Andrew Irwin will jump from the British Supersport championship to the world stage in 2018. It's a step into the unknown for the Northern Irishman, but he's latest in a long line of talent
“There's something in the water over there” was said a lot about Northern Ireland in 2017. Jonathan Rea headlined that success by romping to his third consecutive WorldSBK title, but with riders such as Keith Farmer, Andrew Irwin, and Alastair Seeley dominating British Supersport, there's a lot of depth. Irwin will be stepping onto the world stage this year and joining his compatriots Rea and Eugene Laverty in the WorldSBK paddock.
“I'm really excited about going into World Supersport. It's a complete unknown for me and it's a massive change coming from the British championship, where I've been racing for the past four years. I know the circuits and the paddock in Britain and now I'll be going to somewhere that it's all new. I'm going to be on the Honda with an established team [Simon Buckmaster's CIA Landlord Insurance – DE] that's shown they can do the job in World Supersport. Hopefully I can go and do the bike and the team justice.
“I've not set any targets for next year yet. I've not ridden the bike or been out on track with the other riders so it's tough to know the position that I'll be in. Until the Philip Island test though we won't really know where we are. The only goal I have is to improve going through the season and make progress step by step. The step from Britain to WorldSSP is a big step but it's one that I think I'm capable of making.”
Fast and aggressive
The 23 year old finished runner-up to Keith Farmer in 2017 during a season where he hit the headlines as an aggressive rider who became a consistent podium contender. Had he stayed in Britain Irwin would have been a title favorite, but knowing that the clock was ticking he's made the move to World Supersport. Highlight reels of the British series were filled with his overtaking moves, crashes and the aggression that marks his racing.
That aggression is something that Eugene Laverty was keen to mention when assessing Irwin.
“Andrew’s one of those riders that makes a race exciting,” said Laverty. “He has a never-say-die attitude and I enjoyed watched him improve race on race during 2017. I raced with the CIA Landlord Insurance Honda team for two seasons and I can't think of a better team to help Andrew find his feet on the world stage. There's lots to learn, but the most important is the feeling of the tires on a hot track. A 40°C asphalt temperature isn't something you experience in the UK!”
For Irwin the chance to race in the same paddock and learn from Laverty and Rea is an added bonus from moving to World Supersport.
“Every young rider looks up to Jonathan and Eugene. Hopefully I'll be able to get some tips off them and learn a bit from what they've been able to do to get to the top level of WorldSBK. I've always looked up to Eugene because of the way that he rides and how he goes about things. He's very mathematical and structured. It must be something in the family because he's the same in that way as Michael. I'm looking forward to talking to both of them about what they've done in the past to get to where they are now.”
Fast is in the blood
Of course for Irwin he can also look much closer to home for inspiration with two of his older brothers also world class racers.
“Growing up as kids we all had the drive and ambition to win at whatever we've been doing. We could have been playing football, the Playstation or anything, but we all wanted to be the best. That competitive nature has brought out the best in all three of us. Graeme is the British champion and will be racing in MXGP next year, Glenn is racing at the top level of BSB and racing for a factory team, and now I'm getting a chance to race in the world championship. Hopefully in another couple of years we'll all be racing in world championships.”
For Glenn the transformation in his brother over the last year has been in his work ethic away from the circuit.
“It can be tough for riders when you're younger, and a couple of years ago he was working full-time and he couldn't put in the kind of effort needed to match his talent. Last year though I saw a huge change in him and he made a big step forward with everything. He was always fit and strong and a good cyclist but he made a big step forward. I've always tried to give him advice but it's a sign of maturity that he was able to take that advice and make that progress. Being able to put in the time away from the track is what makes the difference in this sport. It's not just about technical ability on the bike it's about everything you do.
“On track Andy is aggressive and always wants to make a move. If there's a simple move to be made into a hairpin he'll take the other approach! Initially that was seen as a madness but he's refined it and he's made it into a weapon. If you look at the likes of Kenan Sofuoglu, he takes the same approach in always wanting to get ahead of someone as soon as possible. Away from the track Andy is very mature and he's a straight talker and says what he thinks. You always know where you stand with him and he's very much a straight up guy.”
With the World Supersport season starting on 25 February in Australia the clock is counting down towards the start of Irwin's world championship career. Having decamped to Spain to train he's keen to ensure expectations are kept in check.
“I'll be training in Spain during January. The weather is definitely better than in Northern Ireland at the minute! That'll help with my training and to be ready for Australia. I don't want to set goals but I'll give it 110% and see what the outcome is and I'm sure that after the first round we'll know where we stand. I can't wait for Australia and I'll have my girlfriend and my family down there. It'll be nice to have them for my first world championship race. It's a bit like your first day of school when your mam or dad take you in!”
Like starting a new school there'll be lessons to learn. Irwin has learned many in recent years the hard way but the development he's shown has left another of Northern Ireland's racers, former MotoGP rider Michael Laverty, in no doubts that the talent and mental approach to make a name for himself.
“Andrew is fast, super aggressive and he's definitely brave! Sometimes that can you into problems on track but he's got the speed and the correct attitude needed. He knows that he's got a big challenge ahead of himself for this year with a new paddock and new rivals, a new team and pretty much a full season of new tracks to learn. It's a lot to take on in year one but I think he's got the speed and ability to cut it at the world level. You need to get off to a reasonable start and build on it because it's not easy to go from British to World Supersport. Other riders have done it in the past and I'm looking forward to seeing how Andrew does.”
If Irwin can put those lessons in place Glenn Irwin is sure that the future is bright for his younger brother.
“I believe that in two years time he can be a world champion. I think that with continuity with the team and a good learning year in 2018 that for his second season he can be World Supersport champion. He's got all the attributes needed and he's got the right attitude now. In 2019 with another year of experience I really believe that he can do it.”
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