Carrick’s Glenn Irwin is targeting the rostrum at Silverstone this weekend as he prepares to make his Bennetts British Superbike race debut for new team Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki.
Irwin, who finished third in the Showdown in 2018, has made the switch to the championship-winning team after three seasons on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati.
The 29-year-old has made it no secret that he expects to be challenging for the BSB title this year as Irwin bids to retain the crown won in 2018 by Leon Haslam, who has moved up to World Superbikes in the factory Kawasaki team alongside reigning champion Jonathan Rea.
The recent BSB test at Silverstone may not have unfolded as Irwin had hoped, with the exuberant Ulsterman 12th fastest and six-tenths behind pacesetter Jason O’Halloran (McAMS Yamaha), but Irwin remains optimistic.
He claimed his maiden BSB victory at Silverstone in 2017 and the triple North West 200 Superbike winner is eager to make a strong start to the championship in the season opener this weekend.
Irwin – who finished on the podium twice at the former airfield circuit last year – said: “Testing threw up so many different results; the top three riders were constantly changing so no-one really knows who is going to come out on top yet.
“Jason O’Halloran finished the final test at the top of the time-sheets so he’s the one to watch currently.
“The competition looked strong in testing although I think some people were holding back so round one is going to be interesting.
“I am confident in the package that we have and that we can fight for the podium positions,” he added.
“The new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR is a phenomenal machine and the new engine has even more power. Although we didn’t quite manage to find the right setting for me during testing, I know what the bike is capable of. It’s been a long winter and I can’t wait to get racing.”
His younger brother, Andrew, will also make his debut for new team Honda Racing at Silverstone and has impressed during winter testing on the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2.
Irwin joins former World Superbike contender Xavi Fores in a new-look line-up and warmed up for round one by clocking the sixth quickest time in the official test at Silverstone, where he was only 0.399s from the top spot at the Northamptonshire circuit.
The 24-year-old moved from the World Supersport Championship last year to make his BSB debut after being drafted into Paul Bird’s PBM Be Wiser Ducati team as a replacement for the injured Shane Byrne.
Irwin was hugely impressive as a rookie and his performances earned a coveted call-up from Honda for 2019, when he has set his sights firmly on making the Showdown.
“Testing is done and dusted now and it’s almost a sigh of relief, as you know that racing is around the corner,” he said.
“I feel we’re in a good position and we know what direction we need to keep working in to keep improving. I said all along if we’re around the top-six I’m happy as the Showdown is my target, and we wrapped up testing sixth – so I can’t complain.
“Of course, you’re never delighted with sixth don’t get me wrong, but this is testing and it’s not always about where you finish, as that’s down to racing,” added Irwin.
“The team has done a great job, along with Xavi to bring the Fireblade to where we are now, which is a step in the right direction.
“I feel we’ve done as much as we can now and I’m happy and looking forward to Silverstone.”
Joining the Irwin brothers are Clogher’s Keith Farmer (Tyco BMW), who makes the step up to BSB after winning the Superstock 1000 title last year.
David Allingham will make his debut in the class on the EHA Racing Yamaha, while Ballinamallard’s Josh Elliott prepares to seize his chance on the OMG Suzuki.
In the Dickies British Supersport Championship, Alastair Seeley (EHA Racing Yamaha) is set to renew his rivalry with reigning champion Jack Kennedy.
Practice gets underway on Friday, with the two flagship BSB races scheduled for 1.30pm and 4.30pm on Sunday.