Twelve months ago Carrick’s Andrew Irwin was making travel plans to compete in the World Supersport Championship for PTR Honda.
Now a year later he is part of the Honda UK British Superbike team and eagerly awaiting March to get back out testing the new CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 in Spain.
2018 was a mixed year for the 23-year-old as he started on the world stage with PTR Honda and completed the season in BSB riding for the BeWiser Ducati team alongside his brother Glenn. As a rookie in the class he showed massive potential putting the ‘Duke’ on the front row at the end of the year and narrowly missed out on a podium at the final race of the year at Brands Hatch. Something not overlooked by his new employer Honda UK.
“It was a certainly a roller coaster season,” recalled Andrew the youngest of four racing brothers.
“Last year when I went to world supersport I was really excited to race at world level and at the first test I was not far off the top guys like Mahias and Sofuoglu which gave me a lot of confidence going into the first round in Australia.
“Straight away I was fast but after only doing about twenty laps I crashed and broke my hand. That kind of ruined the rest of the season. I missed Phillip Island and although I was back for the next rounds I had lost a bit of confidence. The turning point was Assen, a track I knew and we started making progress and score the first points of the year.
“We continued to do the same at Imola and also Donington where I was inside the top ten. On a non-factory bike that was pretty good. It was then that I got the offer of the BeWiser Ducati ride. I went to Bruno for WSS then straight to Knock Hill for my first BSB test.”
Was Irwin disappointed to leave the world stage just when things seemed to be heading the right way?
“I didn’t have to leave. It was my choice,” he pointed out. “At the end of the day to turn down a factory ride in BSB was a no brainer.
“As riders we all want to win races and to come back to BSB on the Ducati was giving me a package that was ultra competitive and my best chance of winning again. To have a chance to win a BSB championship is every bit as good as winning a world supersport championship, in any stretch of the imagination.”
After three days at Bruno Andrew traveled through the night to the Scottish Knock Hill circuit, arriving at two in the morning, for the test.
“It was a shock to the system but after the test though I knew I could do a decent job in this class,” he said.
“In my head I knew I was going to do better than everybody thought I would. Off course there were going to be bumps along the road but straight away I was only half a second of Glenn. At Snetterton we were fast and to be honest it was a credit to the people I had around me at BeWiser Ducati.
“Everyone at the team made me very welcome but standing in for ‘Shakey’ (Byrne the reigning champion) I suppose made everyone a little disappointed as that side of the garage knew they weren’t going to win the championship. At the same time they now had this young guy on board and someone to work with and develop. Looking back there wasn’t a weekend that I wasn’t inside the top ten at some time.
“I crashed a little bit but still I was fast and I proved that at Cadwell Park when I came from last through to ninth. You can stop a fast rider crashing but you can’t make a slow rider fast.”
Assen again was a turning point for Andrew.
“I was trying to ride the bike like ‘Shakey’ but it wasn’t working so we changed the bike back the way it was at Snetterton and I immediately started to ride it better,” he explained.
“The final race of the season was Brand’s and it is a track I always go good at. In race one I got through to second passing Hickman, Mackenzie and Dixon, which was no mean feat as they are good riders. Then I had to bridge the gap to Glenn, which I did. I should have passed him but in my head I knew he was going for third in the championship and I didn’t want to do anything stupid but I still should have passed him and then slow the pace a bit. I should have won race two in the wet as I was over a second faster than anyone else but I made a stupid mistake and crashed. It annoyed me, but it’s all a learning curve.
“Now we go into 2019 with Honda, the most iconic brand in Irish racing with Joey Dunlop and Phillip McCallen having so much success with the Japanese manufacturer and I feel it is a team that can take me to the next level. I had a very positive first test on the new bike in the middle of December. Going into the test it was hard to have an expectation having only ridden one other superbike but it was like a breath of fresh air.
“I have a good feeling with the team. I like to keep my racing fun. It’s my job but you have to enjoy it at the same time. That’s what I like about the Honda UK team. They are strictly professional but at the same time fun to work with. I have a great crew chief in Darren Maisey ‘spider’ as he is known and I believe we can go to the next level together.
“We go into 2019 with an open mind but I believe we will make the show down. Once you are in the showdown anything can happen. I honestly think by the end of the year we can be fighting for race wins. It’s my first full year in superbikes and I have to be realistic but after a strong winters test we should be ready to go. If we are inside the top ten in the opening race we will have done a good job.”