Paul Bird, owner of the most successful team in the history of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship, has died aged 56 following a short illness.
Bird’s PBM team has amassed a long list of accolades over the years, including eight BSB titles and four Isle of Man TT wins, plus victories at the North West 200, Macau Grand Prix and Daytona 200.
Throughout the highs and lows, Bird’s commitment, passion and dedication to motorcycle racing was unrivalled. In fact, a discussion about British motorcycle racing wouldn’t be complete without including Paul and his team. A polarising figure, Bird elevated the bar in BSB and also dared to take on the world in the World Superbike Championship and MotoGP.
Bird was a fast racer in his own right, securing a trio of Irish Supermoto titles and setting a new record at the Barbon Hillclimb on a Honda CR500.
PBM launched in 1996, but Bird had already supported riders prior. Alongside Chris Palmer and James Haydon, Bird helped Scott Redding and MotoGP champion Casey Stoner in their early days. Bird even trained with Stoner, with the pairing often running together.
PBM’s first victories came in 1999 when John McGuinness won the Lightweight TT and British 250 title. In 2000 Joey Dunlop won the F1 TT race on the Vimto Honda SP-1 at the age of 48.
Back on the short circuit, Bird swapped Honda for Ducati in 2001 in a move that would launch BSB domination. Steve Hislop duly won the 2002 title on the Monster Mob Ducati 998 before being controversially replaced by a young Shane Byrne.
Critics were against the move but just 12 months later ‘Shakey’ was the champion. Byrne also made history by doing the double with PBM as a WSB wildcard at Brands Hatch that year.
With two BSB titles in the bag Bird jumped ship to WSB in 2008. After finishing as the top privateer with Honda, a dream opportunity arrived to become Kawasaki’s official team.
Success came on the old and new ZX-10R with Tom Sykes taking Kawasaki’s first win in five years at the Nürburgring in 2011. Sadly, the dream would come to a premature end due to an incident out of Bird’s control away from the circuit.
PBM quickly ventured into another fascinating project – building their own MotoGP machine. The project was spearheaded by technical director Philip Borley.
PBM ran an ART machine in 2012 before adding their own GP bike to the mix in 2013. James Ellison secured an ART win at Le Mans in 2012, whilst Broc Parkes clinched 11th at Assen on the GP machine in 2014. PBM left MotoGP at the end of that year.
A full-time return to BSB followed in 2014 and Byrne, who’d won his second (third overall) title with PBM in 2012, secured another championship crown.
After being comfortably beaten by Josh Brookes in 2015, history repeated itself when Bird linked up with Ducati once more. Byrne added two more titles to his CV whilst a bold move to bring MotoGP star Redding to BSB ended in title number seven in 2019.
Bird’s last title success came in 2020 when Brookes claimed the title after getting the better of fellow Aussie Jason O’Halloran.
Two tough years followed, with both Brookes and 2022 teammate Sykes failing to make it into the Showdown. In true Bird fashion though, the determination was there to rebuild, and he moved quickly to sign Glenn Irwin and Tommy Bridewell – his eye for talent and need to win shining through.
It’s worked. Bridewell and Irwin are first and second in the championship heading into the final three rounds after dominating the opening eight rounds. Between them, Bridewell and Irwin have secured 13 victories and 27 podiums between them so far this year.