NEW KIDS ON THE ROCK
What do Tom Sheard, Neil Kelly and Richard Quayle have in common? They’re the only Manxmen to have won a solo race at the Isle of Man TT Races. A small group of individuals, but one that could grow in the not-so-distant future as a number of talented local riders continue to impress...
When Sheard crossed the line in the 1922 Junior Race and followed it up with Senior TT glory a year later – the only Manxman to win the headline race – few would have thought it would be another 40+ years before another local stood on the top step.
Neil Kelly was the second islander to take a TT race victory, in the inaugural 500cc Production Race held in 1967. It was almost another 40 years before the third and most recent Manxman took a TT win, when Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle won the 2002 Lightweight 400 Race.
The Island has had its fair share of frontrunners, with Graham Cannell on the rostrum a number of times in the 1980s and Chris Fargher taking two podiums ten years apart, and in the years since ‘Milky’ stood on top of the podium, Paul Hunt, Gary Carswell and Nigel Beattie were all regular names up towards the sharp end of the leaderboard.
THE RAMSEY ROCKET
The late Dan Kneen took a popular podium in the 2017 Superstock Race, but for the most part the hopes and dreams of the local fans have rested on the shoulders of one Mr. Conor Cummins.
When it comes to challenging for race wins, the man from Ramsey has been single-handedly flying the flag of late – 12 podiums, the most recent of which in 2022 when he finished second and third in the Superstock and Senior Races respectively. The closest he has come to a win so far was in 2010, when he was forced to retire from the Superbike Race on the fourth lap of six.
In the short-term Cummins remains the Island’s best chance for a podium finish, but the last few years have seen a surge of local riders showing their talent at the TT, and that looks set to increase as more are expected to step up having impressed at the Manx Grand Prix – the amateur racers’ version of the TT Races.
Cummins remains the Island's best chance for a podium finish.
Michael Evans, a double Manx Grand Prix winner in 2017, has made a strong impression at the TT since moving up, with two top-10 finishes to his name already. His successes were emulated by Nathan Harrison, both with double Manx Grand Prix success in 2019 and top-10 finish at the TT in only his debut year. Harrison’s performances in 2022 were strong enough to catch the eye of the factory Honda Racing team, where he replaced an outgoing Glenn Irwin for 2023, only for injury to rule him out of TT 2023.
Adding further strength-in-depth are brothers Jamie and Ryan Cringle who debuted at the TT in 2022 and 2023 respectively, with the latter winning the Newcomers Trophy and RST Star of Tomorrow Award and lapping at more than 126mph in his first year on the Mountain Course. 21-year old Jorge Halliday was another impressive newcomer in 2023.
Meanwhile, this year’s Manx Grand Prix saw the emergence of newcomers Joe Yeardsley, Marcus Simpson and Dave Rigby who were all highly impressive – Yeardsley and Simpson in particular were in a league of their own.
Joe Yeardsley did incredibly well at his first Manx Grand Prix this year and is a regular sparring partner to Nathan away from the Mountain Course.
Throw in Ryan and Callum Crowe and their three-wheeling exploits which have already earned them three podiums and title of third fastest crew in history, and the future looks extremely bright for the Manx contingent. So where has this current crop come from? Nathan Harrison has his thoughts on the matter:
“There’s been a bit of a snowball effect and it’s like most things; when one person does something, others follow and if the will to do it’s there, then you’ll do it. The likes of Ryan, Jamie and myself are all of a similar age and have ridden against each other loads, not just up at Jurby [the Island’s only short-circuit] but also on the motocross track, especially Jamie and I.”
“He’s a year older than me, as is Joe [Yeardsley], and we’re all good friends who are more than happy to help each other. I guess there’s an element of spurring each other on and at the end of the day, we all want to see a Manx rider up the front and doing well. Someone like Conor’s been so good for me in terms of learning the course and although I’m still a relatively rookie, if I can help Jamie, Ryan or Joe in any way then I will.”
“Given how Ryan did this year though, maybe he doesn’t need much help! I haven’t got masses of experience, but I know how hard it is to do 128mph on a big bike so for Ryan to do 126mph at his very first attempt was impressive. He went about it the right way and went quicker every time he went out. He’s a really talented rider so I’m sure he’ll have a 130mph lap in his sights in the years to come.”
LIFE AS A LOCAL
With only Jurby Airfield at their availability, it’s clear Manx riders are at a disadvantage when compared to their mainland counterparts who have countless circuits to compete on and countless championships to contest; factors which Harrison believes all play their part in limiting Manx talent coming to the fore.
Ryan Cringle also had his Mountain Course debut this year at the TT, and was nothing short of impressive in Nathan's eyes.
“Without doubt, it’s difficult for Manx riders to make their mark at the TT and a lot of it comes down to getting off the Island and the costs involved of racing off the Island. Some of us are fortunate to get assistance with travel from the Steam Packet, but we only have Jurby on the Island which is essentially club racing. Whereas the TT front runners are all riding at a much higher level, doing BSB championships week in, week out, and riding on such a wide variety of circuits which enhances their skills.”
“If you’re not in that paddock, it’s near impossible to compete against them at the TT. Throw in the opportunity to do a track day at the likes of Oulton or Donington whenever you want, and your riding is going to come on leaps and bounds.”
The concept that Manx riders have an advantage due to their course knowledge and being able to drive the course – or at least part of it – isn’t as big as people make out either and ultimately plays little part in them getting one over their rivals. That’s Nathan’s view of things at least:
“Living on the Island only helps to a certain extent and not as much as people think. Of course, driving round the course helps you learn but only really in terms of the direction and visual knowledge. You’re driving round on the left-hand side of the road all the time and to the speed limits so it’s completely different to riding on closed roads when you can you use all the road and are doing speeds of more than 180mph!”
It’s been a true rollercoaster of a year for Nathan. Getting the dream call up to the Honda Racing team only for injury to take that away, with personal tragedy almost immediately after:
“I had a good start to 2023 and was happy with my riding in the Superstock Championship, and the North West 200 was going really well up until the crash. I was running in sixth and ahead of John [McGuinness] and James [Hillier] so I was obviously gutted to miss the TT, but I think everything happens for a reason. A week later, my mum passed away, so even if I hadn’t had the crash, I wouldn’t have been mentally right for the TT.”
Nathan’s enthusiasm and positive attitude is infectious, and it’s clear he’s been able to take the positives from what has been an immensely difficult year for the young man.
“Even though I didn’t ride, I still learnt a lot as Havier [Beltran, Honda Racing Team Manager] included me in everything so I could see how the team operated both during the day and during practice sessions, like when John came in during a session and what feedback he gave. I was able to observe everything and soak it all up so nothing was wasted, and it was all relevant. Even though I wasn’t riding, I was still able to learn an awful lot.”
“Every time I’ve had a setback, I’ve come back stronger and the season’s ended well on the short circuits. Qualifying eighth at the final Superstock round at Brands Hatch, and then finishing in the top-10, showed again how my riding’s improved and I’ll be treating the 2024 TT like the 2023 TT should have been. There’s no pressure and my aim will be to build upon the results from 2022.”
Nathan was recently a guest on The TT Podcast, joining Chris Pritchard and guest host Lee Johnston to talk all things TT, from his first bike bought from a Co-op classified, to riding for Lee at the Manx Grand Prix.