The PBM Kawasaki Racing Team opened their 2015 MCE British Superbike Championship season in fine style at Donington Park today with reigning champion Shane 'Shakey' Byrne taking a win and a second place to take an early championship lead with team-mate Stuart Easton securing a podium place also.
Sittingbourne rider Byrne, aiming for his fifth MCE BSB title, qualified third for today's first 20-lap race and despite still suffering from a hand injury sustained in pre-season testing, was immediately locked in a battle for the lead with fellow Kawasaki rider James Ellison. With a difference in tyre strategies, Shakey hoped his harder rear tyre would come into force in the second half of the race but Ellison was able to hold on meaning Byrne had to settle for a close runner-up spot.
Scotsman Easton, from Hawick, was showing well in race one and challenging in the leading bunch but started to suffer from arm pump in the second half of the race and when he hit a false neutral going into the Old Hairpin, he ran wide and dropped down the order before clawing his way back to 11th at the chequered flag.
Race two saw the PBM Kawasaki pairing run inside the top three throughout the race and with Honda's Dan Linfoot also in the mix, a terrific three-way battle ensued. It was nip and tuck all the way with Byrne and Linfoot constantly changing positions but on the 18th lap, Byrne finally made his move count and he was able to take his 62nd career race win. Easton crossed the line close behind in third meaning the duo already occupy first and sixth in the championship table.
It was the third time the Penrith-based PBM team have scored a double BSB podium following Byrne and Easton claiming first and third at Oulton Park in 2012 and Byrne following Tom Sykes home in second and third at Donington Park back in 2007.
Meanwhile, third team member Ian Hutchinson was gaining valuable track time prior to the International road race season and the Yorkshireman from Bingley enjoyed a solid weekend where he was rewarded with 18th and 20th from the two races.
Shane Byrne: "I'm made up with how the weekend's gone given how I launched myself into orbit back in Spain. I've done everything possible to be on the grid but my fitness isn't where I want it to be. The bike is very much work in progress too, particularly with the balance, and the team have been working hard all winter to improve it. We opted for the harder tyre and with the increase in track temperature, the bike was the best it had been all weekend. To start the season with a first and a second is brilliant and fair play to the whole PBM Kawasaki Team, they've done a great job."
Stuart Easton: "I'm really happy to end the weekend with a podium as the first race was a bit of a disaster. I started to suffer with a little arm pump and I simply couldn't pull the clutch in. It meant I hit a false neutral going into the Old Hairpin and it cost me the chance of a good result but third in the second race was a good way to finish. I was still struggling a bit and whilst I could run the pace of Shakey and Dan, I couldn't really challenge them but I'm more than pleased to start the season with a podium."
Ian Hutchinson: "I'm really pleased with how the weekend's gone and to get so much mileage under my belt is great preparation for the Isle of Man TT. I've gone quicker than I've gone before here and was running in the company of some established BSB front runners so it's been very positive."
Paul Bird, Team Owner: "It's been a brilliant weekend for the team and I'm chuffed to bits with all three riders. The cream always rises to the top and Shakey's proved that again today even though he was struggling a bit with a bicep injury which we think may need a trip to a specialist for an MRI scan. To end up with a first and a second is unbelievable and a great start to the season for us. Stuart also rode brilliantly and I'm delighted he got onto the podium in the second race as it was the least he deserved. His two results don't really do him justice this weekend but we know he's going to be up there all year so we can't wait for the next round. Hutchy rode well all weekend too, putting in some strong, consistent lap times and it's great preparation for him and the team for when we get to the North West 200 and TT. We'll certainly be in a strong position."
The second round of the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship takes place at Brands Hatch in two weeks' time (17/19th April). For more information, please visit www.britishsuperbike.com and the brand new team website www.pbmuk.net.
MCE British Superbike Championship Race One - 20 laps
1 James Ellison (Kawasaki)
2 Shane Byrne (PBM Kawasaki)
3 Josh Brookes (Yamaha)
4 Dan Linfoot (Honda)
5 Peter Hickman (BMW)
6 Tommy Bridewell (BMW)
11 Stuart Easton (PBM Kawasaki)
20 Ian Hutchinson (PBM Kawasaki)
MCE British Superbike Championship Race Two - 20 laps
1 Shane Byrne (PBM Kawasaki)
2 Dan Linfoot (Honda)
3 Stuart Easton (PBM Kawasaki)
4 Peter Hickman (BMW)
5 Christian Iddon (Suzuki)
6 Josh Brookes (Yamaha)
18 Ian Hutchinson (PBM Kawasaki)
Championship Points (after round one)
1 Byrne 45pts
2 Linfoot 33
3 Ellison 29
4 Brookes 26
5 Hickman 24
6 Easton 21
Pictures courtesy of Jon Jessop Photography