Back in August 2019, when Nathan Harrison completed his Manx Grand Prix double, none of us could have thought that it would be over two years before we would see racing on the world’s most famous road circuit.
Now, with the countdown to TT22 well underway, Gef sat down with Nathan at the family business Quayside Tyre and Service Centre to discuss how he’s been keeping up with racing, what he is most looking forward to and why he doesn’t have a licence to ride a motorbike on open roads.
‘Winning the last big race around the TT course, the next big thing that comes round is the North West 200 and the TT as you have the winter effectively straight after the MGP,’ Nathan said.
‘From then onwards, we were getting everything prepared, getting a 1000cc sorted for the TT, getting myself ready to go and then we got to Spain in February 2020 with the 600cc and the 1000cc. As we were going, it was when all the sanitisers and masks were starting to come out, we literally got back from Spain, then did a test at Oulton Park and we were on one of the last boat’s home before lockdown so everything was put on hold.
‘I did a couple of tests up at Jurby on the bikes, only a handful of times and we didn’t go away at all as while there was racing going on, the restrictions for coming back to the island just meant it wasn’t viable with the family business. So from then onwards we’ve been keeping an eye on it to see what plan we could put together with restrictions in the UK.’
However with a relaxation of the restrictions, Nathan and his team, well family, have been able to get off the island to race in the UK with track days and racing at Oulton Park and Donnington.
Like Riding a Bike
Nathan said: ‘It was the first racing really that’d I’d been able to do since the MGP and we’d got a new Honda Fireblade so it was getting used to that bike. Now with isolation down to about two days, it makes it much more viable to go with the family business. With my dad, me and my brother at the front of it, when me and my dad go away, it leaves a lot on my brother and the other guys who work here, so it would be unfair for us to go away for racing and leave them if we had to do the longer isolation.
‘I was actually a bit nervous [getting back into racing] as normally we’d go to Spain but I was going straight to the UK for a single test day, on a bike that I’d never ridden before, and then driving to the race meeting, another test day and going straight into a race meeting on a bike that I’d never raced and barely ridden before. So I was abit conscious about it but then from the first day I felt straight back in it, from the first day I was confident, so it was a bit of a surprise after a year and a half off the bike but when you’ve done it, like I have, since you were five years old, it’s like a riding a bike really, you don’t forget it.’
The racing saw Nathan competing with some of the biggest names in the British Superbike Championship and while they were a couple of seconds a lap quicker than him, Nathan still secured a top 10 finish which he said he was more than happy with given it was the first time he had raced the 1000cc bike.
A Blessing in Disguise
While no one, including Nathan would ever have wanted to see the TT being cancelled these past two years, the extra years may in a weird way work in his favour. He said: ‘I’m going into a TT now with a full year of preparation on the 1000cc, as well as on the 600cc, which I have experience of from the MGP, so I’ll have had more time riding on the bike than I would’ve had and I feel a lot more confident going into that TT than I perhaps would have done.’
As the last rider to win a race on the world’s most famous road circuit, Nathan has a good idea about what it takes to tame the island’s TT course and he said that when the TT does return, the competition will be as great as ever.
He said: ‘If you look at the likes of Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, Michael Dunlop, they’re riding week in, week out at the highest level and they’re just a level above everybody else at the minute anyway. So with them racing as often as they do, the first night of practice might be a bit like I was on the first day at Oulton Park, but at the end of that day I was fully confident going into a race. So I think after the first practice, everything will be dialled in, everybody will be back into the mindsight or won’t be very far off.’
While the local crowd will be wanting to see him replicate the form which led to his stunning MGP double, he isn’t setting a target for the TT, at least not publicly, Nathan said he only ever wants to follow his dad’s advice to ‘go out, enjoy yourself and take it easy’.
He added: ‘John McGuiness said it takes three years to learn the course, I’ve only done two and yeah I did win the MGP in my second year which was pretty good, but it’s only my third year in total and with a big break, I’d honestly be happy to get a top 20 in the 600 and 1000 races and anything from there would be a bonus.’
With the suspension of racing, Nathan was full of praise for his sponsors for sticking with him and continuing to back his race career. As well as being sponsored by the family business Quayside, he is also sponsored by the Steam Packet which helps him with travel on and off the island, as well as long term sponsors such as Chris Preston. Nathan said: ‘They’ve all been well in with us and I think I have this loyal base of sponsors who want me to do well and I want to do well for them too so we’ve all stuck in and said if there is anything that we can do for each other during this then we have. But hopefully when the TT comes back, we can all get back together and hopefully get a good result and we’ll go from there.
‘We are always on the lookout for more sponsors and supporters, if you would be interested, or just want to discuss a potential partnership, you can contact us on the Facebook page.’
As much as the bikes make the racing, it is fans from around the world which make the TT what it is and Nathan, like everyone else, is looking forward to seeing them return for TT22. He said: ‘It’s a big part of racing, particularly road racing. Road racing is so different from short circuit racing. I grew up as the kid on a pushbike at the Grandstand that wanted a signature from John McGuiness and then I was due to be starting in a TT race with him. And that’s how I see it, it’s the atmosphere and if it wasn’t for the spectators and fans, it wouldn’t be like it is. I think next year when it does come back, if everybody can get over, then I reckon it will be one of the best TTs we’ve ever had.
While the TT is the next aim, Nathan and his team are already thinking beyond that and have been provided with two Hondas for the Classic TT races, due to be held in August next year, by their sponsors.
One of the more unusual sights in recent weeks has been Nathan taking his CBT test. The post, first shared by Manx Motorcycle Tuition, was certainly unusual as the double MGP winner admitted despite his success on the track, he doesn’t actually have a road licence.
He told Gef: ‘I’ve never actually been interested in riding a bike on the roads to be honest. When you spend week in week out racing your bike it’s just not something I had time to think about to be honest. But with Covid I just thought that my dad’s got a little 125 so I thought well you never know when I may want to take a little ride to Peel or a spin around the course, at much slower speeds than usual, so I thought while I have the time I should get onto it. So I spoke to Charlie from Manx Motorcycle Tuition and he didn’t believe me to begin with but that grew into him laughing and joking about it and he asked if he could put it on Facebook. Then when you look at the comments, people either found it really funny or didn’t believe that I don’t actually have a licence.’
Having now completed his CBT, this newcomer to the roads is seeking to complete his theory test and his bike test, if he can fit it in between practicing and racing on his 1000cc racing bike.