It was move that shocked everyone in the Bennetts British Superbike paddock, and one that would change the life of young Tarran Mackenzie for the better.
Picture the scene, Mackenzie had dominated the opening three rounds of the Dickies British Supersport Championship in 2017 onboard the McAMS Yamaha YZF-R6, and he’d just been offered the chance to move in to the Superbike class with Steve Rodgers’ Fleetwood-based team, but then the phone rang.
Legendary former racer, and the then team owner of the Kieffer Racing Moto2 squad, Stefan Kiefer offered the pintsized Mackenzie his dream job, to become a Grand Prix racer and represent his country in the MotoGP paddock, taking over from the sacked Danny Kent.
But he admitted to BikeSocial that the deal came around extremely quickly, and straight after an early offer to move to the blue-ribband British Superbike class the very next year.
“At the end of 2016 I tried my hardest to go to World Supersport but it didn’t happen, for one reason or another,” said the younger of the two Mackenzie brothers. “But then the opportunity came about with the McAMS Yamaha team.
“The idea was to do a year in Supersport, try and win it, that is all Steve (Rodgers) wanted me to do was win it, it was as simple as that, and then in 2018 to ride the Superbike.
“The Superbike plan was never put in place, it wasn’t like it was a two year with the second in Superbike, I did the first three rounds and won all six races.
“I don’t even know if Steve knows this, but then within about five days of Steve offering me the Superbike ride for 2018 (and I was going to test it as the year went on), I was then offered the Moto2 deal.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the then reigning Dickies British Supersport Champion and it would be the toughest decision of his young career.
However, one thing was playing on the mind of Taz, he wanted to stay with Steve Rodgers to help win him his first ever Championship title as a team owner.
“I’d won the first six races in 2017, it would have been nice to win a Championship again and Steve has never won one before so it would have been nice to do that, especially as I took the Championship off them in 2016.
“But on the other hand, it was almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I had to take and now looking back, although it didn’t go as well as I wanted it too, I’m so glad I took it.
“Even Steve admits it was the best thing for me to do because I wasn’t getting pushed in a lot of the Supersport races.
“Whereas in Moto2 I was getting my arse handed to me every weekend so that brought my riding on, it may not have looked like it, but I know 100% it did.
“When I look back now the Moto2 bike and a Superbike are very similar with slicks, brakes, forks, stiffer chassis and you can pretty much change everything on a Moto2 bike, and it’s the same with a Superbike.
“Now when I look back the experience I gained on that side put me in good sted for my first year on a Superbike, and I think that’s why I clicked with it straight away at the first test at Cartagena.
“It played a massive part in me doing well on a Superbike in my first year, and I’m glad I did it.
From the off, Mackenzie had his back against the wall from his first race, battling against the World’s best racers, it was as if he’d been thrown in to the lion’s den and told to find a way out with no map of the site.
He secured just one World Championship point in his one season with Kiefer Racing and the Kalex Moto2 machine, at Motegi in Japan. However his dream would quickly become a disaster after he was awoken from his bed in his Malaysian hotel room.
Mackenzie opened the door of his room to find he crew chief stood in front of him, and he was about to inform Tarran of harrowing news that team manager Stefan Kiefer, the man who brought Mackenzie to Moto2, had passed away tragically in his sleep.
“It was weird,” explained Mackenzie. “We’d done the three fly-away’s, Japan, Australia and then Malaysia and it was the final week of that for us in Malaysia.
“We landed Monday morning and then spent the next three days there, Wednesday night we went go-karting then had dinner at the track.
“Then at six o’clock in the morning I had a knock on my hotel door from my crew chief who told me that Stefan had died, I had to go to a certain room that the hotel had given us to sit in.
“It was a weird situation because Stefan was such a nice person, he was 52-years-old, he didn’t smoke, he hardly drank, and he went running most days.
“It was totally out of the blue, real random and it was a family run team, the guys that worked there had been around for a long time, his brother was half the team owner, it was such a sad and bizarre situation. Taylor (Taz’s brother) came out to the Grand Prix and I’m glad he did because it was quite a lonely place to be, so I’m glad he was there really.”
As Mackenzie said, the GP paddock can certainly be a lonely place to be if things aren’t going the way the rider, or the team expect. Travelling to new countries, long haul flights and nights alone in hotel rooms.
But Mackenzie expressed that he was the exception to the perception of the MotoGP paddock, due to the support of his family and his team-mate that year.
“My team-mate was Dominique Aegerter and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer team-mate I don’t think, when I rocked up it was like I’d known him for ages, he was really helpful, he helped me a lot that year.
“Whether it was Dad or Taylor or Neil Hodgson, someone was there at every race so I never felt lonely. Sometimes at certain races I wanted to get away, have a power nap or just get away really, I like to do that.
“But in Moto2 I couldn’t do that, I was either in the garage or truck because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“I think if I went to Moto2 or in that paddock again it would have to be the right situation, team and bike. I’d not just go for the sake of going because I’ve done that, it was tough. Although it gave me a good platform for BSB, it was tough at the time.”
Compared to the Bennetts British Superbike Championship, the MotoGP paddock is a different entity, with the fastest riders from all different countries pitting their wits against each other to become the best in the World.
And the 23-year-old confessed that he struggled to come to terms with how cut-throat the MotoGP paddock is, something he admitted he wasn’t ready for as he left the BSB paddock.
“It’s a completely different world, BSB is an amazing Championship and it’s an amazing paddock to be in, growing up.
“But there are a lot of riders that have been here for a long, long time. There are riders that have raced in BSB longer than I’ve raced, whereas in MotoGP, it’s savage.
“If you’re not performing then you’re out and it’s as simple as that, if you’ve got money then you might go on a few more years, but if you’re still not performing then you’re out.
“Whereas here you can come back year on year, and keep doing the same thing if you want too, but MotoGP it is that cut-throat that everyone is there because you’re one of the best riders from your country, and that is the reason you are there.
“It is tough, what I found the most difficult was that cut-throatness, if you like, it wasn’t a case of me having a rookie year like I did in 2018. It was unfortunate with the way it panned out in my team because things were looking up for 2018 on the Moto2 bike, but now looking back I’m sort of glad it happened the way it did.
“They lost their title sponsor and there wasn’t really an opportunity for me to go there in 2018 unless I took money, and then the chance arose for me to come to Superbike. It was an amazing year for me in 2017, but I’m glad to be back here in BSB.”
Although it was the toughest year of Mackenzie’s short career it made him a rider, giving him valuable experience for his imminent return to the British paddock with McAMS Yamaha squad as Josh Brookes’ team-mate.
But the Ashby-De-La-Zouch resident added that his Moto2 experience did help him hit the ground running, putting him in a strong position for his rookie year in the Superbike class.
“It would have been difficult for me getting my head around how to ride a Superbike, but it would have put me a good position to ride the Moto2 bike, it would have worked both ways aswell.
“But I know for me jumping off a Supersport bike to a Superbike I know for a fact I would have struggled. Just riding with the best riders in the World helped, I was racing with Franco Morbidelli and Nakagami who are running at the front in MotoGP now.
“It was the best time for me to go, although I was a little bit inexperienced, I was never going to gain anymore experience from not going there.
“Because I probably wouldn’t have moved out of the British paddock anyway, so it definitely helped me.
But away from the track and the racer that Mackenzie is we wanted to find out exactly what made him smile, and how he relaxes away from a race track.
The life of a full-time motorcycle racer is one that sounds perfect but it’s not a normal nine to five office job.
But with the fact that Mackenzie has a racing brother Taylor, and former British Champion Niall pushing him all the way, he admitted that he doesn’t get five minutes to himself often.
“I like to out with my mates in the off-season, but during the season I’ve got to train everyday, I like going out mountain biking.
“I have a group of mates that go on a weekend when they’re not working so I like doing that, I’m always keeping myself busy trying to ride bikes.
“Whether it’s riding motocross or dirt track out the back out the house, between me, Taylor and Dad we always find something to mess about on which is good. I don’t have to work fortunately, so sometimes I’m sat twiddling my thumbs, but Dad always makes me do something.”
But it isn’t all about sitting on his Mum’s sofa watching ‘Homes under the Hammer’ and re-runs of Friends, he’s always out either on bikes or helping Yamaha with events.
“It is a little bit about watching Homes under the Hammer, I love it,” laughed Mackenzie.
“I’ve got Taylor, Dad and Mum and fortunately we all don’t have proper jobs which is nice because we always find something to do, whether it’s taking my Grandad golfing or doing something.
“Riding for McAMS Yamaha I’m always kept busy doing dealer days or the Yamaha off-road experience, there is something to do. I have quite an exciting life so it’s just nice to go home and have some downtime really.
“I’m not a golfer at all, my Grandad is 84/85 and he still puts me away on the course but I’m not like an 18-hole golfer, I just go on the local pitch-an-putt near Ashby or the driving range. I enjoy it, I’m not the best but it’s something to do.”
Mackenzie doesn’t see himself as the next Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy and judging by the look of his swing on a recent Instagram story posted by friend, and British Supersport racer, Jack Kennedy they have nothing to worry about either.
But he admits it’s a nice escapism from the fast-paced world of racing and his hobby of mountain biking means he keeps his fitness up, whilst spending time with his mates.
“A lot of bike racers have some sort of hobby to get them away from racing, that is why I like mountain biking because you’re still training but having fun at the same time.
“I try not to take life too seriously, I want to have fun. My Mum always says she’d love to be Tarran Mackenzie because he doesn’t have a stressful life, and I don’t, and I like keeping it that way.
“I feel like I’m living my dream and it’s just getting going really, I like to have fun and not take life too seriously and I intend to keep it that way.”
Who knows exactly what’s in store for Taz, other than seeing another three bed semi sold at auction in Tamworth on the latest episode of Homes under the Hammer, but he told us that having his Dad in the Grand Prix paddock is a helpful.
Father Niall commentates on the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, and always has he ear to the ground for both of his lads for the next opportunity, and Taz revealed he has a slightly different goal to achieve.
“It does help, I spoke to my Dad after Silverstone and he said a lot of people watched the first race of round one so it is handy.
“It would be tough to go back to Moto2 now because I left there and people thought I was rubbish, which is fine, but I think now I have ridden a Superbike for a good chunk of time the goal for me is to definitely get to World Superbike.
“My plan? I’d like to go in 2020, but it has to be with the right team and the right bike, I’m not just going to go for the sake going like I say because I’ve had experience of that.
“But I’ve got to be dominant here, I’m still young enough I’m not on the cusp of being too old. That’s the goal, I want to go and ride for a factory team in World Superbike.”
Only time will tell if Taz will achieve his goal of becoming a factory rider in the World Superbike paddock, and if he continues on his rate of success, he really could be going, going, gone.