Ambitious Irwin targets title success in make or break campaign
The Bennetts British Superbike Championship bursts into action on Monday at Donington Park with a number of Irish riders looking to make their mark on the UK scene in what is considered one of the most hotly contested series in the world.
Glenn Irwin (PBM Be Wiser Ducati) and Michael Laverty (Tyco BMW) will be targeting podium finishes in Monday's two races with both in similar positions - knowing that this is a make or break year.
Carrick rider Irwin (27) won a BSB race at Silverstone last year, but knows he must become more consistent to remain with the Paul Bird team beyond this season.
He remains upbeat ahead of the season after performing well in pre-season testing.
"I feel I have made a big step up over the off season with the team understanding what I want from the bike to make it a little bit easier," he said.
"It is great to be thinking that going into round one I can target podiums in both races as a minimum. That said, it's such a strong series with strength in depth of talented riders, but I'm confident we have what it takes to be a title contender this season."
Laverty of course has returned to the Tyco BMW fold after what was a disastrous 2017 for the talented 36-year-old Toomebridge rider.
He has won races at this level and been in the Showdown but, like Irwin, knows he is at a crossroads and that he has to challenge for podiums and a Showdown spot to continue in BSB for another year.
"Last year was a disaster," Laverty said. "It was only in the final meeting of the year at Brands Hatch that things seemed to come together, but the whole season was totally frustrating.
"I have to be consistently challenging for podiums and fighting for race wins this season to repay the faith Hector and Philip Neill have shown in me."
Of course, the man everyone has to beat is six-time BSB champion Shane 'Shakey' Byrne.
The 41-year-old is the defending champion and would love to win the title in what is Ducati's final season with their V-Twin machine before switching to the all-new V-4 for 2019.
Leon Haslam has finished runner-up in BSB three times and is among a long list of potential race winners that includes Josh Brookes, Peter Hickman, Laverty's Tyco BMW team mate Christian Iddon, James Ellison, Dan Linfoot, Jason O'Halloran and debutants Sylvain Barrier and Gino Rea.
Lisburn 25-year old Carl Phillips is going in at the deep end with Gearlink Kawasaki, stepping up from Superstock 1000.
Alastair Seeley, Keith Farmer and Josh Elliott are past winners of the National Superstock 1000 Championship - and all return to the class in 2018 with title ambitions for their respective teams, WD40/Stauff Kawasaki, Tyco BMW and Morrello Kawasaki.
Easter Monday also sees the Nutt Travel Ulster Motocross Championship burst into action around the superb Desertmartin GP track where Richard Bird will begin the defence of his MX1 title, but will have his hands full fending off the likes of Sean Devlin, Stuart Edmonds, Jordan McCaw, Robert Hamilton, Craig Browne and John Meara.
Racing commences at 11am.