British Superbike team owner Paul Bird has hailed Ulster’s Glenn Irwin as a ‘huge talent’ after confirmation on Friday evening that he had signed the 25-year-old for 2016.
Irwin told the News Letter last Tuesday that he had sealed a deal to make his debut in the elite domestic short circuit series next year and the livewire Carrick man was duly revealed as four-time BSB champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne’s team-mate in an official PBM statement issued around 7pm, with the pair set to ride factory-supported Ducati Panigale R machines after Bird’s anticipated change of manufacturer from Kawasaki.
The deal represents a massive opportunity for Irwin, who has spent the last two seasons in the Gearlink Kawasaki team in the British Supersport Championship.
“Glenn is a rider I’ve had my eye on for a while and is a huge talent, so now is the time to step up to a Superbike and I’ve every confidence in his ability,” said team boss Bird.
“2016 will be our 21st consecutive year in racing and we are the first team to confirm our line-up for next season, which demonstrates our intention of challenging for the MCE BSB Championship.”
The team will be backed by new title sponsor Be Wiser Insurance and Irwin and Byrne will begin testing immediately after Sunday’s final BSB round at Brands Hatch, with a shakedown planned at Valencia in Spain signalling the beginning of an extensive winter testing programme.
One drawback of Irwin’s dream deal for Ulster fans is that he may be forced to shelve his road racing commitments next year, telling the News Letter last week that it was ‘less likely’ that he would be able to compete at the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix, but stopping short of ruling out a return to the international meetings altogether.
Irwin was a sensation at both events this year, finishing on the Supersport rostrum once at the North West and twice at Dundrod.
He was second fastest on Friday in wet free practice at Brands Hatch and will be gunning for victory in Saturday afternoon’s British Supersport Sprint race (4.30pm).
Byrne, meanwhile, headed the BSB times but is 47 points behind Milwaukee Yamaha’s Josh Brookes ahead of the triple-header finale and seems poised to lose his crown to the Aussie as the Showdown reaches a conclusion.
The opening BSB race takes place on Saturday over 20 laps at 3.45pm.