‘I like a rider who falls off now and again…’ - Whitham

| | British Superbikes
Picture: Impact Images

If ever the performance of a rider gave a clear indication that he was destined for greater things it was the one given by Tarran Mackenzie at Brands Hatch.

In a season that began with a serious injury while testing in Spain, followed by another high-speed prang while testing at Silverstone resulted in a lot of hard work to put body and mind back in shape.

And not forgetting the backing of his father, Niall Mackenzie, three time British Superbike Champion, world championship contender and recognised as one of Scotland’s greats.

But does it always help to be the son of someone whose name and reputation sits alongside Steve Hislop or Bob McIntyre. Or is it a handicap?

James Whitham, who competed against Mackenzie and remains a good friend, has this to say: “Having a famous dad and going into the same sport can be a little bit of a double-edged sword.

“Initially it will be a help because he will know all the people who matter, the bikes, the circuits and, of course, it’s a talking point for commentators like me. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to produce the goods on the track which I think Taz is doing.

“He has stalled a little bit in his career. He got into a world championship with Moto2 but didn’t have enough time, I think, to get to grips with the bike. I think he would have been good enough but these days unless you have the cash to put in it’s probably not going to happen for you.

“He has since done really well in British Superbikes but he took his time. He didn’t burst on to the scene like a Rory Skinner, it was a case of nearly getting there and then having a bad season and dropping off which was sometimes his fault and sometimes not.

“One of the things he had was a determination to be very quick on track, sometimes at the expense of making the odd mistake. He doesn’t tend to have small crashes, they’re usually big ones, which people who are trying as hard as he is prone to.

“But I admire riders who are prepared to go near the limit to push themselves forward. It is a great attribute to have as a racer - some don’t think that - but I am firm believer in someone who is very quick and falls off occasionally.

“You’re better off with them than having to teach someone who never falls off to be quick. It wasn’t his fault at the beginning of this year and at Brands, a circuit he likes, he was exceptional.

“I think it might be a little early to say this is another BSB championship, he’s not favourite yet with quite a bit of ground to make up but he’s certainly one of them.

“If you take age into account career trajectory and everything else, he’s probably the one most likely to ride in the world championship. I like him, I like his dad and I hope he gets into WorldSBK next year. I’d love to see that happen.”

BSN: We’re now at the halfway stage of both BSB and WSBK with the championships wide open. The second half looks like it will be exciting, which it should be, but where is Whitham putting his money?

Starting with BSB, a difficult one to call because of the Showdown system, but it is going to play into Taz’s hands.

I think it is going to be between Taz, his team-mate O’Halloran and maybe Tommy Bridewell who’s coming into circuits he likes. But we mustn’t forget Brad Ray who’s been very consistent, and, on his day, Kyle Ryde is capable of winning, but I don’t think consistent enough for the championship.

So, I’d say a Yamaha man or Bridewell. The man we haven’t mentioned, not forgetting Rory Skinner, is Lee Jackson. It’s easy to overlook him but I think he’s had a brilliant season. He’s had his first win but he’s never been slow so who knows.

BSN: The Showdown has, from its inception, been much criticised but if it didn’t exist Taz wouldn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of retaining his championship would he?

Whit: He’d have a lot less of a chance. I can’t comment on whether it’s a good idea or a bad one, we’ve got it. It does make an exciting end to the championship, If I was still a rider, I probably would prefer a level playing field going into the season, a first past the post system.

However, you never know going into a season and you could be the biggest critic in the world as a rider and then it could play into your hands. I remember Shane Byrne didn’t like it and reckons it cost him a championship once and then a couple of years later, after hurting himself at Cadwell, he was still able to come back strongly later on which played into his hands.

BSN: It depends whether the fans like it or not and having a championship which goes down to the wire is surely the best way of ending a series?

Whit: Well, yes you would think so. That is what it is designed to do and that is what it seems to do. We’ve got it, the riders know we’ve got it and that’s how it works.

BSN: Moving quickly on to World Superbikes. Everyone seems to agree it has returned to being a hell of a good series and a weekend crowd of some 50,000 at Donington demonstrated a return of UK enthusiasm to the days of Fogarty and Whitham among others.

Without a Showdown at least three riders could become champion. Who do you fancy?

Whit: In some ways it is easier to predict than BSB because it is almost certainly between Toprak, the reigning champion, Bautista and Rea.

But to choose the winner is a bit more difficult. I thought that Donington, although it was Toprak’s first treble, saw Bautista have a really, really good weekend in terms of damage limitation.

The team went there with not very high hopes, reckoning the Ducati didn’t suit the place, etc., but I thought his pace was really good and I believe if he could do what he did there he is going to be difficult to beat virtually anywhere.

That said, Toprak is on the rise and is going to continue that. He has been unlucky not win some races elsewhere, Estoril being a case where he made an amazing last lap save but Rea overtook him. So, he is an ascendency which continued with two wins at Most.

Jonathan Rea had a mediocre meeting, by his standards, at Donington. But we all know what he is like. He goes away, analyses what’s happened and comes back stronger. A six-time world champion trying harder than ever. Two podiums last weekend at what could be his bogey circuit is not to be sniffed at.

BSN: And he has just signed up for another two years with Kawasaki?

Whit: I was hoping he would go to Ducati just to see how he went on. But that was me being completely selfish. He’s going to do what’s best for him and he has a long association with Kawasaki and a lot of success behind him.

I wonder if Kawasaki have got something coming out which is an improvement on what they’ve got - not that there’s a lot wrong with it.