Young Irish rider to take on World Championship with Cork's Team#109

On the weekend of the 21st of May a young man from Randalstown in Co. Antrim will embark on his 2021 World Supersport campaign with the Ballinhassig based motorcycle racing team Team #109. James McManus is still fine tuning his craft in short circuit racing but has racing in his genes following in the footsteps of his older brother Eugene Jnr. and not forgetting his father Eugene Snr. a former GP rider with Team Millar Racing in the 500cc era. We got a few words from the softly spoken youngster ahead of their preseason test in Catalunya a few weeks back.

James first and foremost tell us a bit about yourself. In relative terms your a newcomer to short circuit racing but you've certainly made your mark in the first couple of years.
Well I started racing in August 2018 at Thruxton BSB, after about 2 days at Nutts Corner and a day at Kirkistown. I had never really been into racing until my brother Eugene started racing in 2015, up until then I had been big into football but once seeing him race I wanted to make the change myself from the pitch to the track. This will be my 3rd full year racing this year after 1 year with Team #109 in 2019 and 1 year with the Affinity Sports Academy in 2020 and I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to race for both this year.

Tell us how you felt when you first got the call from Paul Tobin to see if you were available to replace Eunan McGlinchey last year in Estoril at the last round of the World Supersport 300 Championships?
Well it came as a bit of a shock to be honest, I was on my way to Brands Hatch for the final round of BSB with my Brother Eugene when I got a phone call from my Dad saying that Paul had rung him and that there’s a possibility that I could be going to Estoril to replace Eunan. Eunan had to get a medical on Thursday at Estoril to see if he would of been fit to race, meanwhile me and Eugene where sitting outside Stansted Airport waiting on the call to see if I would be riding or not. Unfortunately for Eunan he was not passed for to ride so I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to ride.

As you mentioned, you've already had the benefit of a full season in the British Junior Supersport Championship with Team #109 in 2019. That will have provided a great base for your campaign with the Affinity Sports Academy.
I started my first full season in British Junior Supersport in 2019 with Team #109 after a few races with them at the end is the 2018 BSB season. It was a real good year in 2019 for me as there was no real pressure or expectations on me, it gave me a year to learn the tracks then bike etc. and gave me a really good chance to hit the ground running in 2020. And after a short season last year it was a bit hectic but I learnt so much in such a short period of time, getting my best result of Second at Silverstone and consistently running near the front towards the end of the season. I know I just want to focus on building on last year and strive for more now in 2021.

Your family has been steeped in motorbikes most notably with your older brother Eugene Jnr. and naturally your father Eugene. Who would you say would have been your biggest influence in your career to date?
Well obviously I would say my brother Eugene has been my biggest influence on my career. He has helped me come on leaps and bounds since I first started racing and will always be someone who I will look up to and admire as a rider and person. Also my Dad is another influence of mine, he made it to Grand Prix level racing which is obviously something that me and Eugene both are aiming for.

Not that a 17 Y/O like yourself needs to worry too much about fitness but can you tell us a little bit about your physical preparation for this year and how have you been able to stay bike fit given current restrictions?
During the race season me and Eugene would train 3 to 4 times a week in the gym together with our trainer and would do Cardio work twice a week. But during off season we would ride pit bikes and ride motocross bikes in the fields at the back of our house. Myself and Eugene are out in Spain riding pit bikes flat tracking, cycling and training with Leon Haslam, Sam Lowes and Alex Lowes. So luckily we’ve been able to come out here and ride. We’ve been out here now for 4 weeks and are ready for our test and the end of March at Catalunya and Aragon.
James & his brother older Eugene Jnr. enjoying some training with Alex Lowes (L) and Leon Haslam (R)
James and Eugene are trackside taking advice from Kawasaki Racing Team's World SBK rider Alex Lowes
MMB are a big sponsor of yours and have also been a supporter of road racing. Have you ever considered swapping the tyre walls and asphalt for a few stone chips and country hedges?
Not really to be honest I’ve been more interested in short circuit racing instead of the roads. Racing to me is more about getting the most out of yourself and out of your bike, where as road racing is about getting the most out of the track.

Most lads your age are considering their A-level options but you seem to have your focus on track for now.
Yes luckily enough I’ve the opportunity to go racing while I was still at school, however as soon as I finished my GCSEs I left school to concentrate on racing.

Catalunya will be your first outing on the #Team 109 Ninja 400 at the end of the month as part of the official World Superbike test. A lot of the circuits will be new to you for this season, have you had any help form other riders to prepare for these tracks?

At the start of the Season all the tracks except Catalunya, Aragon and Estoril will be new to me. Next year I’ll have a lot of learning to do and I’m fully up for the challenge, I’m also lucky enough to have Leon, Alex and Eugene Laverty at the World Superbike races next year to go too for advice on the tracks, they have both a wealth of knowledge and I can learn a lot from them to help me progress as quickly as possible. Also, we have John Laverty as my team manager for Affinity Sports Academy she knows all the British championships well to help pass us on as much as he can to help.
James in action last year on the Team #109 Ninja 400 for his first laps in the World Championships
All that's left to say is best of luck for the season ahead James and if we want to keep up to date with all the latest news from the Team #109 World Championship campaign where can we follow your progress?
For anyone looking to follow Team #109 for the latest news they can follow them on their website as well as their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Me and Eugene both have our own racing accounts on Instagram and Facebook (E15 racing) where you can get updates on both our progress from World championship and British championships.

Since conducting the interview James and Team #109 have successfully completed their first pre-season test at Catalunya as part of then official World Superbike Test with steady progress being made onboard the Kawasaki Ninja 400. There’s no doubt that the deal put in place by the Hurley family and Paul Tobin in securing James’ talents for 2 years will pay dividends as the youngest ever Irish rider to compete at a World stage embarks on a busy 2021 campaign both domestically in the British series and internationally in the World Supersport 300 Championship. Photographs courtesy of our good friends at Road Racing Ireland.

Donal J. Arnold CMRVC PRO