Baptism of fire

Buchanan prepares for a Rookies Cup race in Portugal.
Buchanan prepares for a Rookies Cup race in Portugal.
Cormac Buchanan has been having quite the adventure. The 15-year-old Southland motorcyclist, nearing the end of his first season in the MotoGP Rookies Cup in Europe, talks to Hayden Meikle.

There must be a point at which it all seems like a dream.

Perhaps it is during one of those scorchingly fast rides in and out of the corners of historic race tracks like the Sachsenring, in Germany, or Knockhill, in Scotland, or at a more modern track like MotorLand Aragon, in Spain.

Perhaps it is the moment, at a medical centre in Italy, you find yourself being treated alongside motorcycling superstars Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.

Or — and given the tender age, this might be the most surreal moment of all — it is playing the latest MotoGP video game and seeing yourself in virtual form.

‘‘I guess I’m just living every little kid’s dream at the moment,’’ Cormac Buchanan grinned in an interview over Zoom from England this week.

Celebrating a British Talent Cup podium at Thruxton.
Celebrating a British Talent Cup podium at Thruxton.
Buchanan can look back on six months of riding and travelling around Europe with a mix of satisfaction and wonder.

Plucked out of Invercargill while still 14, he became the first New Zealander to compete in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, a sort of kindergarten for the world’s leading motorcycle racing circuit.

Alongside youngsters from countries as diverse as Spain, Thailand, Hungary and Colombia, he competed in seven rounds (14 races) in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany and Austria, his best result of 16th just 0.4sec out of the points.

He has also been riding in the British Talent Cup, finishing third at both Knockhill and Thruxton.

It has been a year of intense education, a baptism of fire for a Southland kid with big dreams.

Taking a corner at Portimao.
Taking a corner at Portimao.
‘‘You come over here and the competition is so fast and furious — it kind of opens your eyes to the level you need to be at to compete with the best in the world,’’ Buchanan said.

‘‘As a rider, I’ve developed a lot and learned a lot about how to ride a bike fast.

‘‘Mentally, there has also been a lot of development. Learning how to cope when you have a bad race, that sort of thing. I think I will be coming back to New Zealand a lot stronger, mentally as well as physically.’’

He had no real expectations when he left Invercargill on March 30, given he was breaking new ground, but said he was reasonably happy with his efforts on the track.

It had been tough at times, though. Keeping pace with elite young riders from around the world was a challenge.

‘‘It’s been difficult, I’m not going to lie. The competition has been so strong, and adjusting to that has been difficult.

‘‘I think in Austria, I was 21st on the grid but I was only 1.6sec off the front. In New Zealand, 1.6sec would be the gap from first to second.

Sightseeing in Germany with father Stacey
Sightseeing in Germany with father Stacey
‘‘My results have been a bit inconsistent. In Italy, I was nearly two minutes behind the race leader, so that was difficult, and I crashed when I was in a good position at Snetterton.

‘‘There have been quite a few low points. But you rise through it and become stronger. After a low comes a high, and I’ve had plenty of good moments.

‘‘When I first saw some of the other riders, especially the guys from Spain who are just insanely quick, I was completely confused how they were going so fast.

‘‘By the end of the year, I got faster and was figuring out a few things.’’

Buchanan has enjoyed making friends from various countries, and was delighted to be asked to return to Rookies Cup for a second year.

His dream is simple — to be the MotoGP world champion.

Cormac Buchanan clears a rise during a race at the Portimao circuit in Portugal. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Cormac Buchanan clears a rise during a race at the Portimao circuit in Portugal. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
‘‘The Rookies Cup is probably the best opportunity to make that step up, and I’m really looking forward to another year at this level.

‘‘I want to do well, get noticed by some MotoGP teams and move up as high as I can go. It’s a very exciting time.’’

His favourite track was the Sachsenring — it is heavy on left corners, which he favours — and he has also enjoyed spending time at some of Britain’s great tracks.

Another unexpected highlight was bumping into motorcycling royalty when he went to a mobile medical clinic in Italy for some treatment on an injured leg.

‘‘I walked around to a bed to get a leg massage and right there is Marc Marquez, one of my idols.

‘‘I go around the corner and there’s Valentino Rossi. And I’m thinking, this is just insane. He’s achieved so much, and everyone knows Valentino Rossi.

‘‘It was quite nice to sort of give Rossi a little wink and have him acknowledge my presence. Very cool.’’

If that was cool, discovering he was going to be in the latest MotoGP video game was off the charts.

Buchanan was playing the series before he even knew what MotoGP was, and was thrilled when he heard the Rookies Cup riders were being included in the new release.

Buchanan features in the latest MotoGP video game.
Buchanan features in the latest MotoGP video game.
‘‘It’s quite cool to turn on your PlayStation and play as yourself. All my friends have been wanting to play as me in the game.

‘‘It’s weird, for sure, but it is very cool.’’

Buchanan has been lucky enough to have his personal mechanic, navigator and driver — his father, Stacey — on tour with him.

The Buchanan boys did not always agree, especially over who had to empty the waste tank in the Winnebago in which they have been touring Europe, but they have provided great support to each other.

‘‘It’s been really good having Dad here. He’s been my mechanic and helper and driver, and it’s cool he has been here to experience all of this with me.

‘‘I trust him with a spanner but also, he’s my dad. We have our moments. But we’ve found our little routines that work for us.’’

Buchanan is hoping to also have mother Kate and sister Mikah in Europe next year.

He and his father are in the United Kingdom for the final round of the British Talent Cup at Donington Park next weekend, before flying home from London on October 9 for two weeks in MIQ.

Naturally, he can’t wait to see the rest of his family.

‘‘I’m looking forward to seeing Mum and my sister and the dogs.

‘‘And it might sound a bit weird, but I’ve honestly missed the New Zealand winter — waking up on a cold morning, having a hot Milo, sitting in front of the heater with the dogs.

‘‘I’ve also missed the bike racing. New Zealand motorcycling is a really nice community.’’

Buchanan will again compete in the New Zealand superbike championships, hoping to successfully defend the SuperSport 300 title he won in dominant style last summer.

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