Continuing the racing legacy: At home with Tarran Mackenzie

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Tarran Mackenzie followed in his dad’s footsteps this year by taking the BSB title for the first time.

25 years after Niall became the first champion of the modern era, Tarran came of age and topped a sensational year of Superbike racing. MCN’s Josh Close spent the day with the new champ.

Setting the goals

“When you go out with the confetti and do the selfie with Stuart [Higgs] and Jonathan [Palmer], I’d visualised that so much in my head. It felt so good and exactly how I imagined, if not better,” Taz explained when asked if becoming champion felt like he thought it would.

“I didn’t quite think I’d be shouting as much; I’d lost my voice by that point. You dream about these things, and you never know if it’s going to happen.”

Lifting the BSB crown as father and son

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Taz’s title is special for many reasons. It comes a quarter of a century after his dad’s maiden crown, he overhauled his runaway teammate’s advantage, he improved himself as a rider and he did it in style with a hat-trick at Brands.

He’d finally put a full campaign together after edging closer each season. He’d turned things around on a Friday, become more consistent, won more, scored more podiums. He even won at Oulton.

“I set little goals, and, in my mind, I thought if I set these little goals, it would eventually make the big goal more achievable. Improving little things made a big difference.”

The turning point

After Cadwell, he became almost unstoppable, winning eight of the final 15 races and securing 11 podiums. Something had clicked, and Taz had evolved, despite coming into Snetterton with a broken finger. The bike felt the same, his finger wasn’t bothering him, and he won.

“I’d just had the worst round of my career; beaten myself up, broken my finger, hadn’t done much preparation in-between, but I still rocked up and could still beat Jason and Tommy when they were in the form of their lives.”

If Snetterton gave him confidence, Oulton put him in dreamland. Fears off falling 60 points behind O’Halloran, turned into a two-point advantage. A win for Mackenzie, two crashes for O’Halloran. The latter’s beloved track had turned on him.

“I thought God, this is mine to lose now, I’m not letting go of this, and I’ll do anything to win. It was leaving Oulton Park when I thought ‘I can win this now’. Before then I didn’t think it was realistic.”

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Civil war in the squad

The year was far from easy. Taz and O’Halloran are not the best of friends. Ever since Taz took O’Halloran out at Silverstone in 2019, things have been frosty.

Fighting for a title wasn’t going to help, and another Silverstone clash, albeit in different circumstances, added fuel to the fire. Taz highsided and O’Halloran had nowhere to go. Cue heated debate. Whatever was said or done, it motivated both riders because they secured a double one-two the following day, each taking one victory.

“It’s no secret, there is no real friendship but there aren’t many friendships in most teams. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s a competitive sport; he doesn’t want me to beat him, and I don’t want him to beat me. We all want the same thing, but only one person can get that.

“It’s fine because we still shake hands and say well done after each race. The sportsmanship is there. If it wasn’t and he wasn’t willing to say that, and vice versa, then there would be more tension.”

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Doing it as a family

Even before Tarran crossed the line you knew that the tears would be flowing from Niall, mum Jan and brother Taylor. It’s a fantastic network of love, trust, guidance, and experience.

Niall, as he always has, heads out around the circuits to watch his sons, almost as a spotter, making suggestions based on what others are doing, or what each is doing right or wrong.

When asked whether they share any traits, Taz points out that they both have the attitude of never giving up, always giving 110%, and being cool, calm and collected. So, what’s the best bit of advice Niall has given his son?

“He’s always said, in any scenario, never get flustered. If something happens out on track or you have a problem don’t get hot-headed. Never let your emotions get the better of you, because if you do, you could end up taking that onto the track and it could end in a bad way. I feel that’s what won me the title heading into the last round, I was relaxed and that was key.”

Equally important is the bond with brother Taylor. Whether they were chilling out, or sharing advice and keeping each other positive, the duo have always done their upmost to support each other – something Tarran admits he’ll miss following Taylor’s decision to retire.

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Overcoming the hype

Of course, being a Mackenzie led to Taz being hyped up almost immediately even though he came to McAMS Yamaha with no Superbike experience.

“I got to round six in my first year and I was on for a podium, but I crashed, and everybody was a disappointed. I thought, God, there’s not many rookies who come in and finish on the podium in their first year. Some people go three or four years without taking a podium.

“Later in the same year I was leading at Assen and Silverstone, going head-to-head with Leon Haslam, who has been racing since before I was born. I didn’t win a race in 2018, but I think everybody expected me to.

“Then in 2019, it was like: ‘When is he going to win his first race?’ I think the pressure did get to me a little bit.”

The shortened six-round 2020 season helped Mackenzie find his confidence, with little time to think about anything other than riding. Coming into 2021 under the radar, he believes expectations were a little lower, allowing him to thrive.

Top of the class

The Showdown will never be 100% supported. Your side of the fence will be determined by whether you’re team Mackenzie or team O’Halloran. The first half of 2021 went O’Halloran’s way, the second went Mackenzie’s way.

O’Halloran won 11 races, Mackenzie won 10. O’Halloran secured 22 podiums, Mackenzie secured 19. Ultimately, Mackenzie outscored O’Halloran at seven of the 11 rounds, and took himself to the next level.

“I didn’t know if I could handle situations like going into the last round leading the championship. I thought I could but it’s one thing thinking it, and another doing it.

“I’ve learnt that I can handle a situation like that. All of the experience and knowledge I’ve gained over the years paid off. I realised that I could do it no matter what the situation was.

“I can manage it and remain level-headed the whole time. You can be level-headed and finish fifth and that’s fine, but winning races every weekend is hard, so keeping my head at that point was something I realised I can actually do.”

Plenty of BSB trophies for Tarran Mackenzie

Sharing the pressure

Taz’s support network goes beyond the family. The new champ has a strong relationship with team boss Steve Rogers, and relies on the expertise of personal manager, Michael Laverty.

The connection with Rogers started long before his arrival in the Superbike class in 2018. Rogers sponsored Taz during his Superstock 600 days, whilst Taz worked for Rogers at the NEC show, selling boots, helmets, and gloves between 2013 and 2016. Taz joined Rogers’ Supersport team in 2017 but left for Moto2 during the season.

“The friendship with Steve has always been there,” he explains. “Whether we’ve been rivals or I’ve been in a different championship, he’s always been the same Steve Rogers. He’s the perfect team manager. He’s always smiling and tries to help you when things aren’t right. Steve’s been a friend as well as a team manager.”

Laverty came on board to relieve the stress when it came to contracts. The two speak daily over a BSB weekend, whilst Laverty’s experience is a real asset.

“He doesn’t get too involved during the race weekend, but he’s just a nice person to have around me. He’s the boffin, and he knows everything. If I’m stuck with something, he’s got the experience and can help me from both the technical and riding side.

“He gives me more confidence on and off the track. Michael’s not there from a business point of view like some managers are, who simply do their job and go home, he’s like a full life coach for me!”