Gareth Keys can open the door to a rewarding Isle of Man TT
While the leading stars of the 2015 Isle of Man TT Races were being lauded at the official launch earlier this week, Lisburn's Gareth Keys tuned in online as he too prepares for the June showpiece as one of this year's leading newcomers.
The Lisburn lad, like so many of his peers, cut his teeth on the local short circuit scene, but following a successful debut on the roads in 2013, which included a 250cc win at the Ulster Grand Prix, Keys is now ready to tackle the most famous 37.73-mile stretch of road racing tarmac.
He feels a little trepidation, however, as he so candidly explained: "I've been over to the Isle of Man three times, the first time with Brian Hull, who is supplying me with a 600 Honda this season. And if I'm honest I thought to myself, 'how are we going to learn all of this!"
With the initial shock out of the way, driving through places like Greeba, Ballaspur and the intimidating run from Ginger Hall through to Ramsey, the second and third visits for Keys were a little more enjoyable.
And with a top class support mechanism in place on the island, he paid tribute to the professionalism of TT Motorsport Manager Paul Phillips and his team.
"My first road race was the Ulster Grand Prix in 2013 and last year we had thought about doing the TT, so I got in contact with Paul Phillips," he said.
"He emailed the details and even though we waited another year, both he and his team have been a great help. Since my first trip I've been round the famous circuit with Milky (Richard) Quayle and Johnny Barton, and it's starting to come together. It's great."
Racing runs through the veins in the Keys household and even though his uncle Trevor has down-graded to pushbikes since moving to Perth in Australia a few years ago, he still keeps a keen eye on his young nephew from Down Under.
Keys said of his Aussie-based uncle: "My dad used to help uncle Trevor on the roads and when he stopped racing my dad sort of fell out of love with it.
"But now I'm racing on the roads he has the bug for it again and my uncle Trevor keeps in touch through Facebook and Twitter. He's coming home for a holiday this year, so hopefully he'll be able to come and see me race on the roads."
Last season, Keys took in a number of national races for the first time on a 650 Supertwin and what he described as "an animal of a BMW S100RR", but now armed with an ex KMR Supertwin and a Brian Hull 600cc Honda, the 24-year-old mechanic believes he is more than geared up for a decent season.
"I did Scarborough for the first time last year and was top 10 in the 600 class at the Spring Cup, but as soon as I got to Cookstown I thought, 'this is for me'," he recounted, but added maturely: "I didn't want to stick my neck out last year, so I rode at about 70 per cent. That was well within my ability, so I could learn the circuits and what it's all about on the roads."
Hull is a well-known and respected sponsor, having helped numerous riders, but in more recent times the Moira man has enjoyed success with Scottish racer Keith Amor.
This season, along with the Keys clan, Hull will help steer young Gareth in the right direction.
"Yeah it's good to have Brian on board," said Keys. "I'm looking forward to riding his 600, but I'd also like to think with the Supertwin we've purchased from Ryan Farquhar, we can be at the pointy end in that class on the national scene this year."
Keys will open his season at Scarborough's Spring Cup on April 12, where he will ride the aforementioned machinery and a Harry Keys TZ350, with additional support coming from local magazine, Road Racing Ireland.