Tarran Mackenzie heads to Brands Hatch 10 points ahead in his bid for the Bennetts British Superbike Championship crown this weekend.
Having already achieved seven victories and nine other podiums, alongside the King of Brands, Donington and Snetterton ‘Race of Aces’ titles, the 25-year-old is having a stellar season, his fourth with the McAms Yamaha squad, despite the early disruption.
“You kind of forget that we had all that time off at the start of the year and the season didn’t start till June but since then it’s been pretty full on really,” Mackenzie began, reflecting on his 2021 so far. “Either back to back races or only a weekend off in between, it’s been full on but I’ve enjoyed it.
“Managed to stay injury free sort of,” he continued. “Even though I did get injured I still managed to turn up and race the following weekend so I’ve been lucky on that side. But yeah, three races a weekend, every weekend, it has been tough but luckily it’s all gone pretty good so I can’t really complain.
“I went into Oulton Park, at the first round not having a great pre-season test really so I didn’t know what to expect but that final race was a real confidence booster for me. Finishing near the podium and having the fastest lap, which was like a win for me really that, because I’d never been that close before! I went to Knockhill, got two podiums, and then Brands after that I got my first win and since then I’ve pretty much been on the podium, at every round just about - except Cadwell I think. It’s not been consistently strong at the start, it has been a progressive build but it’s come good at the right time!”
While it seems like a successful and straightforward story, it has been anything but. Mackenzie’s peak performance has gone hand-in-hand - no pun intended - with two injuries, neither of which the plucky Leicestershire resident seems to have let get in his way.
“Cadwell was a struggle,” he admitted. “It’s always been a struggle for me. So to walk away there with a broken finger, I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll take that’. I was lucky to get away with just a broken finger really, where I crashed. Going to Snetterton, I didn’t quite know what to expect but that was my strongest weekend of the year so far - having a win, a second and a win - and at that point I thought, ‘Okay, it’s not too bad this injury, I’ve got away with that, let’s not try and get another one by the end of the year’.
“I then I went to Silverstone and broke my hand and broke my wrist. That was a struggle Saturday night. I didn’t think the championship was over but I was thinking this is gonna be hard to manage this now. Woke up Sunday, didn’t feel great but I kind of gritted my teeth, got on the bike and went alright in warm up and since then, I’ve rode Silverstone, on Sunday, Oulton Park, and then Donington all with injuries really.
“Oulton Park was a real tough one, probably more tough than Silverstone. So to walk away there with a first and a podium, and then a fifth I think, after the penalty, was great. Obviously went into Oulton Park the start of the showdown, with an injury, 30 points behind, thinking, ‘This is going to be hard now, but give it my all, don’t know what can happen’ and then ended up walking away with the championship lead!
“The worst part about it is putting the glove on, and taking it off,” he explained further. “If you can put your glove on, you think, ‘Right, if you can do that, then, once a bit of adrenaline kicks in and the painkillers kick in, you might be alright on the bike’. It was painful to start with, like in the first few laps in any session or race but then after that it kind of got into a way of riding differently to try and manage the pain as best as possible. Then when the adrenaline kicks in and you’re trying to fight for a win you kind of forget about it really. It’s only when you come in and you go to take the gloves off normally you’re like, ‘Ah yeah, I have got a broken hand!’ Yeah, it’s a tough one, but it’s all part of the sport, I guess.”
Brands, as ever, heralds the season finale, one that year-on-year delivers anything-can-happen racing. 2021 sees Mackenzie pitted against his Yamaha Teammate Jason O’Halloran - who was dominantly leading the way up until the Showdown deciders - with Ducati’s Christian Iddon and Tommy Bridewell hotly on the approach. Just 21 points now covers the top four challengers, with 75 up for grabs in the final three races.
“I’ve spoke with my side of the team that we’re just going to approach it like a normal weekend,” the championship leader explained of his impending strategy.
“If you forget the championship, it is just a normal race weekend. Brands, I left there in a real strong place, I was the ‘King of Brands’, I had my first win there at the start of the year and I think I was on the podium in every race. So I left there in a real good place, we’ve improved the bike a little bit since then and I feel like I’m in a better place now. I kind of went into that meeting at the start of the year hoping to win, and managed to get it but I wasn’t comfortable, whereas the last round at Donington, winning that dry race, I felt really comfortable. I think, just take the confidence from each round that we’ve progressed nicely, into Brands and just try and have three solid results and the rest will take care of itself really.
“Going into this last round, I haven’t just focused on Jason,” he continued. I think Tommy and Christian are close as well, I can’t just focus on Jason because then I lose track of what the other two are doing really.
“It’s good for the team that we’re both going in with a chance of winning the championship, there’s no other team that can do that this weekend so we’ve got two opportunities or two chances of winning it, which is good for the team. But for myself, Jason’s obviously had a bit of a struggle these past two rounds, but I know that he will do his best to bounce back. Christian obviously had a strong Donington, Tommy’s been strong from Oulton, so I just need to just focus on myself, but then also keep one eye on what the others are doing. I’m in a great position leading the championship, I’ve got 10 points, so I feel like I’ve got an advantage over the others. I just need to just use that to my advantage really and just play it by ear in the races but yeah, anything can happen! We didn’t expect Jason to have the Oulton Park he had this year, going into the Showdown. Anything can happen but if I just focus on myself then, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be and the rest will take care of itself.”
There’s one added pressure for Mackenzie this weekend, in the form of his father - former Grand Prix racer and three-time BSB champion - Niall’s impressive history. Mackenzie senior claimed his first British Superbike title the year after his youngest son was born, and on Yamaha machinery. This season marks the 25th anniversary and for many, the stars would align if Tarran was to do the same.
“Honestly all year I haven’t thought about that at all,” he admitted on the occasion. “I think BSB have bigged up this big 25 years from the first BSB season since Dad won it and I’ve honestly not thought about it until I went into Donington Park and we did some pictures and a few interviews. It was talked about and I thought ‘God, yeah it is 25 years, like I wasn’t even one years old when that happened!’
“So is it a bit crazy that it’s come down to this and I’m on a Yamaha as well, so it is mad, but I haven’t really thought about it too much. If it happened, it would be a little bit of a fairytale, it’d be emotional for everyone, with it being 25 years on since Dad won his title, and on a Yamaha and everything, it’s a bit crazy but I don’t think it adds any pressure really.
“It doesn’t make a difference, I don’t get extra money for winning just because it’s 25 years old since Dad’s done it. Definitely not from him! But it’s pretty cool that I’m in this position and it is a bit of a fairytale really.”