rides for WFR Honda and Kawasaki.

2012 Rides for WFR Honda only. Finishes fourth in British Superbike Championship.

2013 Moves to Samsung Honda. Currently sits second overall.