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Kiefer Racing recently announced that their replacement for Danny Kent in the remaining rounds of the 2017 Moto2™ World Championship will be reigning British Supersport Champion Tarran 'Taz' Mackenzie, after Kent left the team ahead of the race at the Americas GP. If you're a follower of British Championship racing or have an eclectic memory of former Red Bull Rookies Cup riders, then of course the son of former Grand Prix rider and 3x British Superbike Champion Niall Mackenzie needs no introduction. However, such is the rarity of riders being plucked straight from the British Championship scene these days that, for those of you who may not know anything about the 21-year-old Scotsman, it's important to get an insight into the Brit ahead of his first encounter with a Suter at Le Mans.
Being the son of a successful motorcycle racer has its pros and cons. Since the day Tarran was born, much like his elder brother Taylor, racing paddocks were their surroundings and inevitably, both found their way onto two wheels rather quickly. With a father whose life, passion and career was bike racing, when Niall himself retired, more focus was switched to watching his sons grow and develop on motorcycles. Becoming a motorcycle racer isn't easy, and it's true to say that having a Dad who had been there and done it was an aid to both boys - but it doesn't come without pressure and expectation.
Taylor Mackenzie, being the eldest, was naturally the first to burst onto the racing scene and in very little time had shown promising signs onboard a 125GP bike at British Championship level, which led him into his first full season of Grand Prix racing in 2011, aged 18. It was a few years before that, whilst Taylor competed in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, that his younger brother Tarran was ready for his first big step into racing.
He was just 13-years-old when he competed at various championships on a 125, including one I was covering - the Aprilia Superteens. As well as the new Kiefer Racing rider having a successful father who had raced, his older brother was then showing a lot of promise - adding another load to the pint-sized Tarran, who made a 125cc production motorcycle look like a Suzuki Hayabusa. At this level, the likes of Casey Stoner, Chaz Davies and Cal Crutchlow had taken little time to display their talent before moving onto bigger things, but it didn't seem like a natural fit for Tarran from the off. In truth, with plenty of potential elsewhere on circuit, his size hampered his efforts and he wasn't entirely convincing, even with Niall stood by his side every step of the way.
It's at this stage of a young riders' career that big decisions have to be made between them and a parent. As Niall knew, it's a dangerous sport, and having control of a machine is of paramount importance - clearly Tarran's height wasn't helping at this stage. The questions will have been doing the rounds....Does the parent see the potential? Is it right to pursue it? And most importantly, does the rider 'want' to continue? A question that may not always be asked often enough.
Without pressuring Tarran, like any top former racer, Niall had the belief that he was capable and decided to take another route of a GP125 machine. It's a path so many have taken and the vast majority of riders who start out on production 125cc motorcycles were likely (then) to end up on a GP125 motorcycle, but only after they'd had a certain degree of success at the former.
There were others a lot quicker than Tarran at this point and a GP bike was lot faster than he was used to, but Niall knew that a smaller, lighter and a more nimble machine could unlock the potential. This would be the make or break move that decided his future. It proved to be a wise decision, and with more and more experienced gained at every hurdle over the next few years, things went from strength to strength.
Results improved, podiums followed and much like his brother, Tarran did a stint in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. In 2013, Tarran only narrowly missed out on the British Motostar Moto3 title, having racked up ten podiums and three wins. Moving up to a 600cc motorcycle was next and Tarran made light work of the transition to finish third overall in the British Superstock 600 championship in 2015, which led him into competing at British Supersport the following year.
There, Tarran made another huge leap forward and just as current MotoGP™ riders Cal Crutchlow and Sam Lowes had done in the past, he went on to take his first ever National Championship – as a rookie in the class. For this season, a defence of the BSS title was on the cards as he aimed to become the first rider since the late Karl Harris in 2003/04 to win the championship twice in as many years - and was unbeaten until the call came to race in Moto2™ with Kiefer Racing.
It's a credit to the British Championship itself that Tarran has been chosen, as it's such a fiercely competitive stage for any rider at any level and winning a title in the U.K is not done without exceptional talent and commitment.
Whilst handing out the accolades, Kiefer Racing could be seen to be taking a gamble on an unknown quantity. With ex-GP riders available and a star-studded FIM CEV Repsol Championship taken into consideration, opting for a rider like Tarran is not your usual move by a Grand Prix outfit with title-winning pedigree.
The most recognition should go to Tarran himself, however. Beyond the pressures of being involved in a successful racing family, and even with odds stacked against him in the past, he's shown to be as strong mentally as he is on circuit. Both he and his brother are incredibly well grounded and clearly have what is needed to compete on the world stage.
Tarran has some circuit experience at a few GP rounds left on the calendar for 2017, but the new Suter is a work in progress and other than the engine itself being 600cc, that's where the likenesses begin and end when you compare it to the bikes he's been winning on at British level. So easy it won't be, but few can doubt it's an opportunity he just couldn't refuse.
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