AS an early season appetizer it was just the biscuit, and now Kilkenny racer Damien Byrne is hoping to power on and turn 2012 into the best year ever, writes John Knox
“It only whetted my appetite,” said a smiling Byrne after following in the tyre treads of the late and great Joey Dunlop by winning the first big motor cycle racing title of the season, the Adelaide Masters Grand final in Mondello Park.
“I feel more confident these times. Last year really boosted my confidence. I was riding well. I had a good few pole positions and second places finishes.
“I trained hard over the winter mountain biking to get ready for this year so I could drive on. I think that has paid some dividends straight away. I am optimistic.”
Lat month’s Adelaide Masters Grand final featured all the fastest 600cc and 1,000cc Irish Superbike riders in the country. Fast? His 2008 Honda Fireblade bike pumps out 188bhp and is capable of speeds of up to 190mph.
The 12 laps in the Adelaide Grand final over the turning and twisting 1.8 mile track in Modello were covered in less than 12 minutes.
Damien Byrne from Cloneen, Clogh, Castlecomer, is consumed by his chosen sport, motor cycle racing. And sure why wouldn’t he be?
He has been knocking around bikes since he was a child. His father, Seamus Byrne owned a bike shop in Carlow and rode bikes and did a bit of racing. His uncle, Martin Nash, was a road racer who chalked up a couple of notable wins.
Racing on tarmac since 2005
Unlike his uncle, Damien is a track racer, as familiar a figure at Mondello Park as at Northern Ireland’s Bishopscourt or Kirkistown racing circuits.
He has been racing on the tarmac since 2005. Before that he did Supermoto racing (on three types of track - flat, motocross and road racing) and motocross (on an enclosed off road circuit).
He graduated to the bigger bikes in the middle of 2005, racing a Honda 600. The rise was meteoric. He shot up the ranks. His first 1,000cc was a Suzuki.
Damien entered the equivalent of an Irish junior championship, and after just three races found himself being bumped up to the top grade at national level.
“Usually that depends on where you finish in championships and so on,” Damien laughed when he recalled his zip through the grades. “I didn’t get a chance to finish any championship. I was moved up because I was at the front and my times were so good.”
He took to the higher circuit literally like a duck to water.
The Adelaide Masters was his first big, big win and it earned him the top pot of 1,000 euro.
Bike racing and high figure speeds conjure up all sorts of thoughts and fears.
Damien was philosophical: “It can be a dangerous sport. It is and it isn’t. It is not as bad as some people think. You minimise the dangers by planning safely and having all the best gear you can. The lads who are riding are all top level and they are all concerned about safety, their own and others in the race.They don’t do anything silly.”
Making ends meet, now that is a challenge of a different nature.
Damien chuckled. He is a pipe welder working in Intel, Leixlip.
“It is an expensieve game....very,” he admitted.
His main backers are his father’s SMB Maintenance company, J Tec Sports, Clane, Kildare and his employers, MCM Engineering in Bagenalstown, Carlow. With a season that runs from the end of March until October, and with a big meeting each month either North or South of the border, emptying the pocket is not difficult.
Currently he is competing in the Irish Superbike series, and he is in the top 10. The next round is on June 9 in Bishopscourt, Northern Ireland.
Damien and his father look after the bike, do all the maintenance and engine building. Costs?
“It is something I never added up because I was afraid to know,” he laughed. “This is a passion. I don’t do it for the money. We are at it a long time now and we haven’t gone under yet.
“The circuit is like a family. It is a closely knit thing. Everyone helps everyone else. The reaction to the Grand final win was very good, very positive.”
Relaxed at high speeds
In Mondello, speeds of up to 145mph would be the norm. The tracks in Northern Ireland would be faster. How does it feel shooting along at such speeds?
“You would be relaxed,” Damien said as cool as you like. “When you are fit enough, riding well and you have confidence you are relaxed doing the speed. It is a track, not a road. You known nothing is going to come out in front of you.”
As Damien looked to the future, he saw nothing but exciting prospects in terms of the possibilities in his sport.
“While this Adelaide Masters Grand final was a big win, I am far from satisfied,” he insisted. “It was only the start of the season. It was a good start. I was second in the Masters Championship overall last year. I was 28 or 29 points behind going into the final on the last weekend and I clawed that back to 11 points. I hope to drive on to bigger and better things this time.”
PS - Damien Byrne races in two championships in Ireland – the Irish Superbike Championship and the Adelaide Masters Series.
The Irish Superbike is run over 17 races throughout the year over six weekends on three tracks: Mondello Park in the South and Bishopscourt and Kirkistown in Northern Ireland.
At each weekend he has to qualify for a grid position and then points are awarded from 1st to 15th place. At the end of the season the person with most accumulated points is the ISB champion.
The Masters Series is run over 13 races throughout the year, over five weekends on two tracks: Mondello Park and Bishopscourt. At each weekend he has to qualify for his grid position and then points are awarded from 1st to 15th place. At the end of the season the person with most accumulated points is the Masters champion.
There is also a Masters Grand Final race which is separate to the championship. It includes the fastest 30 riders from all their races at the weekend. There is a mix of different classes of bikes (not just Superbikes). There is no points for this, just trophies.