Mar-Train Racing team owner Tim Martin has confirmed he is in talks with Yamaha UK to continue with the manufacturer for a third successive year in 2017.
The Northern Ireland team has fronted Yamaha UK’s official international roads effort for the past two seasons, with Dean Harrison leading the charge in 2015 before Manx rider Dan Kneen joined the Saintfield-based outfit this year.
However, disaster struck for Braddan man Kneen and the Mar-Train team when he was ruled out of the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT after breaking his arm following a crash on his mountain bike.
Veteran racer Jeremy McWilliams was enlisted as a late replacement for the North West, but Martin was left with no option other than to withdraw Mar-Train Racing from the TT, with no suitable rider available to take over from a distraught Kneen.
It was a massive setback for the team, but Kneen showed a glimpse of what he was capable of on the YZR-R1M with an excellent podium in the Superstock race at the Ulster Grand Prix behind Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop.
The 29-year-old, who also clinched a rostrum finish in the Steve Henshaw Gold Cup race at Scarborough in September, is firmly in the mix to retain his seat with Mar-Train next year.
However, team principal Martin is focused solely on negotiating a manufacturer-supported deal for the major international road races before beginning talks over his rider line-up.
“Obviously our two-year deal with Yamaha finished this year but we had a meeting with them over at the NEC. We’re in negotiations at the minute and nothing is concrete, but our plan would be if possible to continue with Yamaha, but it depends on what other offers we’ve got and what support we’re going to get too,” Martin told the News Letter.
“Missing the TT was a huge blow for all of us and we have improved the bike, but I think we’d be a lot further along if we’d had those two weeks on with the bike on the island.
“It’s ifs, buts and maybes, but fair play to Dan – at the Ulster Grand Prix he showed he was having a go and it was good to see.
“Missing this year’s Isle of Man TT was a setback for everybody. At the North West, Jeremy McWilliams did a good job standing in for us, but to be fair we’d have hoped to be challenging a bit further up had Dan been on the bike.
“At least when we got to the ‘Ulster’ we showed the progress we have made, because in the past where we’d been getting 10ths, we were getting podiums and fourths and fifths,” he added.
“That was a very positive thing for us and to be honest, the podium at Dundrod and the Tandragee 100 [where Kneen won the feature Superbike race] were the highlights of my year.”
Martin hopes to have his plans finalised in the next few weeks and admitted Kneen is very much under consideration to continue in the Mar-Train Racing colours for a second season.
“Hopefully in the next two or three weeks we’ll have something a bit more set in stone in relation to our plans,” he said.
“Dan is definitely in the fray and there’s no point in saying that he isn’t. I thought he did himself no harm at all at the Ulster Grand Prix.
“It’s just a shame that we didn’t have the opportunity to showcase Dan and the bikes at the Isle of Man TT.
“With no disrespect to any of the races, the TT is the one we build our year around and it’s the one the manufacturers are interested in. The TT is what it’s all about and especially for Dan as a Manxman, he must have been absolutely gutted to miss out,” added Martin.
“The main thing is to get the manufacturer signed up first and then the rider follows after that. I won’t sign anybody until I know the package I’m getting and the support I’m getting, because it’s not fair on the rider or the team.
“That needs to be sorted out first and we should have things ironed out one way or another in the next couple of weeks.
“Dan knows the situation and we spoke at Macau. Until I get sorted with a manufacturer, there’s no point in signing any riders, but of course Dan will be a person we will talk to as and when we get something sorted out.”
Kneen finished 11th at the Macau Grand Prix as Mar-Train Racing contested the famous race in the Far East for the first time.