Author: Stuart Barker Posted: 07 Aug 2015
The original and best one-make race series has been revived as a special support race at this year's British Grand Prix. The Bennetts Yamaha Pro-Am Challenge will see 24 riders - many of them the original stars of the 1980s series - lining up to bash fairings and tangle elbows on identical Yamaha RD250LCs at Silverstone on August 30. This will be the first Pro-Am race in 31 years and over the next three weeks we'll be profiling every rider on the grid to find out what they achieved in their racing careers, what they've gone on to do since, and why they accepted the challenge to dust down their leathers and race in the wildest race series ever held just one last time. And who better to start with than Mr Pro-Am himself, Niall Mackenzie.
Rider: Niall Mackenzie
Of all the riders who contested the original Yamaha Pro-Am series, Niall Mackenzie is the best known.
He raced Pro-Am in 1982 and 1983 and should have won the championship in that second year but for a dodgy marshalling decision at the final round. The race was supposed to be a clutch start but when a marshal at Donington instructed the riders to kill their engines on the start line, only Mackenzie and Kenny Irons obeyed. His resultant slow start was enough to ruin Mackenzie's championship challenge and despite winning three of the six rounds that year, he lost out to Manxman Graham Cannell for the title.
But it didn't really matter. Mackenzie had proved his point and can thank the Pro-Am Challenge for launching a spectacular career in 500cc Grands Prix. The Scotsman went on to score seven podium finishes in the premier class, beating all-time legends like Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan along the way.
After a ten-year career in Grands Prix, Mackenzie returned to the UK and became the first (and still the only) man to win three consecutive British Superbike titles. He retired from racing at the end of the 2000 season and became a familiar face and voice on Eurosport's BSB TV coverage. Mackenzie is still heavily involved in racing and oversees the careers of his sons, Taylor and Tarran, who race in the BSB and British Superstock 600 classes respectively.
But even after 15 years in retirement, Mackenzie couldn't resist a Pro-Am comeback: 'When I was first approached about the idea I thought it was impossible but when I was told they already had all the bikes and people to prep them, and the race was going to be run at the British Grand Prix I came away from that meeting totally excited. I'm out to win the race, that's for certain. I was the best ever Pro-Am rider - despite what the others might tell you! I won then and I'll win now!'