Andrew Irwin will continue racing in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship in 2019 after the series rookie made a big impression on his debut in the class this year.
The Carrickfergus prospect began the season in the World Supersport Championship with the PTR Honda team, but Irwin said the opportunity to join his older brother Glenn in Paul Bird’s Be Wiser Ducati outfit was too good to turn down.
He received the call-up after six-time champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne was badly injured in a crash during testing in May.
The 24-year-old had never ridden a Superbike before, but Irwin quickly gelled with the 1199 Panigale R and after achieving some solid top-ten results, he sensationally qualified on the front row in third place at Thruxton in August, joining his brother and pole man Glenn at the head of the grid.
Still on a steep learning curve, he crashed out uninjured in the opening race before regrouping to finish 11th in race two.
As his progress continued, last year’s British Supersport Championship runner-up clinched his best result of fourth place at Oulton Park behind eventual champion Leon Haslam.
Irwin equalled the same result at the final round of the season last weekend at Brands Hatch, charging through the pack to throw down a challenge to his brother Glenn, who went on to win the opening race.
Andrew slipped back in the closing stages and finished fourth, but it was another telling glimpse of his potential and the Ulster rider is now looking ahead to his first full season in BSB next year.
“I’m motivated to do a good job and I do feel I can go on to battle for the championship with a top team behind me,” he told the News Letter.
“For me, the realistic goal is to try and make the Showdown. I’m not saying I’m going to win it, but the initial goal is to make the Showdown and see where we are in the final few rounds.
“I haven’t completely done a deal yet, but I know what my mind is on. Hopefully something will be announced in the next few weeks,” he added.
“I had a verbal agreement to continue with PBM but obviously that changed with Scott (Redding) coming into the team. I felt a bit stressed out after that because I didn’t have another ride in place.
“I like things to be pretty concrete and I like to know what I’m doing,” he added.
“At Brands Hatch I pretty much knew what I was doing for 2019, so that made the weekend easier for me and I think it showed in the first race.”
Irwin - who has been linked to Tyco BMW and Honda Racing - admits he took a gamble by ditching his World Supersport ride in favour of the chance to race in BSB, but ultimately he feels it was the right decision.
“Whenever I left World Supersport to come to BSB, it was probably a risk, but one I felt I needed to take,” he said.
“The PBM team is one of the best teams in the BSB paddock, and arguably the best team. I had put so much time and commitment into World Supersport and spent a lot of money booking up flights for the whole year, so it was a big decision.
“I weighed it all up and decided that I couldn’t turn down the chance to go to BSB and ride for the best team on the best bike.
“It was the first time I had earned a wage and it made me feel wanted in the team, and in turn it makes you work harder as well. Thanks to Paul Bird for what was an amazing opportunity and I feel grabbed it with both hands,” added Irwin.
“I made some mistakes along the way but especially at Brands, I think I showed the progress I have made.”